1969: Expos, Summer Games

Pictou Advocate sports

Forgive me for taking another ride down Memory Lane.

This one is prompted by the sports spotlight that’s been shining on Winnipeg and the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

It takes me back to 1969.

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That was the year my wife and I moved from Pictou County to Dartmouth. I was being transferred to The Chronicle Herald’s main office in Halifax to become the paper’s provincial editor after spending 10 years as bureau chief in Pictou County.

To the day she passed away, Jane reminded me of the “misery” I suffered as we packed our belongings and headed to Metro. She was right — I was unhappy and inconsolable. I was regretting that I’d be leaving my beloved hometown and the years of enjoyment I had covering sports in the county.

I believed, at the time, that I’d be nestled down in the newsroom for years to come, never to again cover hockey, baseball and the other passions I had about sports journalism.

But the move was a necessary step in my career.

Funny how things turn out for the better. Little did I know then that I’d not only return to sports, but I’d spend most of the 48 years since then writing and editing sports.

In that spring of 48 years ago, however, I was thinking the worst.

How quickly things changed. It was April 8, 1969 that we moved into our first Dartmouth residence.

Remember what happened that very day?

Canada’s first major league baseball team, the Montreal Expos, were playing their very first game at New York’s Shea Stadium. It heralded our country’s debut in MLB.

That inaugural game was on television — and there I was, sitting on top of unopened boxes in the living room, watching every play.

It was our first chance to see a Canadian-based team in action. What an afternoon it was. The Expos, wearing their red, white and blue caps, were immediately winning the hearts of fans across the land.

Recall some of the Expos in that initial lineup against the Mets? There was Maury Wills, Montreal’s first-ever batter. There were Rusty Staub and Coco Laboy, and starting pitcher Mudcat Grant. There was also Ty Cline. Remember him? He had played in the Halifax and District Baseball League in the 1950s.

I won’t prolong the curiosity. The Expos, despite facing star hurler Tom Seaver, won a wild one that day. It was 11-10. The winning pitcher was reliever Don Shaw, with a save from – bet you don’t remember this one – Carroll Sembera.

I watched every moment of the action — then started unpacking. A few days later I was in front of the tube again when the Expos played their home opener in snow. The weather was just a reminder to Americans that their beloved game had moved north.

Okay, and where do Canada Games fit in?

While my newspaper duties had switched away from sports, preparations were under way for Halifax-Dartmouth to host the first Canada Summer Games that August. There weren’t enough people in the sports department to cover all the sports and related activities. Staff had to be moved over from news to give a hand.

Guess what I got?

I couldn’t believe it. I would be covering the baseball games at Dartmouth’s Beazley Field. For 10 days, I would be watching and writing baseball, the sport I thought I had left back in Pictou County.

I couldn’t wait.

Finally, the Games arrived. Finally, the battle cry, “Look Out World,” was being heard from coast to coast. Finally, the best young athletes in Canada in all the competing sports were living their dreams in our community.

And so there I was in the press box at Beazley Field, watching my favourite sport for 10 days and 10 evenings.

The Nova Scotia team was coached by Mike Thomson, already a veteran player and coach with the Dartmouth Indians in the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League. He was a two-time batting champion in the league and knew the best young players from across the province.

Some of the members of the Nova Scotia squad were known in the Truro-Pictou-Antigonish region. The lineup included Don Cormier, of Truro; Glenn Matheson, of Londonderry; Bill McVicar, of Antigonish; and Bill MacIsaac, of Truro.

Nova Scotia was in a division with Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. The home province didn’t start well, losing to a Quebec club that included National Hockey League defenceman Gilles Marotte. But the Thomson-coached squad rebounded quickly, spanking P.E.I. 13-0, edging Alberta 6-5, and beating Manitoba 5-1. That gave Nova Scotia first place in the division.

In the playoff round, a tough 10-2 drubbing to Ontario was followed by a surprising 17-7 laugher against New Brunswick. In the end, Ontario won gold, Quebec took silver and, to the delight of their followers, the Nova Scotians captured bronze.

When Governor General Roland Michener stepped up to declare the Summer Games closed, instead, he announced, “I shall simply declare the Canada Games adjourned.” He was so right.

I spent a lot of time talking with Thomson during the baseball tournament — so much so that he became my insurance agent for the next 40 years. How’s that for making a long-term connection?

Having been recruited from the news desk to spend a week and a half at the ball field, I not only got paid, I was given a generous bonus. For watching baseball games!

By the time the next Summer Games came around — in Burnaby and New Westminster, B.C. in 1973 — I was the Herald’s sports editor and was assigned to attend the action on the west coast. Again, I enjoyed every minute of every day on that assignment.

And that initial reaction to leaving Pictou County? Of course I’ve missed it. I’ve always missed it. But I’ve never, ever regretted living in Metro for almost half a century.