There was no way I would ever forget the summers of 1951, ‘52 and ‘53.
I was in my early teens — considered the most impressionable time in life, the juncture when your reason for being on this earth is supposed to become clear.
It happened to me.
Alright, it was a long time ago and, if you haven’t been getting OAS and CPP cheques for a decade and more, you might not understand what I’m talking about.
Being in Pictou County, already fanatical about sports, there was only one place to be on 30-plus evenings each summer — that beautiful old ball field in Stellarton. It was the era of the semi-pro Halifax and District Baseball League, the era of the Stellarton Albions.
The local franchise joined the league in 1950, remaining in business for nine seasons.
The Albions were one of six clubs that provided Nova Scotia fans with the highest calibre of ball ever played in the province. Most of the players were young American college guys, a couple dozen of them later reaching the major leagues.
Almost from the start, the Albions became the most impressive club in the league, winning three championships in succession. No other team ever won more than back-to-back titles.
The 1951-52-53 Albions were so good that, almost three decades later, they were among the first sports teams inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame when the hall was rescued from mothballs down in Halifax.
I was so lucky. Though spending my summers at the family cottage at Rustico Beach, I made the trip to Stellarton for almost every game in those three years. That was a lot of baseball for a young guy who loved the sport since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Now, some 60 years later, I’m still lucky — writing about those three championship lineups while naming them, in my opinion at least, the second best Pictou County sports dynasty I experienced in my lifetime.
Those Albions made such an impression on me that their names still flow off my lips as if they were still playing.
How could I possibly have left them out?
Not only did they win titles in those three seasons, they did it by entertaining huge crowds at the ball park across the street from the rink. Even the rink played a part — the Albions and visiting teams using the hockey dressing rooms to get ready for battle.
Want some details?
Bill Brooks, a southerner with a true southern drawl, was playing coach and an outstanding recruiter of talent, one of the biggest reasons the Als did what they did.
The 1951 club had an infield recognized as the best ever in Nova Scotia ball. There was Brooks and John (Brother) MacDonald playing first, Kent (Baby) Rogers on second, future major leaguer Gair Allie at short, and Huck Keaney owning third base. Leroy Sires was the catcher while outfielders were Joe Fulgham, Art Hoch, local Harry Reekie and John Alford. Pitchers included Westville’s Sid Roy, Don Woodlief, Preacher Mustain, Joe Pazdan and Don Moring.
That was clearly the strongest of all the Stellarton teams, posting a magnificent 45-16 won-lost record to finish 12 games in front. Fulgham won the batting title while Allie, Sires, Fulgham and Keany finished 1-2-3-4 in the league in home runs.
Stellarton wiped out the Truro Bearcats in the semifinals, then beat the Halifax Capitals for the championship. There was a provincial playoff, the Albions taking that easily from the Glace Bay Miners.
Baseball followers — much older than me — insisted that 1951 club was better than any Nova Scotia ball team ever.
The ‘52 Albions were without Sires, Keaney and Hoch, but Billy Werber had arrived. He was on his way to the majors after twice homering off the top of the church roof across the street. What a hitter! I never saw better in this province. Other newcomers included Ed Morris, Joe Willard and Rudy Williams.
Stellarton’s 38-25 record saw them slip to third place, despite Fulgham’s second batting crown. But they played their best in the playoffs, eliminating the Liverpool Larrupers in seven games, followed by a surprising four-game sweep of the first-place Bearcats to win a second championship.
Nobody was forecasting a third title when 1953 arrived. Woodlief, Mustain and Pazdan were missing from the mound corps. But Brooks recruited pitchers Monk Raines, George Carver, Tom Harkey and Vance Long. On offence, Morris and Willard were gone, replaced by Jack Turney and Cecil Heath.
At mid-season, the team had sunk to the basement, but arose to claim the last playoff berth with a so-so 27-33 record.
That’s when the Albions became the Albions again.
Despite facing powerful and heavily-favoured Liverpool in the semifinals, Stellarton took the set 4-1. The clincher was in front of almost 4,000 fans in Stellarton. In the finals, against the Kentville Wildcats, nobody was predicting a Stellarton success. But it happened. The Albions took just five games to capture their third consecutive title.
There was joy in the old mining town.
So you can see why I had to place the Albions somewhere among Pictou County’s three top dynasties. If I left them out, I would never forgive myself. They were too talented, too entertaining, too lovable to have been omitted.
Despite all the big sports events I attended through my career, sitting in press boxes, never having to pay for a ticket, I always remembered how much I enjoyed those championship Albions while sitting in the grandstand with Pictou County fans.
By 1954, I was John (Brother) MacDonald’s scorer and statistician as he broadcast Stellarton’s home and away games on the county’s new radio station. What a way to begin my chosen career!
Coincidence or not — Brother used to tease me about it — when I got into the press box, the Albions never won another title.
Next week: The county’s best sports dynasty.