Through good times and not so good times, I’ve been around sports for an awfully long period. They were a big part of my life growing up, they became an even larger thing through my decades in the newspaper business, and they haven’t slowed down a bit well beyond a normal retirement age.
I’ve seen a lot, I’ve experienced a lot, I’ve written a lot. Yet never, in all that time, have I gone through a day like last Thursday.
I’m sure nobody has.
Oh, there have been major disruptions in the sports world, including work stoppages, strikes and lockouts. But those were always resolved and games returned to normal.
But there’s never been anything like this.
At first, the Coronavirus was something somewhere else — way off in other parts of the world. It had nothing to do with our sporting habits. It was a grim story, but it seemed limited to other lands.
Then it began to come to North America, including our own country. It got us concerned — very concerned — as it took on a new label. COVID-19 became a bigger and bigger problem.
We were told to wash our hands frequently. We were told to stay away from crowds. We were told about a lot of precautions.
We worried, and we worried some more. We were concerned about our families, our friends, our neighbours.
But we could take our minds off the situation by going to a hockey rink, a basketball court, a sports field. Or we could just relax in our favourite chair and watch sports, game after game, until bedtime.
Then something else happened that we didn’t anticipate. Our favourite pastimes were getting attacked like other things in our everyday lives.
That brought on that unprecedented day last week. It wasn’t April Fools’ Day. It missed Friday the 13th by a day.
The news — all bad — kept changing, not just by the hour. Almost by the minute, so much happened so quickly; it was hard to keep track.
One of the victims fell to the wayside earlier in the week when the women’s world hockey championships, scheduled for Halifax and Truro, was cancelled. It even affected Pictou County where the German team was to hold its workouts at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.
Hockey’s primary junior leagues — including the Quebec Major Junior circuit and the Halifax Mooseheads — were shut down immediately. The University Cup hockey championships at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre, were cancelled after one night of action.
The Halifax Hurricanes and the National Basketball League of Canada were stopped in their tracks just a month shy of the season’s end. The Halifax Thunderbirds and the other teams in the National Lacrosse League hit the same roadblock.
The Canadian Premier League, including the HFX Wanderers FC, was affected, too, even though the season openers were still a month away.
Sports fans who don’t even venture to live action were being hit hard, as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and the other National Hockey League teams were quickly sent home, nobody knowing when the league would resume. The “pause,” as Commissioner Gary Bettman called it, could last a long time.
Fans awaiting the start of major league baseball, while watching the Toronto Blue Jays spring training games on television, were slapped again when that sport joined the others on the sidelines.
And those of us who are bitten by the fantasy bug, we could do nothing as our fantasy hockey standings became meaningless after months of action. It was even worse to know our fantasy baseball drafts, just days away, became questionable events.
Even writing a sports column for a weekly like the Advocate became a problem. Do I go with the column I had written a couple days earlier, or do I join everyone else and discuss COVID-19?
I chose the latter.
Now I have to wonder, like everyone else, if it’s safe to attend church, go to my favourite restaurants, shop at the grocery store.
No, we’ve never been in this kind of situation before. Hopefully, it will end as quickly as it began.
* * * *
In sharp contrast, this week’s column was going to address a baseball question from a reader: “What road did the Stellarton Albions take prior to becoming members of the best league ever in this province?”
I began the answer by putting a date on the reader’s question: “It was a lifetime ago — exactly 70 years this week — that the Albions were welcomed into the Halifax and District Baseball League.”
To most baseball followers today, it’s ancient history.
Even for an old guy like me — whose career began by covering those H&D Albions — it’s somewhat difficult to remember the road that led the franchise into the legendary league in 1950.
Much younger ball fans may have heard stories about the Albions and their three consecutive championship seasons in the import-heavy league, but they weren’t around when the local club helped to produce the greatest era the sport ever enjoyed in this province.
The H&D began in 1946 season, replacing the Halifax Defence League that operated during the Second World War. Another circuit – the Central Baseball League — started play in 1947 with the Albions playing Truro, Kentville and Windsor.
Franchises came and went. By 1948, the Central loop was made up of the Albions, Westville Miners, Truro and Springhill. Next year it was a six-team operation — the Albions and Miners, Springhill, Truro, Kentville and Amherst.
The Central league couldn’t survive beyond that third season.
When 1950 arrived, the H&D league grabbed the Central’s survivors and became the six-team group that operated for several years – Halifax, Dartmouth, Kentville, Liverpool, Truro and Stellarton.
For the Albions, happy days were right around the corner.
A league championship in 1951. A second winner in 1952. A third in 1953.