Pictou Advocate sports

Through the 1950s, the best ball ever

Sports

I still haven’t forgotten how it began 70 years ago this month.

I had just turned 12 and was in my last weeks of grade six at Acadia Street School in New Glasgow. The annual move to the family cottage at Rustico Beach wasn’t far away.

It was in early June that I changed my study hours leading to final exams. Instead of after-school fun with kids in the neighbourhood, I went straight home each day to finish my homework before supper.

My purpose was clear.

It was 1950 and there was something new in town — actually, it was in Stellarton, across the street from Memorial Rink.

I had to eat early to get to my destination before six o’clock. I was anxious to be in the stands early on that first evening, the evening after that, and three evenings every week for the next three months.

I was sure eager.

The Stellarton Albions had joined the Halifax and District Baseball League after spending the two previous summers in the disbanded Central Baseball League. They would be playing six times a week – three home games, three road games — and my hope was to attend as many home games as possible.

League opponents were the Truro Bearcats, Halifax Capitals, Dartmouth Arrows, Kentville Wildcats and Liverpool Larrupers.

Most of the players were young Americans, mostly up-and-coming stars in colleges south of the border. The H&D league was a perfect complement to extend their seasons after school leagues ended.

Well, I got to the Albions park in plenty of time for the opening pitch. I became so attuned to my new priorities that I missed very few games that year, or the years that followed.

Cottage life didn’t suffer.

With outboard motor boats and cabin cruisers — my father’s hobby was selling them at the end of the summer and having new ones built in Pictou most winters — I had plenty of time to cruise Pictou Harbour waters and still get to Albions games.

No wonder those H&D Albions became my favourite local sports franchise.

And now, here we are, seven decades since the H&D arrived in Pictou County, thanks to people like Clary Potts, Webb Cunningham and Clary Semple. My heart still beats faster when I reminisce about that baseball era.

Little did I realize in June 1950 that my life’s career would evolve at that ballpark.

It was a key time for myself. You see, it was around that club and those games that I advanced from being a young fan in the stands, to joining John (Brother) MacDonald in the broadcasting booth, to beginning a lifetime in sports journalism.

From 1950 through 1958, the Albions did something no other franchise did — win three consecutive championships. That happened in 1951, ‘52 and ‘53.

What huge memories those three years provided local baseball fans. To experience those summers was to maintain fond thoughts for the rest of our lives.

Having now reached my 82nd birthday, this may be the last opportunity I get to take another nostalgic journey along Stellarton’s H&D path.

So let’s do it.

Things were different in 1950. Stellarton had a population of 5,500. Now it has dropped to about 4,200.

When the Albions entered the H&D, the war had been over for only five years. But the town still had its reputation of being home to many brave and hard-working men. They served in the wars, they suffered losses in the coal fields like the Allan Shaft explosion, the county’s worst mine disaster.

Memorial Rink — named in memory of those who paid the supreme sacrifice — opened three years before the H&D arrived across the street. The rink actually played a role in the ball league. It’s where the Albions and visiting clubs had their dressing rooms.

In their inaugural H&D season, under coach Johnny Watterson, the Als won second place, with two important locals among the imports — outfielder Harry Reekie and pitcher Sid Roy. In the playoffs, Stellarton battled the title-bound Arrows for eight games in a best-of-seven semi-final. The local club proved quickly that they belonged in the new setup.

Stellarton went on to those three straight championships under player-coach Bill Brooks. Player turnovers, even in winning years, were common. As a result, just four players were on all three title teams — Reekie, Brooks, Joe Fulghum and Kent (Baby) Rogers.

Potts, the team president, made a brilliant move by hiring Brooks as coach and making him responsible for finding players. The first winner in ‘51 had three locals, Reekie, Roy and John (Brother) MacDonald.

In the back-to-back-to-back championships, the successes were because of Americans like Rogers, Fulghum, Gair Allie, Huck Keaney, Leroy Sires, Billy Werber, Ed Morris, Sonny Way, Jack Turney and Cecil Heath. Pitching leaders were Preacher Mustain, Don Woodlief, Joe Pazdan, Rudy Williams, Monk Raines and George Carver.

It seemed like winning would continue forever.

But when Brooks left, subsequent coaches Stan Benjamin, Fulghum, Jack Stallings and Robert Murray failed to come close to another title.

Stellarton’s final season was 1958. Four teams struggled through the ‘59 campaign and, in the spring of 1960, the league folded.

It’s the memories the Albions left behind that keep old folks like me continually interested in that wonderful era.

Fortunately, there were enough good players around the county to create a new league. Through most of the 1960s, the Twilight Senior Baseball League did a commendable job of keeping the grand old game on the field. That league, too, produced a lot of enjoyment.

In more recent decades, there have been some very fine franchises — and championships — in places like Dartmouth, Halifax, Truro and Kentville, all former H&D locations. But those ventures never fully replaced the void left by the departed Americans.

That’s why — even after a lifetime — I still allow myself to recollect those summers in the 1950s.