I was so fortunate, in the early years of my life, to spend nine summers watching the very best baseball ever played in Nova Scotia.
In my early teens, sitting in the stands, I saw Pictou County’s beloved Stellarton Albions winning three consecutive Halifax and District Baseball League championships, a feat never matched by any league franchise. Then, during the Albions’ final five seasons, I was following the action from the press box.
There were so many thrills, so many reasons to cheer, so many talented young players, the majority of them from the United States.
Without question, one of the most significant memories besides the back-to-back-to-back championships in 1951, ‘52 and ‘53 — for myself and the fans who faithfully flocked to the old coal mining town — was a league game in Stellarton between the Als and arch-rival Truro Bearcats a few seasons after the winning slowed down.
Sure, there were other big highlights, too, thanks to some very fine young players, many being American college stars, some talented enough to be striving for futures in the major leagues.
But I’ve always remembered that particular Stellarton-Truro contest that newspapers called “brilliant,” “dramatic” and “sensational.”
It happened on July 13, 1956.
Most people still around who witnessed the game probably don’t recall the date or its significance. I can pinpoint the day without looking at a calendar because, to be there at that particular game, I skipped out of my sister’s birthday celebration.
If you were there in the crowd, however, I’m pretty certain you remember the drama we watched that evening.
Two of the league’s most dominant pitchers were facing each other — Leo Parent for the Albions, Moe Drabowsky for the Bearcats.
Both had joined their Nova Scotia clubs the previous summer. Despite being a pitcher, Parent was also among the league’s top home run stars. Drabowsky had already experienced victories with a dozen or more strikeouts.
The game was really a promoter’s dream.
Parent was a 200-pound, 22-year-old righthander who was born in Lowell, Mass. In one of his first games with the Albions, he hit two massive home runs in a 13-0 win.
Drabowsky was just 20, from Poland of all places, a 6-foot-3 righthander clearly on his way to somewhere in professional ranks.
By that July evening in 1956, both were well known throughout the six-team league. Newspapers and radio broadcasters were billing their head-to-head matchup as a “don’t-miss-it” affair.
Those in attendance weren’t disappointed.
During the game, unknown to the crowd, word was spreading through the press box that Drabowsky would soon be joining the Chicago Cubs.
It was a pitching duel, no question.
Both pitchers were at the top of their game. Both battled inning after inning. For two hours, neither would give in. When it did end, the Albions and Parent had posted a thrilling 1-0 win over the Bearcats and Drabowsky.
And, while fans were still talking about the result, Moe was on his way to the majors. Just a couple days later, he not only was in the bigtime, he pitched the Cubs to a victory.
Signed as a bonus baby, he would pitch in the big leagues for 17 years. He set records — in regular league play and in the World Series.
Parent would never make it to the majors, but he sure had some big feats in the Nova Scotia league, with the Albions, later with the Bearcats.
While Drabowsky reached the top, Parent could be proud of his performances, as well. He had an 8-2 record in 1956 and, in the playoffs, added two more wins against Truro though the Bearcats took the seventh and deciding game of the league semi-final.
Drabowsky excelled in the majors.
He was soon recognized as one of the best relief pitchers between 1956 and 1972. He appeared in 589 games, including 154 starts.
He would play for the Cubs, Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox. He had 88 wins among 193 decisions and struck out 1,162 batters.
His biggest night was with Baltimore in the opening game of the 1966 World Series. He set a record by being the first pitcher ever in the October classic to come out of the bullpen and strike out six consecutive hitters.
If you enjoy reading stories about old stars, you may realize that Moe became a widely-known prankster, a noted “practical joker,” everywhere he pitched.
You can find some of the tales about him just about anywhere.
He once left live snakes in teammates’ lockers, and often called up opposing teams’ bullpens with instructions to warm somebody up. Another time he crawled through a hedge to an opposing team’s bullpen and set off some firecrackers. More than once he used the bullpen phone to have Chinese food delivered to him in the middle of games.
While Drabowsky jumped around from club to club in the majors, Parent’s list of pro franchises isn’t as well known, not by a long shot. His record shows that he pitched for the Boise Yankees, Norfolk Tars, Winston Salem Twins, Lancaster Red Roses, Burlington A’s and Sandersville Wacos.
Neither Parent nor Drabowsky is still with us.
Leo died in 2002, two weeks shy of his 69th birthday. Moe passed away in 2006, a month before turning 71.
For local fans who witnessed the Parent-Drabowsky showdown, it was one of those great pitching duels that you just never forget.
The H&D circuit, of course, was known for lots of exciting action at the ball parks in Stellarton, Truro, Halifax, Dartmouth, Kentville and Liverpool.
Unfortunately, good things usually come to an end.
The Albions would withdraw from the H&D circuit following the 1958 season. A year later, when efforts failed to get Stellarton back, the league itself went out of business.
Six decades later, there hasn’t been another semi-pro league to fill the void.