Pictou Advocate sports

A successful search for a baseball name


Using age as an excuse, my most challenging daily physical workouts these days have become leisurely strolls through the internet. You just never know what you might learn.

The other morning, for instance, while staying the blazes home, I came across an interesting quotation, though the author wasn’t identified: “Good times come and go, but the memories will last forever.”

Then I saw this comment attributed to Mark Twain, the father of American literature: “Never regret anything that made you smile.”

I figure the older we become, the more likely we’ll store such beliefs in our minds.

Putting those two views together got me thinking of a couple of Nova Scotians I’ve known for many decades, Pictou County’s Jim MacConnell and Kentville’s Burton Russell.

Add myself and it’s three guys, now in our 80s, who have loved baseball for a very long time.

MacConnell, who grew up in Scotsburn, is retired after serving as president and CEO of Scotsburn Dairy for 30 years. I had first met him in 1958 when he was studying economics at Dalhousie University and I was in journalism at nearby University of King’s College.

Although our careers placed us in different parts of the province, we’ve kept in touch and these days we’re “friends” on Facebook. Our love of sports has kept us close to the world of games. I’m guessing, but I’d say he’s just over the 80-year plateau.

Russell, an Acadia University graduate, is a highly-respected author who has written several books on Nova Scotia sports since retiring from a busy 35-year career as a high school English teacher and sports coach in the Annapolis Valley. He’s got a couple of years on me, making him about 84.

When he produced Nova Scotia Baseball Heroics in 1993, he autographed a copy with the words: “To Hugh Townsend, a gentleman whose writings and commentaries have enriched Nova Scotia sports.”

A decade later, with his publication Baseball Memories, he penned this inside the cover: “To Hugh Townsend, a prolific writer over the decades whose profiles of Nova Scotia athletes have enriched the ‘Russell Collection’ of treasured memories. Thanks for sharing so many great moments with so many fans.”

How could I not admire someone who wrote such messages?

Anyway, it’s in the last few weeks that MacConnell, Russell and I got linked because of the Willard mystery.

It began in mid-October when my Advocate column recalled my seeing a 1956 pitching showdown in the Halifax and District Baseball League between Stellarton’s Leo Parent and Truro’s Moe Drabowsky.

It got Jim started.

He sent an email that, in part, said: “A great story abot Parent and Drabowsky. I was there and remember the air filled with tension. Another game I remember (among many over those wonderful years) was a game where the (Stellarton) shortstop hit three consecutive home runs, but I can’t remember his name. He was not known as a home run hitter. I’m sure you’d be there and remember his name.”

Yes, I was there in 1952, but I couldn’t name the shortstop. I asked Jim to be more specific.

I was curious and began my own investigation. My files didn’t give me the answer, so I turned to Burton’s 1993 book. Hours of turning pages didn’t help.

Then, a week later, another email from Jim. “Was his name Joe Willard? I’ll do some checking around here, but there’s not many of us (H&D fans) left. I can still see his third homer going well over the left field fence. Those were the days.”

More time passed when another MacConnell email arrived: “Just found reference I was looking for in Burton Russell’s book. I’m sure you covered the game as it gave the Albions their second H&D title. Willard had a tough act to follow that year. Gair Allie preceded him (at shortstop).”

Jim came through, thanks to Burton.

That brings me back to my opening comments and the reality that the legendary H&D league is fading into the past. Even the youngest fans are now senior citizens.

Before we know it, there won’t be any Albions diehards left. Same can be said for the faithful followers of the other teams.

That Mark Twain comment is certainly substantiated: “Never regret anything that made you smile.”

Think of the Albions.

The club, H&D newcomers in 1950, put smiles on their supporters almost from the beginning. Stellarton didn’t win that summer, but the club did a darn good job nonetheless.

Dartmouth had captured the title in 1949 and it was the first-year Albions against the defending champions in the ‘50 semi-finals. The Als took the Arrows to eight games and lost the clincher by just a single run. Not bad, eh?

It was a sign of things to come.

Right after that, the Albions rattled off their three consecutive championships, the only franchise ever to do it. There’s no need for me to explain those three seasons. I’ve done that numerous times.

Those of us who were there to witness Stellarton’s victories had lots of reasons to smile, lots of reasons to develop memories that would last a lifetime.

During Stellarton’s three victorious summers, I was in my early teens, sitting in the stands for almost all of the team’s home games. Jim was obviously there too.

After that, I was in the press box, where I watched the last five Albion seasons.

As Jim said, “Those were the days.”

It’s 62 years since the Albions played their last game. Many of the guys who made us smile and form fond memories have passed away.

Not many years from now, all the dedicated Pictonians who supported the club and thrilled to such a high calibre of baseball will be gone too.

But thanks to the years of research and writing efforts on the part of Burton Russell, the history of the Halifax and District Baseball League will remain alive on Nova Scotia bookshelves.