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Sackville minor baseball program enjoys spike in participation

Long-time Sackville Minor Baseball Association president Chris Vogels, shown above(right) being congratulated by Sackville councillor Bill Evans during one of Sackville’s Sports Recognition Nights in this file photo, has stepped aside, with Matt Mahoney taking over the leadership reins.
Long-time Sackville Minor Baseball Association president Chris Vogels, shown above(right) being congratulated by Sackville councillor Bill Evans during one of Sackville’s Sports Recognition Nights in this file photo, has stepped aside, with Matt Mahoney taking over the leadership reins.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – It may only be a dream but old time baseball aficionados are remembering “the good old days” when senior baseball was the talk of the town in these parts and and fans could stroll down Lansdowne Street on a Friday night and hear the crack of the bat on the ball and enjoy a couple of hours of excitement and enjoyment as they watched their home own team in action.

Well those days are long gone but an apparent spike in interest in the game at the minor level could be the beginning of something good – like a re-emergence of the sport as it was once enjoyed. And officials are pondering if part of the reason for the growth in participation may relate to the Toronto Blue Jays and how they have become Canada’s team. This would perhaps shadow what took place when Tiger Woods became the king of the golf world and young people flocked to the game by the thousands.

There was a sharp growth of nearly 25 percent this season over last, with 122 boys and girls learning to throw, catch and hit a baseball at the local level.

Sackville Minor Baseball Association (SMBA) president Matt Mahoney says this is the largest number of participants in recent years and he is confident the game is ascending once again in the Tantramar region.

There are both positives and negatives facing the program. First is the fact that the total number is made up of kids under 13 years of age so the future of the sport should be rosy. On the other side is the fact that there were no older ones and thus is was not possible to run a bantam program. And then there would be a problem if the system could be expanded to midget and beyond since it would require a new facility to accommodate them.

Currently the little league field at the corner of Wellington and Lorne Streets is utilized along with the lighted park at the corner of Dufferin and Lorne streets. However, the fences are too close to home plate to qualify as legitimate for older players. The Dufferin field was originally built to accommodate slo-pitch games and is ideally suited for that role.

A lack of suitable playing fields has long been a complaint of various organizations – soccer, lacrosse, football, baseball – so it may mean taxpayers should begin to consider extending facilities in the not too distant future.

Mahoney, a Nova Scotia native who has been living in Sackville for the past five years and is employed at the Canada Wildlife Services, says he accepted the position of president as a means of giving something back to his adopted community. Plus, he has three children who have taken up his favourite sport and he willingly stepped into a pair of “huge shoes” vacated by Chris Vogels, who had held the role for several seasons.

Mahoney had played minor baseball and fastball but stopped as a teenager as he pursued his education but is now back in the thick of the action. He says he has a strong supporting cast so things work smoothly.

Serving on the executive are vice-president Craig Brett, who is umpire coordinator, Kathie Morice is secretary and treasurer, Andy Paynter is in charge of field operations, Jim Tranquilla is technical director and Janice Hicks is equipment and uniform manager.

And the groups are well organized for coaches as a good many parents have stepped up to the plate.

Jason Tower is the man in charge of the 13 youngsters playing in the five-year-old group, and Malcolm Estabrooks has a record 43 in the 6-7 age group. Jonathan Harper is responsible for 37 playing in the 8-9 year group, while Kim and Spencer Beckley have 18 in the 10-11 division. Jim Tranquilla completes the coaching staff as he has 13 in the pee wee (12-13) age group.

Obviously many of he coaches must act as parents with the younger children while teaching them to be team players and also instructing them in the bare basics of running, catching and hitting.

According to Mahoney, there are a fair number of girls involved in he programs – perhaps as many as 20 percent of the total.

He says while the season sees $10,000 spent on the operation, it covers a variety of things from insurance to uniforms and umpiring. Meanwhile, registration fees are kept low – ranging from $50 to $100, which allows parents on a low income to have their children participate.

So baseball, the game that takes up when lacrosse concludes and operates until the beginning of the fall season, appears to be gaining traction locally and perhaps dreams just might become a reality. But it will be a tough battle, one that the current executives appears prepared to meet.

Good luck will be necessary to complement all the hard work that will be required.

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