By IAN WILSON
It seems like we’ve been running the bases for a while now.
We’ve been caught in some rundowns and have been desperate to stay safe for what feels like an eternity.
But as we sprint past second base and lift our eyes to sneak a peek at the third base coach, we can finally see it … the green light. He’s waving us home!
Not only are we going to be safe at home, it looks like we’re safe all around.
It was hard not to experience a range of positive feels at Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) ballparks on Canada Day.
The initiation of Stage 3 of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan – which lifted masking requirements and other public health measures – marked a significant milestone for the WCBL, allowing stadiums to safely open the gates to full crowds for the first time since 2019.
CANADA DAY AT THE BALLPARK
July 1st is always a big day on the baseball calendar in Canada, where thousands of fans flock to their local ballparks for an enjoyable evening of baseball and to “Oooh!” and “Aaaahh!” at the post-game fireworks. It really is fun for the whole family.
As much as it meant to the WCBL and its teams to welcome a full house of folks to their venues on Canada Day, this year was more than just a return to a familiar holiday in a sociable setting.
It fostered a feeling of optimism, as could be seen in the toothy grins and on the sun-screened cheeks of children and adults alike. The crack of the bat, an intermittent heartbeat of the ball diamond, sent kids racing to wrestle over stray foul balls in the parking lot while their parents bit into mustard-slathered hot dogs. Grandma wiped the sweat from her brow before she sipped a beverage that would only taste this good under this sun and next to this grass. Behind the home dugout, meanwhile, a young observer kept track of the game the old-fashioned way, with a pencil and a scorecard. The occasional breeze breathed life into the sun-battered masses. These were the sensations that brought everything back into focus.
It was baseball, the best kind, but it was more than that.
BIGGER THAN BASEBALL
Spitz Stadium in Lethbridge, where the Bulls hosted a doubleheader against the Edmonton Prospects, and Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, where Dawgs Black welcomed the Sylvan Lake Gulls, served as the gathering hubs. These were the places where the masks came down (or stayed on, depending on your preference) and the sunglasses and ball caps provided enough shade from the sun to give those in attendance a new way of looking at things. If you squint hard enough you can see a new normal. A new, old normal. This is how it was a couple years ago and this is where can be now.
The baseball matters. The results are recorded and the scoreboard tells a story, but the box scores aren’t always the priority. What the Western Canadian Baseball League is a part of, the fabric of communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, matters more.
The bigger deal is that this level of baseball is being played at all, and if you are lucky enough to buy a ticket, you are there to see it. The vision of the summer collegiate circuit to bring this season to fruition, against all odds and in the face of continual obstacles, is a testament to what can be achieved and why it was important to persevere. This is what life is, what living is, and we’re ready to embrace it again.
Hitters and pitchers in the WCBL, meanwhile, are definitely embracing it to the fullest.
“It was a full crowd … really nice to have fans with that much energy so you don’t have to create energy on your own bench,” Lethbridge outfielder Josh Kabayama told reporter Colin Moreland after the Canada Day contests that saw the Prospects edge the Bulls 6-5 in the afternoon, before the Bulls stormed back for a 14-2 win in the second game.
Lethbridge teammate Torrin Vaselenak was also excited about the brimming stands at Spitz Stadium.
“It was awesome,” said the infielder. “Everything’s been limited so finally getting that many people and that much energy was super fun to play in front of.”
SAFE AT HOME
The lure of Seaman Stadium brought throngs of people to Okotoks, as well, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was excited to watch live sports in person.
We were exhausted rounding third base.
But the green light never felt so good. It felt safe. It felt like … home.
(Main image courtesy of Dave Watling Photography)