By IAN WILSON
There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.
Or at least that’s what a dream-conjured Babe Ruth told us in the classic baseball movie The Sandlot.
Where Brad Goodwin fits on that hero/legend scale is hard to know, but he delivered one of the most magical moments of the 2022 Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) season and it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
So stirring was the sequence of events it reminded many in attendance – and others who saw the pictures and viral videos after – of something straight out of Hollywood.
Was it Goodwin at the plate or Roy Hobbs?
Were these the Lethbridge Bulls or Benny, Squints, Ham, Smalls and the gang?
Our story begins in L.A. … no, not that L.A. … we’re talking Lethbridge, Alberta. More specifically, Spitz Stadium in Lethbridge.
The Bulls were playing the second half of a doubleheader against the Brooks Bombers on July 1st, looking to rebound from an 8-4 extra-innings loss in the matinee.
That extended Canada Day matchup pushed back the start time of the night game, a scheduling adjustment that would help invite ballpark enchantment in the late stages of the night game.
Also stretching the evening contest out was an offensive outburst from both teams, who knocked around eight different pitchers with 29 hits and 17 runs over the course of three and a half hours.
The Bombers and Bulls were tied 8-8 heading into the ninth inning. Across the street at Henderson Park Lake, punctual pyrotechnic workers were getting ready to put on a Canada Day show that would start promptly at 11 p.m., no matter what was happening at the ball diamond.
After the Bombers went three up, three down in the top of the ninth, Lethbridge outfielder Torrin Vaselenak started the bottom half of the frame by striking out against Oscarli Cruz under explosive skies.
“I think it was distracting at first, but then we realized we still had to win a baseball game,” said Ryan MacDonald, the third base coach of the Bulls, who added the team watched The Sandlot on a recent road trip to Swift Current.
“As soon as we knew the fireworks were going to still happen I mentioned we may have a Sandlot moment on our hands.”
For those unfamiliar with the film, there is a 4th of July scene where the kids take advantage of the light provided by the Independence Day fireworks to play a night game in the neighbourhood – it combines baseball and the sky spectacle to wondrous effect.
Living out the real-life situation, third baseman Brandon Nicoll was next up to try and manage a hit under these unique circumstances.
“It was hard to stay focused when I wasn’t involved in the game, the fireworks were pretty cool to watch,” said Nicoll, who hit a single on the third pitch he saw of the at bat.
“I tried to keep it as simple as possible at the plate … once I stepped to the plate and got on base, it’s like they disappeared.”
When a ball hit the dirt during Carter Claerhout’s plate appearance, Nicoll stole second and put himself in scoring position.
Claerhout went down on strikes for the second out, leaving the heroics to Goodwin, who had little opportunity to take in the atmosphere.
“Stepping into the on-deck circle during the fireworks was really hectic,” recalled the two-way player, who was recently named to the WCBL’s West Division All-Star Game roster.
“I was actually running down from the bullpen, as I was warming up for the tenth inning. I honestly was just trying to catch my breath. Stepping into the box, you couldn’t hear a thing. The fireworks were super loud and the fans were screaming, too. I think the fireworks almost helped me focus in on the at bat because there was so much noise you couldn’t even hear yourself think.”
Goodwin had faced Cruz earlier in the game, so he had an idea of what to expect out of the righthander from Haverstraw, New York. Three pitches into his at bat, the righty batsman got a look at a ball he could smack.
“Off the bat I thought it was a hit for sure. I knew it was a diving play for both the third basemen and shortstop and I was quick out of the box,” said the Sherwood Park, Alberta native.
Nicoll was poised at second base and ready to make the dash home.
“I had a pretty good feeling that once ‘Goodie’ hit the ball I was going to get the wave home no matter what,” said the British Columbian.
MacDonald had no intention of putting up the stop sign for Nicoll.
“I had no hesitation waving him from third. I was waving him on any ball hit anywhere through the infielders to the outfield in that situation,” said MacDonald.
With Nicoll bounding for home under the firework blasts in front of a capacity crowd of 1,870 spectators, Goodwin still had to get to first base to secure the 9-8 walk-off victory.
“As soon as I saw it get into the outfield I threw my helmet, made sure I touched first, and took off towards our bullpen. I just knew the guys were going to try to catch me and I was planning on running away for as long as I could but the last two guys in the bullpen got me,” said Goodwin, who wears the same No. 9 that Roy Hobbs made famous in the film The Natural, which included a famous light-popping, game-winning drive by the protagonist.
Photographer Janise Michel, who captured some incredible pictures from the game for Lethbridge Sports, couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“It felt like we were living in a movie. I kept saying, ‘Is this really happening?’ over and over. It just seemed too good to be true,” said Michel.
“It was a perfect moment. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it, and I’m sure it was even better for the guys, too, to win it like that at home, and in front of a sold-out crowd. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
She added: “This moment really encapsulated everything that makes baseball so special for me.”
It was special for the Lethbridge Bulls and their fans, too.
“It was one of the coolest moments I’ve experienced on the baseball field, for sure … it’s something I will never forget,” said Nicoll.
Goodwin got “Sandlot vibes” from the experience.
“Every kid watching that movie has dreamt of playing under the fireworks while they light up the sky. I just never thought that it would be a reality,” he said.
MacDonald, who has seen much more baseball than any of his players, called it a once-in-a-lifetime scenario.
“I’ve never been a a part of anything like that before. That will forever be a moment I remember for the rest of my life,” said the coach.
“I mean, that moment is what every player dreams of when they’re a kid. Bottom of the ninth, two outs and you drive in the winning run in front of your biggest crowd of the year. It’s truly an incredible moment.”
It was the stuff of legends.