Ladies Fastball has a long history in Atikokan, and a group of former players are hoping to host a three-day reunion here August 4-7.
“We have all had thought of it in past few years, and Elaine [Barr] brought it to fruition,” said Debi Douglass, who along with former players Barr and Doreen Mercer started thinking about a reunion, after some fond reminiscing at this summer’s Mud Fling.
For Barr (who lives in Fort Frances), the motivation is that “I actually just really want to play a game of ball,” she laughs.
And play ball they will, as well as share memories and photos over the weekend. Already at least 100 former players have expressed interesting in attending, and while there are a lot more details to be worked out, plans so far include a Friday night (August 4) meet ‘n greet at the Legion, an exhibition game Saturday for all past players, and another Legion get-together that evening, followed by Sunday breakfast and a fun fastball skills contest to wrap the event up.
“We will have to fine tune this, but right now we’re just trying to give people an idea, and encourage them to come out and attend,” said Barr, who was a pitcher here from 1973 to 1975, and again from 1980 for the final decade of the league. (She went on to play competitive slo-pitch in Ottawa.)
Women’s fastball was a going concern for close to four decades, and like all recreation in town, it peaked during the mining boom years. Some remember the sport being played by Atikokan’s women as far back as 1950, and it was certainly a thriving organization by the 1960s and continued into the late 1980s.
Douglass “always had a passion for the game,” she recalled, when she joined as teenager in the mid-1970s. Her mother Donna Meany was one of the original fastball ladies, and that was what sparked Douglass’ initial interest in the game. She played with the league here for about 15 years, as a catcher.
That position, meant “lots of smucks,” she recalls with a laugh.
“It was a hard, competitive game,” said Barr. “We practiced more than we played. And it took some ladies years to actually get on the field, but they would come out and sit on the bench.”
Fastball – as its name would indicate – is the more rigorous of the softball sports, and typically employs a high speed wind-up underhand pitch, which is a challenge to hi).
At one of the more competitive games the women remember, the local tournament team played faced a squad from Dryden. “We played 12 innings to break the tie – and we lost it,” said Barr. “That was an intense game. We were told to hit hard, and it was very intense.”
Mostly though, it was good natured, and just a fun time. “If you weren’t razzing somebody, you weren’t part of the game,” said Barr.
At its peak, the league had at least eight teams of 15-20 players, organizers recall. They played two nights a week, at the White St. ball park, and “we would have crowds,” recalled Mercer, who was probably one of the younger players when she joined in 1963 at only 13 (despite the age requirement of 16). “Back then, people would pay to get into watch the games.”
“The benches were always full of spectators and in those days, everyone lived at the ballpark,” said Barr.
The best of the league would play in out-of-town tournaments in Kakabeka Falls, Thunder Bay, Rainy River, Dryden, Ignace, Red Lake, Fort Frances, and even into Manitoba.
“We had our own bus. Fred Gronski donated an old school bus, and we painted it and put our own nicknames on it,” recalled Barr, adding that one road trip to Red Lake for a tournament turned into a 21-hour drive because they ran out of gas, and spent a lot of time roadside before finally arriving late at night. “We threw our tents up and when we got up the next morning, they cancelled the tournament because we got rained out.”
The Atikokan league also hosted many regional tournaments, primarily at the White Street ballpark but when there were too many teams they used the Don Park ballpark as well.
Some of the Atikokan teams included the Dodge Darts, Atikokan Aces, and Davidson Construction which dominated the league for many years. By the time the league wound down in the late 1980s, it was hard “to scrounge two teams to play,” recalled Douglass.
To relive those memories, the organizers are seeking photographs from the ladies fastball years for a slideshow presentation they would like to show at the Friday evening meet ‘n greet.
Registration forms (deadline will be the end of April) and t-shirts will be available in the New Year as organizers get in gear for the summer event. (Keep an eye out for the upcoming Facebook page as well). So far, “we’re getting lots of positive feedback,” said Douglass, who added that hopefully people will plan their hometown visits around this weekend (the following weekend is the Mudfling).
The highlight, at least for the organizers, will be a chance to play ball again on the same ball diamond.
“I want to play ball again. We want to have that nostalgic feeling again – even if we have to helped off the field afterward,” jokes Douglass.
For more, or to help out, email Barr at firstname.lastname@example.org or Douglass at email@example.com