Friday September 19, 2014

Sports in Prime Time

Neepawa Tigers one of Canada's first Little League squads

Rick Sparling/Neepawa Press

Members of the 1950 Neepawa Little League Tigers are, kneeling, from left, Wayne Murray, Barry Johnson, Cecil Pittman, Ron Buchanan, Bob Howden, Wilbur Lukin and Darren McIntyre; standing, from left, Don Leboutillier, Stan Hudey, Fred Plett, Merv Pilkey, Merv Brown, Lorne Pittman, Murray Reid, Bill Bates and Mel McGregor; back row, from left, coach Jim Scott and Kas Holod.

Little League baseball was founded by an American, Carl Stotz, in 1939 and eventually found its way to other countries with the first being in the Panamas in 1950.

Because of the monsoons in Panama, their season ended in April when baseball in Canada was just about starting. Word spread quickly and in that same year Little League erupted in Canada having teams formed in Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba.

The 1950 Neepawa Tigers, under the management of Jim Bulloch and Scotty McGregor, and  coached by Jim Scott, was one of the first Little League teams to be formed in Manitoba - and Canada for that matter.

The team played against other teams in the district including Winnipeg, Dauphin and Brandon.

Players can recall travelling to these locations in Pete Boutillier’s one ton truck. He installed a tarp to cover the back, which protected the players from the elements.

Later the team travelled in luxury as they graduated into the back of a two ton truck with ample room to sit in lawn chairs. They did take cars for their Winnipeg trip.

Exhibition games were played against Franklin and Wellwood “scrub” teams just to get some playing time in.

It was difficult not to be in love with baseball in 1950, as stars like Mickey Mantle, Wllie Mays,  “Joltin” Joe Dimaggio and “Bullet” Bob Feller  were household names at that time, helping to make the game as popular as it was.

I, personally, know that feeling, as I had the opportunity to see Willie Mays play at Cleveland stadium back in 1956. That is a memory that will be forever seeded deep in the bowels of my hippocampus.

Even then, because of the lack of media coverage (no TVs yet) of the Major Leagues, the local heroes  were idolized. Players like Raeburn Rush, Bob Baker, Daune Yerex and Clint McCurly, to name a few.

Players to this day remember the weekend trip to play Vince Leah’s little league team. The Neepawa players’ parents billeted the Winnipeg players and the tide was turned to reciprocate a couple of weeks later when the Tigers visited Winnipeg.

Those billets are likely a thing of the past, but great memories for those involved.

The two teams would play a series of three games over the weekends to make the trips worthwhile.

The treat of that Winnipeg trip was the Friday evening baseball game the team got to take in. It was at the old Osborne Stadium, home of the ‘50s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Winnipeg Buffaloes of the Mandak League were playing under the lights. Other teams in this league at that time were the Elmwood Giants, the Carman Cardinals and the infamous Brandon Greys.

That particular year the Buffaloes won the league title over the Brandon Greys. It was quite a thrill for these 12-year-old boys and no doubt increased their passion to play the next morning.

The other highlight to that 1950 baseball season was the trip into Brandon (that was the lawn chair trip) and playing at Kinsmen Stadium at the corner of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue under the lights just like the game they watched at Osborne Stadium.

It was a dream come true for the Neepawa squad.

The players I spoke to couldn’t remember who won or lost those games, but that was something that really didn’t matter much.

It was the last thing that really mattered.

It should be noted that Vince Leah was credited for bringing Little League into Canada in 1950, but kudos have to go out to Bulloch, McGregor and Scott for being there, at the ready, to provide formidable competition that very first year. The Neepawa Tigers….. one of the first Little League teams in Canada.

This team is being nominated for induction into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.

Some of the information and the stories above were garnered from conversations with Ron Buchanan and Kas Holod, Ron now residing in Winnipeg and Kas in Morden...


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