Gord Goble, Now contributor
In the end, there is baseball. There is always baseball.
And so it was Saturday at Whalley Ball Park as players, coaches, families and friends celebrated the little ball park that could.
For 60 years, Whalley baseball has united this northern Surrey neighbourhood, and Saturday afternoon its diamond anniversary was observed, fittingly, in an environment comprised almost exclusively by… diamonds.
For Dennis Springenatic and Rich Baile (pictured), the day brought back a flood of memories.
Not only of their own involvement as childhood teammates and friends, but of the tremendous impact their fathers – Chuck Bailey and Orest Springenatic – had on shaping both the park and the Whalley baseball community.
“My family moved to Surrey in the ’50s,” said Dennis Springenatic in between greeting old buddies. “Back then, the diamonds were to the west, and the SkyTrain of course wasn’t there, and all of this was just bush. Then the city bought all that land and moved the diamonds here.”
Springenatic talks about going, as a young player under the tutelage of his dad, to the 1978 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the huge imprint it left on his life. He also talks about the day Chuck Bailey arrived on the scene.
“In the ’70s, a fellow by the name of Chuck Bailey came over to the park from Surrey East – the Birdland area. That area team had amalgamated with Whalley and Chuck brought his four boys and a bunch of other kids from that area over to Whalley and started coaching. He was a good coach and my dad and him became best friends and they coached together for 20 years.”
Indeed, the Orest Springenatic/Chuck Bailey tandem was a force to be reckoned with. Together, they would elevate Whalley baseball to an institution that has consistently produced championship-level teams and turned little kids into solid young men.
“My dad dedicated his life to this community,” said Chuck’s youngest son Rich. “He was coach, then president, then district administrator, then vice president of Little League Canada.”
He talks about growing up with Dennis Springenatic, how their dads coached together, how the four of them went to the Little League World Series together. And he’s not shy at all about using the phrase coined many years ago to describe the elder Springenatic and Bailey – the “Godfathers of Baseball.”
(SEE PHOTOS FROM THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY BELOW)
Both Orest Springenatic and Chuck Bailey have since passed away. But their names will live on. At the Whalley Ball Park, the Major Diamond was renamed in the 1990s as Orest Springenatic Field. And Bailey, of course, has been immortalized through the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre.
For Dennis Carlson, who played for 12 years and coached for another 26, one year, and one tournament in particular, is lodged forever in his memory banks.
It was 2006. The Whalley squad was fresh off a Little League World Series appearance the year prior, and the team looked strong again as it entered the Canadian tourney. One difference – this year, Whalley was to play host.
“The 2006 year when we hosted the Canadians and won and went to Williamsport, we had a great year. I’ve never seen so many people in the crowd here (for the championship game). There must have been close to 50,000 people here. The stands and the grass were packed with people.”
Carlson co-coached the team that year with Ed Myers, who is now into his 35th year at the helm of one division or another.
Carlson gestures to the homes surrounding the park. You can feel the excitement in his voice.
“They were sitting on the rooftops out there. The fire department, they pulled up on the street there and they were all sitting on their ladders above their trucks.”
Later Saturday, Springenatic, Bailey, Calson and Myers joined Whalley Little League 1st VP Mark Deshane on stage to commemorate all five Whalley Little League World Series appearances. Various players, builders and coaches were inducted into a new Hall of Fame.
And then the big announcement – Whalley Little League stalwart Gord Sturko would have a diamond named after him (left).
It was a grand and often moving ceremony.
“Where else in baseball,” said Myers later, “can you play from the time your kid’s four years old on that little mini-diamond, come all the way around through these fields, and finish playing on that big league diamond over here. Nowhere else do you get that opportunity. It’s a very special thing. It’s a part of life here.”