Heading into the final inning of fastball nationals in Richmond, B.C., Team Ontario was ahead by two against the Yellowknife Junior Merchants in the gold medal game.
Two quick runs by the Merchants before the crowd of about 5,000 – larger than Kevin Daniels’ hometown of Fort Smith – tied up the game.
Daniels, playing left field, said there was a great cloud of dust that partly obscured his view of home as a scramble ensued. A third runner that would’ve clinched the game for the Merchants was ruled as out by an umpire.
The game went into two extra innings. A series of plays, some involving Daniels in outfield, saw Ontario take the game and the gold medal from that 1979 Canadian Junior Men’s Fastball Championships.
It’s a game Daniels, 16 at the time and added to the team just before the event, still clearly recalls. Today, he still feels strongly about the umpire’s call on that third runner.
“We knew we won,” Daniels said from his Hay River home Oct. 31, 36 years after the game. “(The runner) was safe at home.”
Heading into the tournament, he said the Merchants had been ranked dead last of the 12 teams.
“We damned near pulled off the surprise,” he said. “I’m quite proud of that team.”
Members of that team that came oh-so-close to gold will reunite in Yellowknife on Nov. 20. There, they will be inducted into the territory’s sports hall of fame.
“It’s a pleasant surprise,” Daniels said about the honour.
Some members of that Ontario team went on to play semi-professionally, Daniels said.
The Merchants didn’t fare as well, and several years later Softball NWT pulled out of the national championships.
Daniels played on and eventually moved to coaching and has taken teams to other championship events.
He’s coached for about 14 years, he said. Last year he wasn’t as involved, something he hopes to change next year.
While he tells players he coaches to not take bad plays or losses to close to heart, he admits it’s a lesson he hasn’t fully adopted about that 1979 game.
Daniels has a clipping about going to nationals from a newspaper in Fort Smith.
“I was reading it last night and it brought it back,” he said. “After reading it again, it’s amazing how it brought me right back to it (the game).”
He credits his brother Floyd Daniels with getting him into the sport.
“I wouldn’t know how to wear a glove without him,” he said.
Daniels will be among 25 sport leaders inducted into the hall of fame at the upcoming ceremony.
The hall of fame is run by Sport North Federation. Nominations for induction are received annually with final selection made by a hall of fame committee.