Fastpitch revival

NNSL file photo
Tod Ashton – in a game with the Hay River Heat – displays the fastpitch style of pitching, which is dramatically different than slo-pitch.

A new two-team men’s fastpitch league – also called a summer series of games – is about to launch in Hay River.

“We have two teams that are defined and have been formed,” said Glenn Smith, the organizer of the new league and captain of one of the teams, the Diggerz Dodgers.

The other team is called the Ptarmigan Pirates.

Fastpitch in Hay River has for many years basically been the Heat, a team which travels to tournaments and last year celebrated its 20th anniversary.

“For the most part, we’ve been a one-team kind of town throughout those years,” said Smith. “Occasionally, there’d be perhaps a tournament or two where we’d see a second team kind of form. But starting last year we felt that we had enough interest, membership and field capacity, I guess, to get some games going. So last year we had a few games like this, as well.”

Those games included one on Canada Day, which attracted a good crowd.

“So this year we’re kind of stepping it up a notch and a little more formalized, I guess we’d say, with team names and jerseys or shirts, and better definition of what those teams look like,” said Smith.

The first games will start on May 30 and end July 18.

“For the most part, they’re on Tuesday,” said Smith. “We have a few Friday games thrown in as well around our tournament travel schedule, but for the most part Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. at Keith Broadhead Ballpark.”

Fastpitch has a long history in Hay River and there was a men’s league a generation ago and also a female fastpitch league.

Smith noted that slo-pitch became really popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and kind of took over.

“And that’s been the more popular sport,” he said.

The new league won’t affect the status of the Heat, which will remain the tournament team from Hay River.

“Some of the traditional Heat members are spread across both of those teams,” Smith said of the new league.

In fact, it is hoped the new league will help develop the skills of the players on the Heat because it will mean more playing time.

“The biggest advantage I think is actually just getting in-game time, like real game scenarios,” said Smith, who plays with the Heat. “You know, we practise, practise, practise and then go to a tournament versus say the Yellowknife team, which has a league. So they’re putting in multiple games a week and getting better experience and actual game play that you can’t mimic when you’re practising.”

The new league will also give the Heat more players from which to choose.

About 30 players are expected in the new league.

The players have roughly been divided by age to form the new teams.

“We did it a little bit by age,” said Smith. “The older group versus the young guns, so to speak.”

However, there was an even division of pitchers and catchers.

Terry Rowe is organizing the Ptarmigan Pirates.

“We’re kind of the young gun team,” he said. “We’re all really excited to play. I’ve played with the Heat for a few years and they’re great guys and great to play for, but we do want a little bit of competition and want to get everybody out. So we thought making two teams and kind of splitting it up as evenly as possible would create a bit of a competition and hopefully one day blossom into a bit of a league.”

Rowe doesn’t know how much more interest there is in fastpitch.

However, he noted the Heat has always been a popular team and fastpitch got a boost last year with the Western Canadian Masters Fastpitch Championships being held in Hay River and the opening of the new twinned ballpark.

“I think a lot of the young guys are starting to kind of getting back into it and wanting to play a little bit more,” he said. “So obviously that has a lot to do with all the ball that was getting played last year and people being around for that. But fastball has always been popular in Hay River.”

Rowe believes the new league will give more game action to members of the Heat and make that team more competitive in tournaments.