In 1987, a Little League baseball team consisting of players from Chemainus, Crofton, Saltair and Ladysmith captured considerable attention with a remarkable run to the District 7 and Provincial titles and a runner-up finish in the Canadian championships.
And a Chemainus man legendary for his countless hours of dedication on the ball field umpired thousands of games, beginning around the mid-1970s and lasting until the onset of COVID, to leave a remarkable legacy.
The Stuart Channel Little League baseball team and umpire Roy Price were in the spotlight among the latest additions to the North Cowichan-Duncan Sports Wall of Fame during the 2022 induction ceremonies Saturday night at the Cowichan Golf & Country Club.
The Stuart Channel Little Leaguers were all 11- and 12-year-olds at the time of an unprecedented accomplishment for local baseball teams. They’re all 47 now and have long reflected on the achievement from a different perspective ever since that captivated all the communities within the region.
“1987 was a long time ago, did you notice the size of those Little Leaguers?” quipped manager Mel Dorey. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the Cowichan Valley.”
In those days, it was considered a pipe dream to reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, especially for associations as small as Stuart Channel’s. And yet, these guys came within one game of doing just that and with a little luck would have received a chance to face the best teams in the world from other countries.
Dorey and assistant coach Mike Maloney took this team with an abundance of natural talent and molded it into a powerful cohesive unit.
The 1987 Canadian Little League championships came down to a wild finish, with Stuart Channel, Glace Bay (Nova Scotia) and host Trail, B.C. all finishing the round robin with 4-1 records. Stuart Channel had beaten Glace Bay 8-2 and lost 7-5 to Trail, but held the tiebreaker over the other two teams and advanced straight to the national final.
Glace Bay and Trail slugged it out for the right to face Stuart Channel in the final. Glace Bay won 8-2.
All Stuart Channel had to do was beat Glace Bay for the second time in the tournament for the title and a trip to Williamsport. But Glace Bay got the jump with three runs in the first inning while Stuart Channel replied once in the first but couldn’t generate any further offense in a heartbreaking 5-1 defeat.
Dorey remembers that game well. The wind was blowing toward the outfield and Glace Bay took full advantage.
“They had two exceptional players,” said Dorey. “They had the lucky day. Two of their pop-ups went over the fence.”
One of Glace Bay’s exceptional players was a human vacuum cleaner and positioned himself perfectly at second base to turn a double play on a grounder hit right at him.
It was a bitter pill for the Stuart Channel kids to swallow.
“A few of them were crying,” noted Dorey. “I said ‘no more crying, heads up high, you had nothing to cry about.’”
The players received a nice prize when they got home, riding on a firetruck during a community celebration.
“How many of you ever rode in a firetruck?” laughed Dorey. “That was something special.”
It was indeed a special time for baseball and how the community embraced the team, he added.
“This was a community team that went for it. We put a lot of time into this team and that nearly paid off.”
Members of the team included: Randy Barker, Kirk Bonsall, Doug Cain, Chris Dice, Adam Dorey, Ken Lamberton, Ryan Maloney, Tim McKay, Bruce McMurtrie, Kary Price, Keith Valley and Brent Yarrow.
Some still live in the area and others have spread far and wide, but five players were in attendance to bask in the glory of their accomplishment and Wall of Fame induction.
While the Little Leaguers missed out on Williamsport, umpire Price did get the chance to experience it during his heyday at a training session. Umpiring in a Canadian Little League championship game was a highlight for him and many got to witness his trademark ‘strike’ call first-hand.
Price’s commitment to umpiring was second to none. Not only did he umpire so many high-level games over the years, he also stayed true to his roots by making sure all of Chemainus baseball’s needs were met through the recruitment of young people into the ranks.
Price started umpiring in Chemainus in 1975 and immediately became umpire-in-chief. “From there on, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “Got to go a lot of places and got to do a lot of great things.”
To be an umpire is not always to win any popularity contest, however, and Price often had to develop a thick skin like everyone else who’s done it.
“It’s a hard job, sometimes thankless and other times very rewarding,” he added. “The most important thing about umpiring is to be sure of yourself. The rewards are great. You don’t make much money.”
Price had a certain mannerism on the field that players, managers, coaches and spectators admired.
“I’d like to thank all the kids,” he said. “I made a lot of great friends, probably a few enemies, but that’s OK.”
It was the first induction ceremony since 2019, interrupted by COVID.
The Little Leaguers and Price will be featured in the Wall of Fame display inside the Cowichan Aquatic Centre in Duncan and will also have paver stones on the newly-devised Walk of Fame outside the centre.
Other inductees Saturday included: Sheron Chrysler (athletics), Garrett Elliott (fastball), Stan McKinlay (softball), Dano Thorne (soccer) and Ken Williams (soccer, posthumously).