New Waterford ball team leaves mark in history books

In 1971, the New Waterford Kinsmen — ably assisted by other local service organizations and businesses — formed an eight-team bantam baseball league in the former coal-mining town.

The circuit remained intact for a number of years and, as a result, some 125 boys in the 13-15-year-old age bracket were given the opportunity to play organized ball.

Included in that group of 125 during year one was yours truly, who played shortstop, and although friends remark that I flashed the leather fairly well, I barely hit my weight.

The co-ordinator of the Kinsmen league was Jimmy Nemis, who played centrefield for the famous New Waterford Giants powerhouse senior clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Nemis had plenty of assistance from a tireless worker by the name of Fabe Sudworth, along with numerous other Kinsmen volunteers.

At the conclusion of the league’s initial season, an all-star squad made up of two players from each team was selected by the Kinsmen to represent New Waterford in the Cape Breton bantam baseball playdowns and hopefully beyond. Of course, a coach was needed and the then-22-year-old Lowell Cormier was chosen. The New Waterford Kinsmen Rovers were off and running.

The young Rovers were together for only a short duration — nine games in fact — and they didn’t lose a single contest, winning everything in sight: first the Cape Breton title, followed by the Nova Scotia championship, culminating in the Eastern Canadian crown.

Coach Cormier once said to me, and I quote: “The team was already picked and registered, and I was asked by Leo Kennedy to coach. We practised every day for two weeks and those kids were really talented.

“They could all hit, run, throw, bunt and field. They were maybe the last neighbourhood gang coming up. As we progressed, the team kept getting better and better.

“ By the time we played for the Eastern Canadian title in Moncton we were a fine-tuned unit. And this was the best bantam ball. There was only one level; there was no Class A, B, or C.”

According to Rovers’ third baseman Charlie MacLellan, who took home the Eastern Canadian Most Valuable Player award — he batted a stellar .455 and led the tournament with five stolen bases — Cormier was a fine coach who, when circumstances allowed, would put in place a rare play known in baseball circles as the double squeeze, and it paid off in spades.

For those who may not be aware of how the double squeeze works, I’ll explain: With runners on second and third and less than two outs, the batter is instructed to bunt toward third base and immediately as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, both runners take off for home.

As the third baseman fields the ball and throws to first base, the lead runner, of course, scores. However, the second runner does not stop at third and, if things go according to plan, he continues on to home plate and also scores.

“In those nine games we played,” MacLellan told me, “each time we had runners on second and third with less than two outs, Cormier pulled off the double squeeze. It worked five or six times. Lowell taught us it and that alone, I think, won us that whole thing because when it worked, we scored two runs.”

The Kinsmen Rovers began their road to glory 46 years ago at what is now called the Jerry Marsh Ball Park in New Waterford by winning the Cape Breton bantam baseball tournament.

Then it was off to Halifax where the Rovers defeated Kentville twice and Stellarton once to claim provincial honours. Interestingly, both mainland clubs were coached by a couple of New Waterford and District Sports Hall of Fame inductees from the recent past, Eddie Gillis and Leo Fahey.

Of note, Coach Cormier said that winning that particular provincial crown was the highlight of his long coaching career.

The reason has to do with his late father, Joe “Pounder” Cormier, who played in the famous Halifax and District (H&D) Baseball League during the 1940s and ‘50s. By the way, the senior Cormier is also a member of the New Waterford and District Sports Hall of Fame.

“We beat Eddie Gillis’s team and Leo Fahey’s team,” Lowell told me.

“They were teammates of my father with the Kentville Wildcats of the H&D League. So that meant a lot to me as a young coach.”

Meanwhile, with the Nova Scotia championship in tow, the Rovers once again hit the road. Their destination? Moncton, New Brunswick to battle for the Eastern Canadian title.

Three other teams participated in the double-knockout tourney: Montreal Immaculate Conception of Quebec, Prince Edward Island’s Montague Lions and the host squad, Moncton Hillcrest-St. Pats who, of course, represented New Brunswick.

Charlie MacLellan of the Rovers remembers arriving in Moncton by car accompanied by his teammates.

“When we got there they did the draw right away,” he recalled. “We got the draw to play Moncton right off the bat and they were tournament favorites, but I think they took us too lightly.

“Anyway, we took a 5-1 lead against their left-hander before they finally replaced him in the third with their shortstop who turned out to be Brent Hallett, who later played centrefield for Canada’s national baseball team. Hallett was so fast that he was a man among boys. He struck out 11 and walked none but we got to him at the end.”

As it happened, the New Waterford squad scored three runs off Hallett in the second extra frame to take the match 10-7.

Game two resulted in a 9-6 victory over Prince Edward Island. Consequently, the Rovers met Montreal for the Eastern Canadian title and the final match was no contest.

Playing in front of more than 1,000 Moncton fans, the Cape Bretoners pounded out 10 hits and the late Greg Hawley, who was named the tournament’s top pitcher, went the distance, giving up just two singles and striking out nine. Final score: New Waterford 8, Montreal 0.

An interesting newspaper clipping of the day reported that, “The Rovers winning the championship was all the more remarkable when one considers that none of the boys had ever played under the lights before!”

Along with mentioning MacLellan’s and Hawley’s feats, the same article states: “Bruce MacKenzie and Wayne Detienne played outstanding games for the Rovers.”

“Upon arriving home,” said another newspaper writeup, “the team was greeted by one of the largest motorcades in the town’s history.”

In July, the 1971 Eastern Canadian Bantam Baseball champions were inducted into the New Waterford & District Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.

Well done, New Waterford Kinsmen Rovers. Well done, New Waterford Kinsmen.

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