By Bob Elliott
AJAX _ The tempers had cooled.
The three groups of medal winners were lining up in the left field corner.
A couple of lads from Harbor Main, Newfoundland had come to the big city and now they were going to be given their medals.
They had a good time.
It was golden.
Brad Ezekiel hit a two-run homer in the sixth and Sean Cleary, also of Harbor Main, had gone the distance for the gold medal win as Canada edged Venezuela 2-1.
Hugh Mitchener, CEO of Softball Canada recalled a couple of weeks ago at the worlds in Saskatoon after Steve Mullaley, of Freshwater, Newfoundland had three homers and knocked in seven runs helping Canada rally from a 5-0 deficit to beat New Zealand for the world title.
“All our players did well, but especially those from Newfoundland,” said Mitchener, as he watched the Canadian team assemble. “I forget who it was, but someone came up to me and said ‘you know, it’s a good thing Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, or Britain would have one heck of a softball team today.”
The gold medal game was like a good old down home Conception Bay Central game against rivals Goulds.
“We have a good rivalry with Venezuela,” said catcher Ryan Boland, “they eliminated us in 2013. Ahhh, things never got really out of control.”
It’s all of matter of perspective. Cleary struck out pinch hitter Pedro Gonzalez for the final out and Boland headed for the mound to celebrate. Boland and Gonzalez locked legs -- it looked like incidental contact -- and
down went Gonzalez.
Words were exchanged. Benches cleared and the sea of players -- some celebrating, some berating -- moved from the mound, to shortstop and into left field.
“I didn’t see what happened on the strike out,” said John Stuart, Canuck coach. “I was trying to celebrate.
That’s a shame, it put a damper on our celebration. That’s their problem to deal with. I don’t know what happened. I was trying to get our guys off the field to celebrate, enjoy the moment.”
Cleary went the distance so no save was record on the mound. There were a lot of saves by peacemakers keeping hot heads away on from each other from both teams.
And then out of the crowd Ramon Jones of Venezuela hugged a Canadian player and it was like Lake Placid.
Newfoundland has won the Canadian senior softball championships the last three years. Why is the province so dominant?
“We play our junior team in our Senior League so all the kids get used to faster pitching at an earlier age,” said assistant coach John Hill, of St. John’s, a member of the Newfoundland Hall of Fame. “They’re able to learn quicker. Many of our players are picked up to play for mainland club teams, so their skill sets improve.”
Hill guided his team to three Canadian titles and retired from 32 years of service with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. He also coaches the Ilderton Chiefs which recently won the ASA Worlds.
If Frank Humber, who reached double-A in the Los Angeles Dodgers system is the best baseball player from Newfoundland, who is the best softball player?
“Colin Abbott from Portugal Cove,” said Hill.
How good did he feel to see two of his players win gold for Canada: Cleary with the complete game and Ezekiel with the two-run homer?
“It feels good, but when we come here, we came to win gold ... gold for Canada,” Hill said.
Canada with five players from Newfoundland on its roster, has won men’s softball gold every time it has been contested in the Pan Am Games: 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and now 2015.
It ended with a Venezuela player on the ground after the final out and that’s the way the top of the first ended.
Yeider Chirinos was on third when Cleary bounced a ball to Jorge Lima. The ball kicked off the screen and Boland tagged out Chirinos easily. However, the runner argued with plate ump Edwin Cruz of Puerto Rico that the pitch had hit Lima in the foot.
The bench and coaches argued. Cruz finally ejected Chirinos as the paramedics attended to Lima who was dancing on one leg against the backstop. Lima took his position at second base in the bottom of the first.
Argentina, a bunch of guys we thought we thought were Argo fans from their blue and white hats with the large A, took bronze.
For me it was my first softball game since the Rice Stadium Massacre when fastball player extrodinaire Randal Hendriks and his team humbled a team of major leaguers led by Roger Clemens, Woody Williams and Shane Reynolds.
The last softball game I was at was at Carlingwood Park in Ottawa when Joe Belisle was twirling for Turpin Pontiac in the early 1980s. Am not sure how the game has changed but hits are still hard to come by and players don’t get much of a secondary lead off ... just kidding.
I’ve been to the 1976 Olympics covering the sailing portion in Kingston, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics and that was the first time I’d ever heard Oh Canada played live.
Thanks lads, for joining Canada 65 years ago.