Sport’s legacy lives on with rural roots

Posted August 4, 2009


Sport’s legacy lives on with rural roots

It’s hard to imagine anything being quite the same today as it was back in 1909.

From farm equipment to plumbing and everything in between, 100 years ago seems like more than a lifetime to most.

But then there’s baseball.

The game that despite all the advances in technology and coaching, remains a constant in the lives of those who play it, coach it and the lucky few who get to make a living at it.

Baseball Alberta had its birth in the early 1900s, known at that time as the Alberta Amateur Baseball Association. The focus was solely on the junior and senior levels as it oversaw the leagues and provincial playoffs, according to its website.

It was during this wonderfully exciting and simple time that Camrose, along with so many other frontier communities, planted what is today considered the roots of Alberta baseball.

One hundred years later, baseball is still alive in the Camrose area. From mosquito to men’s, hundreds of players and coaches each year, and dozens of umpires spend their short Alberta summers on the diamonds many a nights.

Merlin Rude, who hails from the Tofield area is one of those former players and coaches who loves the game just as much as Camrose baseball builder Harry Andreassen did, whom the baseball field at Kin Park is named after.

“I coached and played against Harry (Andreassen) so many times,” Rude said. “It was fun because he played and coached baseball the right way. We both loved it because we respected each other so much. But of course, he usually won.”

Yes, friendships even amongst opponents are made on the ball field. Hardships of farming and family can be put aside for a couple hours each night. And partnerships were the only reason it kept going over the years.

Baseball, unlike any other sport in Alberta, is truly a community- and family-run game. Hockey used to be the same way, but our national pastime is stronger than ever and it will always be on steady ground. It’s a well-oiled machine that continues to be one of the greatest games on earth.

Baseball hangs on – but for how much longer? 

Although numbers are up in Camrose this year, the sport’s participation continues to drop in many neighbouring rural towns. Slo-pitch, soccer, volleyball and summer holidays are pushing baseball to the backburner. That and decreasing populations of our rural communities of course.

For so many years between that first pitch in Camrose 100 years ago to this weekend at Harry’s field, support from countless volunteers have been the only thing keeping it going. The mowing, the chalking, the meticulous dragging and sculpting of the infield and mound, not to mention the countless hours of coaching and umpiring.

A short hop from the Rose City is the farming community of Bardo, who seems to cheat time each year with its men’s team, which plays on a field just south of Tofield “in the middle of nowhere.” A throwback to what so many fields and games looked like back in 1909 – even in Camrose. Just like Andreassen, many Bardo volunteers made it possible to keep the sport alive, even in the lean years.

“It wasn’t just my dad, there were a lot of other people over the years who kept it going,” said Bardo’s Ken Stauffer, who helps out in Bardo occasionally with the maintenance of the field. “Sometimes I’m out (on the diamond) mowing the grass, and I think, why am I out here? Why do I keep doing this? 

But it’s kind of nostalgic. Each year we have a team and keep it going just one more, it’s another accomplishment.”

Nowadays going to watch a baseball game is so often considered “boring.” The patience and concentration required in the sport is difficult to maintain for those who don’t understand it. The skill needed to make plays is hard to hone unless you practice and play consistently.

And that’s what makes baseball special. It’s a tough game, a game that can be cruel to one and beautiful to another at the exact same time. A game that can teach life lessons of humility and sportsmanship better than any other sport. 

But it’s also a game more than any other, that without continued community support, could slowly vanish away, and with it, too, our rural past and where we came from.

Help celebrate Camrose baseball and those who have helped build and maintain it Friday, Aug. 7, at Harry Andreassen Field when men’s baseball all-star teams from the Powerline and Battle River Leagues meet for the ninth time. Currently, the Powerliners lead the series 5-3. First pitch is at 7 p.m.

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