PBL Profile: Mike LeClaire
Posted January 15, 2020
A member of the storied Bardo Athletics team for twenty one seasons, Mike LeClaire established himself as one of the most prominent figures for both the A’s and the Powerline Baseball League during his career. LeClaire was a part of the 2006 Bardo Athletics championship team that became legendary in the history of baseball in Bardo for ending the 34 year PBL Championship drought that the team experienced.
LeClaire was a fierce competitor on the field with experience playing baseball in the PBL while many of the players he played against at the end of his career were just getting started in minor baseball. Sure hands and one of the most accurate arms from shortstop the league has seen made LeClaire a tremendous middle infielder over his Athletics career. On the mound LeClaire was a right handed curveball specialist that worked ground ball after ground ball from opposing teams while mixing in a sneaky and accurate fastball to keep hitters honest. At the plate Mike was a pesky batter for opposing pitchers to face atop of what grew to be a tough Bardo Athletics lineup during their championship years in the 2000s.
Always the ball player, Mike was part of the 2019 World’s Longest Baseball Game held in Sherwood Park last August. LeClaire and fifty five other men and women spent a total of eighty four hours playing the game of baseball in Sherwood Park to help raise nearly $500,000 for cancer research.
Bardo Athletics - 2006 PBL Champions
Here is the interview with longtime Bardo Athletics player and manager, Mike LeClaire:
What was your baseball background prior to playing in the PBL?
My baseball background was little league ball. I played in Tofield, Redwater, Claresholm, and played on the Southern All-Star Little League team (1982-83)
When did you start playing the Powerline Baseball League? How did you get involved with that team?
I started playing in the PBL in 1993. I first wanted to play with the Tofield Lakers in 1992, but at the time their roster was pretty much full and full of Veterans. They told me I could play but I would have lots of bench time. I was living in Edmonton so I decided the travel was not worth sitting on the bench. I moved to Tofield in 1993 and I had heard the Bardo A’s were in a transition period of players and had some openings, so I ended up playing with them.
What are the teams that you have played for in the Powerline Baseball League during your career?
I played my whole PBL career with Bardo A’s 1993 – 2014. I took over managing the team from 1995 – 2013
Do you remember your first game in the Powerline Baseball League?
I don’t remember my first game exactly, but I do remember being a little intimidated the first year. There was a lot of older veteran presence with most teams. Bardo was very young.
What was that first year of Powerline Baseball League baseball like for you?
The first year was so great and I had so much fun. I guess surprises were the age of guys playing, most were in the mid 30’s +. I was shocked how competitive the teams were. I was also surprised on the lack of consistency with umpires from town to town and who could, or was allowed to actually ump (including Bardo). I was also surprised with the rules of the PBL and how they could just easily change them from year to year as they please. Over time I did come to understand why they did it.
How did the Powerline Baseball League change during your years in the league?
The league changed so much. Probably one of the biggest changes was the first website, thanks to (Jason) Buzzell. Communication and scoring results came so quick, we didn’t need to call things in anymore. Another was when the league switched from aluminum bats to wood. The baseball got better and better every year it seemed. Rules changed every year. Typically rules were added as situations arise from year to year. For many years we all called them the 'New Brewers Rules'. Seemed the wily vets every year would push the rules once playoffs came, no matter who they played. The following year a new rule seemed to be added lol. For so long teams were in and out of the league and turn around was high. It looked like it the league would fold several times, but it always seemed to carry on, no matter how many teams were playing
Is there a specific game or games that come to mind as being memorable for you during your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
There is literally were so many memorable games with all the teams. Played in the snow in spring against Camrose and to find out the next day that we were the only two teams that played through it (happened with us I believe twice, both against Camrose). Those road trips to Lamont and the Lamont Hotel after with such a great group of guys (including the umps and some underage, Reinholt’s and Neufeld’s to be exact lol). The Chipman Hotel with the Cossey boys eating those turkey wings. They were so big and greasy (the wings that is). We ordered a 100 the first time and the whole bar laughed at us. They were like turkey wings, we couldn’t even eat half of them, so we gave the rest to a homeless man. The Ryley Hotel will be missed for sure, always had great times with the Rebels after games. Great nights at Armena, similar to Bardo, it was always a good place to stay very late. Another favourite was playing a league game against Leduc on Telus Field. Oilers Rookies were all in attendance (including Yakupov) and they were heckling us but were impressed with the ball game. It was a great game and such a great time.
Was there a pitcher in the Powerline Baseball League that you perhaps dreaded facing or just had your number for some reason or was there a pitcher that you loved facing?
A specific Pitcher that was the toughest on me: Curtis Stensrud in his younger years. I had success at first, but that soon changed and he was probably the guy I hated facing the most. When Curtis came into the league, he was very dominant. He quickly learned the batters and skill set of all players he faced. He pitched as he needed to each player (seemed to always go a full seven). If you were a decent batter the harder and meaner he would be on you (it was so great). When Curt first came into the league I was really successful against him, but that didn’t last long. Once he figured that I was hitting him hard, he started to throw some chin music and every once in a while would plug me with a fastball, just to keep me honest he’d say. I remember one time after a game socializing, he told me, “Mike you hit me hard all the time, don’t stand so close to the plate anymore or you WILL get hit”. And what did he do the next time I faced him, he threw one high inside, chin height. I didn’t back down and think I got a base hit off him. The next time I faced him he plugged me in the back with a fast ball. I stared him down and he just smiled and mumbled something like, get off the plate. After the game, when we were shaking hands, he walked by and said “I told you”. This happened a few times after this, and after all the bruises he completely got in my head. He then became my hardest pitchers to bat against. Donny Oslund would have been a close second, especially in his younger years. As Donny got older I definitely had more success against him. I knew he would never intentionally hurt or hit you, he was too nice of a guy. So it was always a little easier to stand in there and try to keep up to the fast ball.
LeClaire steps up to bat for Team Hope at the 2019 World's Longest Baseball Game in Sherwood Park
Was there a particular hitter that you had a tough time getting out while you were pitching?
Yes I pitched, it you can call it that. The only thing I had going for me was control and could always throw strikes, when sometimes that was hard to find in the PBL (I didn’t walk too many). Typically the young guys would have a tough time hitting me, because threw lots of curves and junk. The young guys were used to the cages and just seemed to concentrate on hitting the fast balls at the time, which made me quite successful against them. I would say one of the hardest batters I had to face would have been Roger Hubdie (no idea on last name spelling), he played with the Brewers, he would rip the cover off every ball I pitched, strike or not.
How would you describe the difference between the regular season and those best of three series in the playoffs?
Huge difference from league play to playoffs. Playoffs ramped up, quality of ball was much better, and in the early days (before rule changes), players would come out of the woodwork to play playoff games. Players you never seen or even heard of would somehow show up for a team in playoffs. After rules came in to control this, teams would still end up with full rosters for playoff time, which made the ball more competitive for sure. Seemed like there was a run of years that Bardo had finished the regular season at the top or near the top of the standings and no matter where we finished we had to play the Brewers in the payoffs. We pretty much lost out first round to them every time. We didn’t have the pitching depth needed to complete in a three games series. Pitching depth and a couple aces was the biggest difference in playoffs. If you don’t have it, you won’t win.
Were you able to capture a PBL Championship? What was the most memorable PBL Championship run like for you?
Yes I finally captured two championships. The first championship in 2006 with the Bardo A’s and we won it on our home diamond. It took thirteen years to get it, but it felt like thirty. It meant so much for so many of us, as we had so many guys on the team that have not won a championship before and we all stuck together and accomplished it. The one thing about the Bardo team, most of the guys were best friends and we hung out all year long. I think we partied most the year celebrating that first Championship. The trophy went to weddings, Friday night shop talk, team fishing derbies, and just the odd weekend whenever it would randomly show up and we would all reminisce. When I first started in 1993 we were literally the Bad News Bears of the PBL and it took so long to win that first one. It was such a great feeling, and memories I will cherish forever with all these guys. I was most proud to win for the Bardo community, the Stauffer’s (especially Ken) and the Rude’s (especially Lawrence). I was the manager of the team at the time and when they handed that trophy out, I remember calling Ryan Stauffer and Kent Rude to come and get it, and they were the first two to touch that trophy and carry it around (Ryan didn’t want anyone else to have it lol). I will never forget the look on their faces (and both their dads and Uncle Warren) when they lifted that trophy, it was the best. Our second was 2018, again such a great feeling, but nothing like 2006. We won this in Camrose. We left quickly and all went back to Bardo for festivities.
There have been numerous on-field, maybe even off-field, rivalries in the Powerline Baseball League over it’s history. Was there a particular rivalry that you were involved in that was memorable and why was it so memorable?
Our biggest rivalry was probably the Powerline Brewers. Especially in the early years, they were always tough on us young kids at the time. They had all kinds of tricks up their sleeves and seemed to use them all on us. Seemed like they really had our number and were super tough to play against. They always dominated us in the playoffs. We had heated times and good times playing against them. It seemed like every year we started playoffs we would have to face the Brewers and it always seemed like the first week we would only play the one game against them because they needed to postpone game two of the serious because the Brewers would take that Thursday off and to head to Kindersley, SK to play in Western Canadians. They would come back after playing five to six games (with a lots of plate appearances) on the weekend and they would completely dominate us for games two and three. Bardo was always so mad that the league would allow them to take the Thursday off before going to Kindersley. Once I was given the privileged to play with the Brewers in Kindersley I figured out why they did it. They played so much ball in that tournament, plus it would start on the Friday. They need that Thursday off so they could all get to Kindersley and set up camp. A few of our players were soon old enough (over 35) to play in this tournament and the Brewers invited all of us who were. They took us under their wings and had some late nights chatting about league play. It was such a great experience and I came to realize that tournament really helped with their playoff success. Milt Malick and Pat Kawaliak taught me so much there. They opened up and invited us into their baseball family. I have so much respect for those two guys and the whole group.
Bardo Recreation Grounds in 2019. The last Bardo Athletics game at the field was in July 2016.
As a predominately rural baseball league, there are some stories (perhaps tall tales) that have been told over the course of the Powerline Baseball League’s history. Are there any stories that you have heard, seen yourself or know about that would be great to share with the community?
I remember first starting and playing against Milt Malick. The first time I played against him, he was catching with no shin pads or chest protector. I can’t remember exactly how many balls that guy took off the shins that day, but it was a lot. I thought what the hell is wrong with this guy. Every time a ball hit him on the shins it sounded like the crack of a bat lol. Then after a few times playing against him, I realized how tough, old school, and stubborn this guy was. He never wore those shin guards and I never seen him once turn away from a ball……………..unreal. I also remember first playing at Bardo, people called it Kool-Aid Park because no alcohol was allowed on the grounds. I couldn’t believe nobody was allowed to have a beer after the game while on the grounds. At twenty three years old, beer was a priority. I can remember for years we used to sit behind those truck tires hiding (during Bardo Sports Day and after league games) and drink the beer as fast as we could so we wouldn’t get caught. I do remember getting caught by Ken or Warren Stauffer the first few times, and you would get that old Stauffer finger pointed at you, and told to smarten up lol. That eventually went away and Bardo eventually opened up and realized times were changing (also realized that most the team was from Tofield and if they wanted us to keep the team going they were going to have to let us drink beer). Overtime we actually turned the good O’l Pie shack into our club house, which we always kept our beer in. I can say I was part of the group that did change the drinking policy. Our team was so grateful to the Stauffer and Rude families. These two families (especially Ken, Lawrence, and Kent) looked after the Bardo diamond for so many years. Somehow they had the grass cut and the infield ready for us to play every day and we just showed up to play and represent the Bardo Community. It was truly an honor to play for this team.
There has always been a wide variety of baseball fields that players have gotten the opportunity to play on while in the Powerline Baseball League. What was your favourite baseball field to play on and what were some endearing features of that field that made it your favourite?
My favourite field was the Bardo (yes I’m biased). The diamond is basically in a farmer’s field, no it was not the best field in the league by any means, but it did have the most history, and probably the most late night stories. When I first started we played with a snow fence in outfield and literally had wooden player benches on the inside of the backstop (about 15 feet from home plate) for years. I finally convinced Bardo that this had to change. Bardo community purchased the outfield fence and the team and community had a work bee and built new dugouts. We used all the material from the old batting cage and built the dugouts (what they are today). It was a great day, the Bardo families brought us food and support. Bardo is a farming community so people didn’t understand why it took so long to get the diamond into decent shape. When I first started playing the Bardo farmers did all the field work and we just showed up and played. The problem was the Baseball field could not get fixed up until the farmers were out of their own fields seeding their crops. For years we would not have any home games until the firth week of June, when the farmer were done seeding. The league set the schedule around Bardo. Then the whole Bardo community would clean-up the diamond the week before Bardo Sports Day (Farmers Day weekend or like Ryan Stauffer would say for his birthday). After years of this, a few of us dedicated ourselves to get the diamond playable so we could have home games in May like everyone else. Bardo community still did their big clean-up same time every year, but at least we had most the field work completed. It was a cool place to play and there was probably more socializing on that diamond than any other in the League. Most teams seemed to hang out well after dark. Win or lose, guys from the other team would always come over to our club house to socialize, we always had a BBQ going and lots of cold beer. Other teams would stop in on the way back from their games to catch up on scores or stories, as Highway 834 was the route to Camrose. There were not too many Tuesdays or Thursdays the lights were off before 3:00 am. SO many stories, comradery, and good times on that diamond. It was my favourite by far.
Were there any memorable moments that have stuck with you about the Powerline Baseball League tournaments?
All tournaments were memorable for sure. All were great times. My two favourite league tournaments was Bardo Sports Day and Tofield July 1st. Bardo Sports Day was my favourite with food, lots of pie, camping, and great times. Other teams would always camp out with us and join in on the fun. My 2 favourite outside and the league, which were a mix of PBL players, Kindersley and Goodfish Lake. The last time I played in Kindersley the Brewers were the longest running team (longer than Kindersley) and Milt Malick had played in everyone one of them. I believe it was something like 23 years.
Did you ever spend time as a member of the Powerline Baseball League Executive?
Yes I was a treasurer for the PBL
How has baseball remained a part of your life after your Powerline Baseball League playing days and what is in store for you in the future?
I no longer play, but I do hope to get back to it soon. I now am just a fan and try to take in as many games as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to now play in the Guinness Worlds Longest Baseball Games (2016 REMAX Field and 2019 Sherwood Park) to raise money for cancer. In 2016 we raised approximately $280,000, our last game in August 2019 we raised approximately $500,000 for cancer.
Mike LeClaire making a play for Team Hope at the 2019 World's Longest Baseball Game
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
The PBL was such a great time with so many stories I will never forget. It was so hard to retire and let go. I think honestly what keeps it going for so long, is playing Tuesday and Thursday (well weekdays anyway). When a person is young you want to play all the time and every weekend. But as people have families the weekends become tough to make. I think this is why it’s easy to play in the PBL, you know your schedule and basically you can count on playing Tuesday and Thursday. I’ve met so many great people over the years. My biggest regret and one I wish I could take back was the letter I sent to the NCABL league involving Camrose Axeman leaving the PBL. I felt the team was leaving on bad terms and I figured at the time that if we lost another competitive team that our league was going to fold. I wish I could take that back, as I made a bad decision. I was so passionate about the league and wanted it to thrive and grow so much that I forgot about the feelings of the other team. My bad and I regret it.