written by Andy Maynard & Ryan Doman
The year was 1969 and local umpire Bob Macfarlane changed our lives that year by using the two best assets an umpire can have, his eyes.
Bob travelled to Bellingham, WA to attend a fast pitch softball umpire clinic to learn more about the U.S. fast pitch rules. During the clinic he happened to notice a game going on that looked like nothing he had seen before. There were ten players on defence and a pitcher floating a ball in around ten feet high, he began to become intrigued with what they were playing. Following a few questions and inquiries Bob returned to Abbotsford with a awkward new game…..Slo-Pitch.
Spring of 1969 saw pastures, schools and even the local penitentiary fields occupied with games of slo-pitch. The first year the Sumas Swampers, Atomic Service, Matsqui S&A , Little Mountain Dairy and Hub Sports played on any field that was level enough to play on. From the original five teams there is one player that is still playing, 35 years later, and his name is John Molnar. Then a Sumas Swamper, he now pitches for Ramco in division four with his son and grandsons.
1973 was the first year that paid umpires were used to keep the peace and many of those umpires were instrumental in developing the league into what it is today.
The Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League became an organized sport within the Softball B.C. organization in 1976. Up until 1979 the ball, the "White Knight", that was used was fourteen inches in diameter compared to the twelve inch ball of today. There were no composite or titanium bats, instead a 36oz. wood or aluminium bat was the weapon of choice.
The days of ball bags and jackets yet to arrive, the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League Senior Men's A played for pride and the cherished piece of history known as the Molson Cup. The antiquity of this trophy represents the longevity of this sport in British Columbia and Canada.
Champions were born in Abbotsford in the late 70's and early 80's as teams such as the Aldergrove Royals(1976-1980, 1983), Moon & Pauls(1981), and Abbotsford Glass Breakers(1984, 1986) claimed the coveted Softball B.C. Senior Men's A Provincial title nine times in eleven years. Players such as Al Sorenson, Ron Gass, Ken Peace, Rick Hebert and Hank Krahn established Abbotsford as a hot bed for slo-pitch talent.
By 1979 the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League had grown to 20 teams and was quickly becoming the benchmark for leagues across the province. The Nanaimo Commercial Men's League actually "borrowed" the constitution in setting up "this new concept of Fastball" within their community. This year also provided us with the introduction of the original league logo nicknamed, the "Raspberry". With Abbotsford being the "Raspberry Capital of Canada" this logo could not have been a more perfect image for the league. The year 2004 will see a reintroduction of the Raspberry as the league logo to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League.
With the endless commitment of Willy Reimer, 1982 brought the birth of Ellwood Park. With Mill Lake Park(225' fence) and Centennial Park (250' fence) becoming victims to the twelve inch ball, Ellwood Park(275' fence) provided a much needed expansion to help the game grow. By most accounts Ellwood Park was considered the premiere slo-pitch facility in British Columbia with its fields, lights, scoreboards and picturesque setting.
With the popularity of slo-pitch on the rise, Willy Reimer (League President 1979-1992) , Maria Fatkin and others combined to add a new chapter to the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League….. a Women's Division. With its introduction in 1984, the Women's Division provided us with five teams consisting of the Shop Easy 10's, Lone Jack Saloon, Cedar Park Fitness, Fun Palace and Sunrise Toyota. Maria Fatkin has been instrumental in establishing and developing the Women's Division with the help of such people as Brenda Jones, Blondine Loewen and Lorri Mcauley. The tradition of excellence continued with the Women's Division as the Abbotsford teams combined to win twenty three Provincial and six National Championships in twenty years. The anchor to all of those championships has been the TNT Tigers who have claimed six Provincial Championships and three National Championships since 1997.
Following years of affiliation with Softball B.C., the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League was included in a vision possessed by one man, Paul Langford. Paul began to register teams with a new program by the name of Slo-Pitch National. Teams started to participate in SPN events which led the league to form a partnership with Paul and SPN in 1994. This year is the ten year anniversary of that partnership with no end in sight.
With the hard work and dedication of now president Bob Coghill (League President 1995 to present), the Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League is as strong as it has ever been consisting of fifty Men's teams and twenty-two Women's teams. With new ball diamonds in the master plan our league will again have the chance to expand even larger and allow for a new page in history to be created.
The Abbotsford Slo-Pitch League is the oldest slo-pitch league in British Columbia with some people saying it may be the oldest slo-pitch league in Canada. In trying to highlight the key points in our league history we cannot end this without mentioning the following people for their efforts and dedication: Howie Williams, Dave Fridleifson, Dave Cherniwchan, Cliff ZenZen and Pat McDermott. We are obviously missing some important people and we apologize, on behalf of the players and the 2004 Executive Members thank you for your commitment to building one of the best Men's and Women's Leagues in Canada.
The lesson that stands out in our mind is this, if one umpire's eyes were not so good we would not be where we are at today. Who says one call won't cost you a game.