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SPORTS (JUNE 2016): Leafs ahead 3-1 after first four games of the season

June 14th, 2016 · No Comments

Team has solid squad of batsmen, rotation of pitchers

By R.S. Konjek

Sunday afternoon on the Victoria Day long weekend, the Pits are alive.

The sounds of baseball ring around Dominico Field, restoring life to the old hollow. Cleats crunch the dirt, balls pop in gloves, and ballplayers resume their steady stream of jocular banter.

The announcer welcomes the gathering crowd — one that will swell to approximately a thousand people on this day — and it’s time to play ball.

It’s the third week of the season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are hosting the Brantford Red Sox at Christie Pits.

Through the first four games of the season, the Leafs have shown that they can score runs in singles or in bunches.

Early wins bring the promise of a bright summer, and the Leafs have gotten off to their usual good start to the season, winning two and losing one. Today they face the team they eliminated during their surprise post-season run last year. The Sox are looking to gain a measure of revenge.

The crack of the bat, then again, then a third time, and the Sox jump out to an early lead. The Leafs grab one back in the bottom of the first. The fans settle in on their blankets and lawn chairs; still lots of game to go.

The Intercounty Baseball League is a hitters’ league, and Toronto has a solid squad of batsmen. Jon Waltenbury, Johnathan Solazzo, and Sean Mattson are the club’s three big boppers. They accounted for over half of the Leafs’ home runs last year, and the trio is back for 2016.

It’s 3-1 Brantford in the second inning when Mattson launches a solo home run over the left field fence. The Leafs add another run to tie the game, but the Sox retake a 4-3 lead in the fourth.

Certain voices rise above the thousand others. Baseball voices.

There’s an old man at almost every game, someone who must be a former player, or coach, or maybe he’s just an eagle-eyed observer. From his plastic chair perched high above the field, he shouts advice and instructions to the players throughout the game, like a well-meaning parent eternally embarrassing his kids.

Dozy or distracted fans are protected by one of the club’s staff, a kind of watchman who yells warnings of foul balls in flight. He also chases the balls down and returns them to the field of play. No souvenir balls — one of the quirks of Maple Leafs baseball.

The team’s owner, Jack Dominico, has the most thunderous voice at the park. It rumbles down from the press box at intervals, usually urging his players to “WAKE UP!” when things go awry. Dominico has owned the Leafs for almost five decades, and after all this time he still won’t put up with lollygagging on the field that bears his name.

Waltenbury steps up to the plate in the bottom of the fourth. He sees his pitch and blasts one high to centre field. The sound of his bat connecting is followed by a brief hush, as all eyes follow the ball. It rises higher, clears the outfield fence, and the crowd erupts. Hands clap, voices cheer, dogs bark. Waltenbury has hit a three-run homer, and put the Leafs ahead for good.

The Leafs’ starting pitcher, Justin Cicatello, works through the seventh inning, and the bullpen hangs on for an 8-6 Toronto win. Sun-kissed and satisfied, the crowd rises, gives a final round of applause for the home side, and packs up to go. Post-game conversations fade as the last hangers-on drift out of the park.

Through the first four games of the season, the Leafs (now 3-1) have shown that they can score runs in singles or in bunches, an ability that will serve them well as the summer unfolds.

Not to be left out is the club’s solid rotation of pitchers, who have kept games close and given the offence a chance to win games. Dillan Mulholland has been a standout so far, pitching a complete game victory in Guelph in mid-May.

The Maple Leafs play ball at Christie Pits every Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with a handful of Wednesday night games, in June and July. As always, admission to Leafs games at Christie Pits is free.



NEWS: Second phase of park revitalization to begin (May 2016)

SPORTS: The bats are back at Christie Pits (May 2016)

NEWS: Christie Pits renewal set to begin (July 2015)


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