Fans celebrate another up-and-down season
By R.S. Konjek
Baseball won’t be rushed.
It is a pastime to be sipped and savoured.
The game will outlast all manner of hindrances en route to its conclusion — be it a rainstorm, a tie score, or a lopsided blowout demanding a show of mercy.
With few exceptions, the same nine innings and 27 outs need to go into the books before the game is over. It might take 90 minutes, it might span days, but that’s how it has always been.
That’s why we love it so. Every summer, Toronto Maple Leafs baseball at Christie Pits provides the opportunity to take in a game, or a couple of dozen. For all its rules and requirements, no two ballgames are ever alike.
The promise of seeing something unexpected keeps bringing us back.
Fans can sprawl out on the Pits’ generous slopes and soak in the sun, or find a cosy spot under a tree. The club’s diehard followers — the Christie Crazies — cluster tightly around the infield to cheer on the home nine.
The close proximity of fans and players allows for a friendly familiarity between the two groups, as they while away the summer in each other’s company.
If the clock is not the enemy in baseball, then it’s the calendar.
The Maple Leafs’ 2016 season provided plenty of ups and downs, and the regular season came to an end on July 31 when the Leafs hosted the Barrie Baycats.
The Barrie team is a curious clowder of cats. Almost half of the club’s roster is made up of former Leafs. Some players were traded there, some sought more playing time up north, but most of them remain local to Toronto. Whenever these two teams meet, it’s as if there are two home teams on the field and the rivalry is intense.
In recent seasons the Baycats have done well against their former team. Barrie eliminated Toronto in last year’s IBL semi-finals, but not before both sides battled to a seventh and deciding game in the series.
The final day of this regular season saw the latest chapter in this rivalry unfold.
Stakes were high.
The Leafs had an opportunity to clinch fourth place and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
On an individual level, catcher Justin Marra was chasing the league’s home run title.
Marra entered the day tied for the league lead with a player from the Kitchener Panthers. A newcomer to the club, Marra thrilled the Pits this summer with a swashbuckling, all-or-nothing approach at the plate. His ferocious swings reminded observers of Reggie Jackson, a home run basher of a different era.
Pow! In his first turn at the plate, Marra hit his 16th home run of the season. That gave him the edge in the home run chase.
The Leafs and Baycats battled all afternoon, exchanging the lead four times before Barrie concluded the affair with a barrage of ninth inning home runs to steal a 9-6 victory.
The Leafs finished in 5th place in the league standings. In the home run race, Marra’s edge did not last long. His Kitchener rival ended up hitting two on the final day to win the crown.
With the regular season ended, it’s time for the playoffs. In the first round, beginning in early August, the Leafs’ opponents will be the Brantford Red Sox. This matchup is a repeat of last year’s first round, which the Leafs won.
The Leafs have got the bats and they have demonstrated that all season. Their 54 home runs were second in the league, and the team’s .307 batting average bested that of Brantford.
Hopes are high that the local boys will go on another run deep into the month, giving all of us Leaf watchers many more chances to enjoy baseball at the Pits. Once it’s over, there will be nothing left but to count the long, cold days until spring.
The Maple Leafs’ playoff schedule will be posted on the club’s website. As always, admission to Leafs games at Christie Pits is free. As always, admission to Leafs games at Christie Pits is free.
SPORTS: Christie comebacks and walk-offs (July 2016)
SPORTS: Leafs ahead 3-1 after first four games of the season (June 2016)
SPORTS: The bats are back at Christie Pits (May 2016)
NEWS: Second phase of park revitalization to begin (May 2016)
NEWS: Christie Pits renewal set to begin (July 2015)