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SPORTS (AUGUST 2017): Leafs fall early this summer

September 13th, 2017 · No Comments

Eliminated from 2017 playoffs after stunning first round defeat

PHOTO BY R.S. KONJEK/GLEANER NEWS: Justin Marra blasts a home run for the Toronto Maple Leafs during a playoff game against the Brantford Red Sox at Christie Pits.

By R.S. Konjek

“Who are these guys anyway?”

It is a question often heard on summer Sunday afternoons at Christie Pits.

Those nine men on the field, the ones in the blue uniforms emblazoned with maple leaf logos, are they professional ballplayers? Amateurs? Part-timers?

Compared to Toronto’s major league franchise, the Maple Leafs’ PR machine is humble and homespun. Fans are offered free programs at every home game and nuggets of information can be found within. Diehard followers who come to most games get to know the players and even forge friendships.

However, it is common for casual observers to drop in on a game, contemplate the players on the field (some young and bursting with athleticism, others older and more rounded than angular in contour), and wonder: “Who are these guys anyway?”

There are several answers to that question. The largest segment of the Maple Leafs’ roster consists of players who are in their early twenties. They play for the Leafs in the summer months, and then head south to college in the States on baseball scholarships. These youngsters take the opportunity to hone their skills while here, hoping to catch the eye of a scout down there.

There have been success stories. Daniel Procopio, who pitched for the Leafs a few years ago, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and now plays for one of their minor league clubs. Climbing the ladder and making it to “the show” is a dream that many of these players are actively pursuing.

A second segment of the roster is players in their later twenties or thirties who were drafted and put in some time with a major league organization, but didn’t make it all the way. For them, the Leafs offer an opportunity to continue playing competitive ball.

The third segment is the baseball lifers: players who never progressed higher than the provincial or national levels, but their love for the game keeps them coming back. They found a home with the Leafs and they have been playing at Christie Pits for years.

Apart from a couple of American pitchers and one from the Dominican Republic, most players are local. They live and work around the GTA and come from all walks of life. There’s a high school teacher, a documentary filmmaker, and a landscaper. One works for CN Rail, another works for a tech company. When the season ends, they return to the toil of daily life like the rest of us.

For the 2017 Maple Leafs team, that return was forced upon them with undue speed.

The Leafs were knocked out of the first round of the Intercounty Baseball League playoffs in mid-August, following a thrilling seven-game series against the Brantford Red Sox.

Four of the seven games were played at Christie Pits and there were some classics.

Game one saw the Leafs overcome an eight-run deficit to win 12-11.

Game three was a tight, defensive battle. Leafs’ ace Justin Cicatello pitched a complete game and the team came from behind to win 4-3.

Game five saw catcher Justin Marra hit a tie-breaking home run en route to a 7-1 victory.

The three games played in Brantford were all won by the Red Sox, setting the stage for a deciding seventh game on Sunday, August 13. In a stunning turn of events, Toronto fell victim to a last gasp comeback by the visitors.

The Leafs entered the ninth inning of the deciding game with a 4-1 lead, but momentum fatally shifted against them in a matter of minutes. As they say in France: “Crash, bang, wallop!” Brantford rallied, hit two home runs, and scored four to win the game and the series. With sudden violence and finality, the Leafs’ playoff run was over.

Back to school, back to work, back to real life. It was a cruel finale to the summer, but that’s baseball for you. It disappoints more often than it rewards.

As the long winter season unfolds, thoughts will return to the ballpark and we mortals will look forward to spending some more sunny afternoons sprawled out on Christie’s hillsides. For us, those days to come will be enough reward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will return in May 2018, when the club will kick off its 50th season of baseball at good old Christie Pits.

 

READ MORE:

ON THE COVER: Historical homerun (July 2017)

SPORTS: The Maple Leaf(s) Forever (July 2017)

SPORTS: Weather permitting (June 2017)

SPORTS: Leafs return with sights on a title (May 2017)

SPORTS: Late summer blues (September 2016)

Tags: Annex · Sports