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SPORTS: Leafs’ fiftieth season ends sadly (October 2018)

October 16th, 2018 · No Comments

Ball club swept from semi-finals

Fans watch from the hillside as the Maple Leafs came up short at home during this year’s semi-finals. R.S. KONJEK/GLEANER NEWS

By R.S. Konjek

When we last caught up with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL), they had begun a spirited quest to win their first championship since 2007.

Back in early August, the Leafs faced the Guelph Royals in the first round of the playoffs. Pitchers Zach Sloan and Marek Deska made history when they combined to toss a no-hitter in the deciding game of the series. The Leafs moved on to a semi-final matchup against the favoured Kitchener Panthers with the wind at their backs.

Unfortunately, they were swept away like so much fallen foliage when the best of seven semi-final series was decided in the first game.

It was an unusual affair. Game one began on August 17 in Kitchener, and ended two days later at Christie Pits. A Friday night rainstorm caused the game to be suspended after seven innings. The league determined that play would resume the following Sunday in Toronto, before the scheduled second game of the series.

The Leafs had built up a 4-3 lead in Kitchener and took the field in Toronto on August 19 just six outs away from a surprise victory.

It all fell apart in the bottom of the eighth inning. Zach Sloan proved that you can be the hero one day and the goat the next. He allowed two Panthers to get on base. A hasty call to the bullpen did not help. Closer Dustin Richardson gave up a two-run hit, Kitchener grabbed a 5-4 lead, and they held on for the win.

The Leafs and their fans barely had time to get over the result before game two began a half hour later. It went from bad to worse, as the Panthers romped to an 8-0 victory.

The weather played havoc with the series schedule again as the third game — scheduled for August 21 — was rained out in Kitchener. The league decided to shift the series back to Toronto the following day.

Game three took place at Christie Pits on August 23 and the Panthers won 9-3. The Leafs were unable to break through Kitchener’s solid corps of Cuban pitchers, and found themselves facing elimination after just three games.

The fourth game was played on August 23 in Kitchener. In the end, it was all Panthers.

The Leafs blew an early 2-0 lead and the game remained tied 2-2 until the bottom of the eighth inning. A solo home run put the Panthers ahead 3-2 and they held on to clinch the series.

Kitchener advanced to the IBL championship against the Barrie Baycats. (The Baycats ended up winning their fifth consecutive title.)

Looking back, the Leafs’ playoff run was undone by that shock defeat in game one. They were never able to regain any momentum. Their fiftieth anniversary season ended on a sad note, away from home and their unique family of fans.

Torontonians have made the act of isolating themselves within a crowd into an art form.

It’s one of those things we do. So much of our time is spent in close proximity to strangers. Wheel to wheel in traffic, shoulder to shoulder on the subway, elbow to elbow in theatres, elevators, checkout lines; rather than engage, we withdraw. It’s a kind of coping mechanism for urban life.

I’m sure it happens in other large cities, but here in this little outpost that supposedly outgrew its Protestant foundations, avoiding unintended contact with unfamiliar people remains a daily aspiration.

All of this to say that Christie Pits is an exceptional place.

Home of the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1969, the park is a place where I have seen the unlikeliest of people lower their defences and interact with total strangers.

The free admission to Leafs games makes for an egalitarian experience. Fans can come and pick out a spot to sit or stand wherever they like, without thought for one’s status or station in life.

When the game begins, everyone takes it in together. Rather than casting a thousand crosswalk stares, people look each other in the eye. The action on the field provides the spark for spontaneous discussions, whispered opinions, angry ejaculations, and resigned sighs. For a couple of hours at Christie Pits, no one is isolated.

It’s an incredible experience, one to look forward to again in 2019 when the Leafs return for their 51st season of Intercounty League baseball.



SPORTS: Fans cheer hair and history (Aug./Sept. 2018)

SPORTS: Slumping Leafs hope to change (Summer 2018)

SPORTS: Many hats, one goal for Topolie (July 2018)

SPORTS: Maple Leafs back at the Pits (Election Special 2018)

NEWS: Celebrating a legendary Leaf (Jan. 2018)

ON OUR COVER: Cycling the Pits (Fall 2017)

SPORTS: Leafs fall early this summer (AUGUST 2017)

Tags: Annex · Sports