Friday, July 30, 2010

The Knuckleball Princess and her Sister Slingers

Eri Yoshida of the Chico Outlaws prepares to fling a sidearm knuckleball in a game against the Victoria Seals. The 18-year-old pitcher from Japan wants to become the first woman to play in the majors. Photograph by Jonathan Howe of the Seals. BELOW: Mamie (Peanut) Johnson signs souvenirs at a baseball convention. Tom Hawthorn photo.

By Tom Hawthorn
The Tyee
July 30, 2010

The pitcher stared in at home plate, paused, leaned back before striding forward to whip the ball with a sidearm motion. The ball fluttered towards home plate,a lack of spin causing it to dance like a butterfly.

Outside. Ball one.

The motion was repeated. The ball again floated outside. Ball two.

The batter, Wilver Perez of the Victoria Seals, had never before faced a knuckleballer. He decided to study at least one more pitch before committing to a swing.

“I figured I’ll take a walk for now. See the pitcher,” the Dominican native said later.

The third pitch, a slider, cut across the plate. Strike one.

The fourth pitch knuckled near the strike zone. The umpire’s arm went up. Strike two.

The pitcher wound up, releasing the ball with fingers splayed, as though pushing the ball the requisite 60 feet, six inches.

The batter took a mighty swing, his bat striking nothing more than the warm evening air.

Wilver Perez struck out.

The crowd at Royal Athletic Park cheered, though it was a Victoria player who had been dismissed. The fans recognized history when they saw it.

On the mound stood Eri Yoshida. a tiny teenager from Yokohama who became the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan last year. She came to the United States earlier this year, signing a pro contract with the Chico (Calif.) Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League. The team lists her height generously as 1.55 metres (5-foot-1), but she likely was wearing cleats at the time. Her weight: an official 52 kilograms (115 pounds), but, again, the weighing must have been done after a binge at the sushi bar. She is so tiny the team had to order a special uniform; the jersey she originally wore hung off her tiny frame like a dress.

Only 18, she is determined her fluttering pitch will crack a glass ceiling. She wants to be the first woman to play in the major leagues.

Back home, she is known as the Knuckle Princess, a minor celebrity whose diamond adventures are diligently recorded by the Japanese press. This season, she is shadowed by a correspondent for the Kyodo News service, who followed her team north for games in Victoria this week and Calgary this weekend.

Yoshida is the latest woman athlete to fight for a spot on pro baseball’s roster. Girls and women have been throwing baseballs and swinging bats ever since the game evolved from rounders and other children’s bat-and-ball games.


The struggle for the emancipation of women was furthered at the turn of the previous century by women athletes who became known for their wardrobe, as one contemporary account has it, “dressed in twentieth-century garb — the bloomers.” The Bloomer Girls barnstormed the continent, offering spectacle and entertainment.

One of the best-known traveling teams of the era, the Boston Bloomer Girls, came to British Columbia in the summer of 1900. The team lost to a local men’s team, 13-9, in Vancouver before crossing Georgia Strait on a steamer for a game at the Oak Bay grounds. Hundreds of spectators, men and women alike, paid 50 cents admission, plus another two bits for a seat, to watch Victoria take on the visitors.

“Hundreds of men dropped business worries yesterday,” reported the Daily Colonist. “The grand stand was also crowded with the fair sex, and, with pardonable pride, they were looking forward to demonstrate to the men folk that they weren’t the only pebbles on the beach.

The final score was a lopsided 22-1 for the home team. The newspaper suggested at least two of the Bloomers, “despite their girlish locks and falsetto voices,” were impersonating women. The match was dismissed as burlesque baseball.

Nearly half a century later, the Callaghan sisters of Vancouver signed to play pro ball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the wartime circuit portrayed in the 1992 Hollywood movie, “A League of Their Own.” Helen and Marge Callaghan had been scouted as slugging softball players, moving to the American Midwest to challenge other women on teams with such names as Belles and Daisies.

Helen’s talents as a batter earned her a reputation as “the female Ted Williams.” Marge was not as spectacular a player, but her skills were much in demand and her career lasted longer. Both of these Girls of Summer retired from baseball to raise families, rarely speaking of their diamond exploits. Helen’s son, Casey Candaele, played in the major leagues, including a stint with the Montreal Expos. The sisters were inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame two years ago. “I never set the world on fire,” Marge once told me, “ but I had a lot of fun.”

In 1953, a 17-year-old athlete from South Carolina named Mamie Johnson was barred from playing in a women’s league. Racial discrimination in the sport existed even six seasons after the great Jackie Robinson integrated the majors. Instead, Johnson signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. In her first game, an opponent is said to have taunted her by yelling, “What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren’t any bigger than a peanut!” To this day, she is known as Peanut Johnson. She had 33 wins and just 8 losses in three seasons as a Clown. At 75, the retired nurse now manages a baseball memorabilia shop in Maryland.

Yoshida is so tiny that even a player nicknamed Peanut is three inches taller.

Her start in Victoria on Tuesday made her the first pro woman to play against men on Canadian soil. She is also the first to play in three countries. The last pro woman to play against men was left-handed pitcher Ila Borders, who threw for independent teams a decade ago. Back in 1952, baseball commissioner Ford Frick barred women from playing in Organized Baseball, including the two major leagues and their minor-league affiliates, a move said taken to protect the integrity of the game by preventing the use of women as stunts designed to improve attendance. As far as is known, his ruling has yet to be rescinded.

Baseball history is filled with women who like diamonds of the green variety — Lizzie Arlington (pitched a minor-league game in Pennsylvania in 1898); Jackie Mitchell (struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a 1931 exhibition game); and, Julie Coteau (challenged men-only college rules). Bernice Gera and Pam Postema worked as pro umpires, as did the little-known Canadian Shanna Kook, the daughter of Toronto greengrocers, who spent two seaons calling balls and strikes in the Pioneer League.


Yoshida breezed through her first inning, 1-2-3.

The second inning was less successful. The Knuckleball Princess, as she is called here, struggled with her control, throwing behind batters and often missing the plate. On a night with only zephyrs blowing, her knuckler had little movement, making her seem reluctant to throw over the plate. She worked on the tricky pitch after watching the delivery of Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox.

(The knuckleball appears to many as a gimmick pitch in that it relies not on strength or wile but solely on technique. Delivered without spin, a successful knuckler will float and dance in an unpredictable path to the plate, making even the best hitters look like hapless fly swatters. When it works, it can be devastating Tom Candiotti, a young right-handed pitcher from California, developed a knuckler while pitching for the Victoria Mussels, in 1979, and, later, for the Vancouver Canadians on his way to a 16-year major-league career.)

As she struggled to throw strikes, a fan behind home plate yelled, “Gam-ba-re!” (“Hang in there!”)

Chico manager Gary Templeton, a former big-league shortstop, visited her on the mound. Later, she was asked what he had to say. Yoshida did not need her translator. “Throw hard. More knuckle.”

The manager returned to the mound in the third inning. Her night’s work was done, though she had surrendered only a single hit, a grand slam home run by Charlie Strandlund. The 27-year-old Victoria native hit his first pro homer over the scoreboard.

The final line for Yoshida was bizarre: 2 1/3 innings pitched, 1 hit, 8 runs, all earned, 7 walks, 1 strikeout, 3 hit batters. She took the loss, dropping her record to 0-3.

After she was pulled, she stood alone at the far end of the dugout, tossing a baseball in the air. At first, it seemed like an idle pursuit, but she was using her knuckles and her fingertips, an exercise to improve her release of the ball.

Her manager describes her teammates as 22 “big brothers.” She s the youngest and, by far, the smallest, and gender and language further separate her from those who wear the same uniform. She is half-a-world away from home, chasing an improbable dream.

Yasushi Kikuchi of the Kyodo News service is worried about her progress. “Her pitching is worse and worse,” he said. She seems to fall apart when she can’t throw strikes. “Once she learns how to handle that situation, she will be a good pitcher. I hope.”

After the game, Yoshida reflected on striking out Perez.

“I was really happy at that moment,” she said after the game, speaking through a translator. “But I wanted to do as good as that for a long time.”

Perez shrugged off his failure to hit.

“There’s nothing good for me there,” he said. “If I hit a home run I’m a bad guy because I beat up on a girl. If I strike out ...” He let the thought drift away.

The majors seemed very far away for all the players that night. Only one was acting as a trailblazer. Some day, a woman will pitch in the majors, likely depending on deceptive pitches, possibly including a knuckler. That pitcher almost certainly will be of a more impressive physique than young Yoshida.


A crowd including many girls gathered near the visiting team’s dugout. Yoshida autographed caps, balls, and ticket stubs, signing her name in Kanji followed by “#3,” her uniform number.

The pitcher posed with her fans, smiling while flashing a double thumbs-up. She said, “Thank you very much,” a four-word phrase she must have repeated dozens of times.

Among the many who attended the game solely to see the pitcher was Hiro Yokota, a 40-year-old dental technician and landed immigrant who wore a baseball jersey representing his home town of Minano, outside Tokyo.

He had brought with him a bilingual homemade sign urging, “Enjoy baseball.”

“I’m so excited,” he said after speaking with the pitcher. “She’s Japanese. So young. And so pretty.”

She was a David — make that a Davida — facing Goliaths.

“The other players are so big and strong, and the pitchers throw so fast,” he said.

Accompanied by other members of a local Japanese cultural group, they invited the pitcher to join them for dinner when the Outlaws return to British Columbia in a fortnight.

Unspoken was the concern that the Knuckle Princess might never ascend to the throne.

Tom Hawthorn is a columnist for the Globe and Mail and an occasional contributor to He commits errors for the Legal Beagles softball team in Victoria.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Portraitist captures 'little life moments' for Vancouver anniversary exhibit

A self-portrait of photographer Tim Van Horn, who is compiling 2,011 portraits of Vancouver residents for a mosaic to be unveiled during next year's 125th anniversary celebrations.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 28, 2010


Tim Van Horn is on a quest to put a face to the city of Vancouver.

He moved to the coast from Alberta, imbedding himself into the city’s daily routines, seeking what he calls “little life moments.”

He got up every morning to hit the streets. His tool was a camera, his canvas the passing parade.

A toque on his head, his hands protected from the chill by fingerless gloves, he asked every passerby — student and elder, sober worker and drunken vagrant, businesswoman and househusband — to take a moment to pose.

It is the photographer’s goal to compile 2,011 portraits of local residents to be used in a mosaic in honour of Vancouver’s 125th birthday next year.

He envisions a pop-up tent whose interior walls will be filled with his images. The tent would be moved from park to park during year-long anniversary celebrations.

He has given himself six months to complete the assignment.

This is not even his most ambitious endeavor.

Mr. Van Horn is also midway through a project as expansive as this great land. He envisions creating a flag mosaic composed of more than 10,000 portraits. He has an unmovable deadline — July 1, 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial.

How did he come up with the idea?

“I took my sense of duty to my country,” he said, “and married it to my art.”

Mr. Van Horn hit the road many months ago. He has traveled through all 10 provinces and three territories in the past year and is currently in Yellowknife for a four-day stay.

He has no sponsors, no Canada Council grants, no income at all from taking these portraits. He recently sold a piece of land in Manitoba to finance his wanderings.

“I’m just a one-man show,” he said.

He lives out of his white van, the exterior of which is lined with 650 of his photographs.

Mr. Van Horn, 41, shares the interior with a male Labrador named Bo and a female border Collie named Mya.

His wife left him early in the Canadian Mosaic project. She is now in Grande Prairie, Alta.

That is not his place. His place is on the road. With the Canadian people.

“This is my life-calling,” he said. “It’s what I think I’m supposed to do.”

Mr. Van Horn, 41, is a former commercial photographer and published author. He has documented the disappearing grain elevators of his native Alberta.

For a book marking his home province’s centennial of joining Confederation, he and a collaborator traveled more than 15,000 snowy and dusty kilometres over two years, snapping 17,500 photographs in about 320 communities, from booming oil towns to sleepy hamlets. “I Am Albertan” has been placed in every library and school in the province.

A self-described army brat, he was born in Edmonton, moved to Bermuda at age two, then to Inuvik, on to Haida Gwaii when it was still known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, and on to Cold Lake, Alta., before settling in Red Deer, where he attended art college.

His wanderlust is limited to his native land. He wants to show Canadians who they are without the imposition of values from governments or corporate sponsors.

While in Vancouver, he parked at night beside the rolling lawns of Vanier Park. He liked to be as close as possible to the flagpole atop which flies a giant maple leaf flag.

It is possible the true worth of Mr. Van Horn’s photographs will not be known for decades.

His democratic sensibility calls to mind the late
Foncie Pulice, the proprietor of Foncie’s Fotos who hustled on the bustling downtown sidewalks from 1934 to 1979. Foncie was an indefatigable portraitist, snapping hundreds of casual shots every day. Passersby were offered the opportunity to purchase prints as a “lasting souvenir” — three for 50 cents, eight for a buck — by coming to Foncie’s shop the next day. He became known as a Karsh of the Concrete.

Only years after his retirement did historians and museum curators come to appreciate the documentary evidence to be culled from what originally seemed to be ordinary, even mundane, portraits.

Mr. Van Horn considers himself a journalist as he shoots medal-bedecked veterans, mothers with babies in backpacks, swells in the latest fashions, immigrants in clothes from faraway lands, poor people whose harsh lives can be read in lined faces.

“People can sense my passion to capture them — to capture their homes. They trust me. They trust me even to take pictures of their kids.

“That makes we well off.

“That makes me want to cry.”

What does he get out of it?

Strangers invite him home for supper and he is offered cold beer at beach barbecues. The road offers adventure and he spends his days with his fellow Canadians.

That is reward enough.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ron Atchison, football player (1930-2010)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 27, 2010

To football spectators in rival cities, Ron Atchison was evil incarnate, a rough defensive guard and tackle not above stretching the rule book for advantage.

A man who would play despite injury, he also found benefit in his infirm status, as he was known to wear a cast on his forearm long after a wound healed. This reinforced limb was wielded like a battle ax on wary opponents.

Mr. Atchison, who has died, aged 80, was fined more than once by Canadian football officials for unsportsmanlike play. Even in retirement, one rival refused to shake his hand, or even speak to him, maintaining a grudge for years.

In Regina, where he was a household name, as he was among the prairie diaspora, his bloody play in the football trenches was celebrated.

While Ron Lancaster threw looping passes for long touchdowns and George Reed plowed through opposing defences, it fell to Mr. Atchison to harm, harass and otherwise distract attacking opponents. Even when they scored, the points usually came at a price. The Roughriders’ colours are green and white, but Mr. Atchison left opponents black and blue.

Some sportswriters referred to his home field as Atchison’s Abattoir.

In a 17-year career with the same club, he became an epitome of Saskatchewan spirit, wrote Winnipeg Free Press “Pigskin Parade” columnist Reyn Davis — “half rural, half urban, neither rich nor poor, fiercely proud and as optimistic as next year.”

His status as a flatland hero was cemented when the Roughriders won their first Grey Cup championship in 1966, ending a 56-year quest for the trophy.

It is a cliche to describe such men as gentle giants, but from most accounts Mr. Atchison fulfilled the stereotype.

“Ron Atchison is big, tough, nasty and big, gentle, soft-spoken,” wrote Gord Walker of the Globe. “It all depends whether you meet him on a football field or in the dining room.”

Ronald William Atchison was born on April 21, 1930, at Central Butte, a hamlet surrounded by ranch land about 200 kilometres west of Regina. His parents, Florence and Lloyd, moved frequently during those harsh years of Depression on the prairies, farming at Mullingar before moving on to North Battleford and, finally, Saskatoon. Ron was still a teenager when his mother died of cancer in 1947.

That same year, he began the first of three seasons playing football for the Hilltops, a junior team. Thinking he was not good enough to turn professional, he did not try out for the Roughriders, instead taking a job as a truck driver for Marshall-Wells, the hardware company.

He later earned a spot with the club as a walk-on at training camp.

A decade after his debut, Mr. Atchison told a story about playing against Dick Huffman, Winnipeg’s hard-nosed tackle and a Pro Bowl player during his four seasons as a professional with the Los Angeles Rams.

“I was wearing a helmet with the name Ollie taped on top of it,” Mr. Atchison recounted. “After one play Huffman grabs me and says, ‘Ollie, I’ve just about taken enough from you.’

“When I went back to the dressing room at the half I ripped off the piece of tape with Ollie written on it and taped on another and wrote Atch on it. When I came out for the third quarter Huffman took one look at the name on my helmet and thought I was someone else.”

Another time, he warned that a rival had no fear of reprisal for a dirty hit — “at least not if anyone’s looking.”

The 235-pound guard and tackle earned press clippings that were part police blotter, part hospital chart. He was fined $50 for a match penalty incurred in 1956 and $100 for an end-of-game brawl in 1967. In 1957, he sent B.C. Lions quarterback Toppy Vann to the hospital with suspected knee damage. A partial list of his own injuries included twisted ankles, a shoulder separation, and a bruised back. He was diagnosed with a fractured transverse process — a bone spur on the spine — before the 1966 Grey Cup, his first championship game after 15 years of doing battle on the frozen tundra in Regina.

“A man can’t sit out a game as important as this just because his back hurts,” he said.

The Roughriders, guided by coach Eagle Keys, defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders by 29-14, ending a half-century drought and the club’s reputation as the only eligible team not to have won the Grey Cup.

After the final whistle, delirious and undoubtedly inebriated fans rushed onto the turf at Empire Stadium in Vancouver to hoist the bruising player on their shoulders. He was captured in one photograph being offered a swig from a nearly empty bottle of Crown Royal. In the locker room, he took long pulls on bottles of champagne.

“That Keys,” he said amidst the happy tumult, “he’s the best coach I ever played for. He’s tough but he’s fair.”

Ten years earlier, on that same field, the West all-stars had defeated Eastern rivals in an end-of-season charity game. On the way home, an aircraft crashed into Mount Slesse, near Chilliwack, B.C., killing five football players, four of them Roughriders, including Gordon Sturtridge and his wife Mildred. The wreckage was not discovered for months.

Back in Regina, it fell to Mr. Atchison to tell the Sturtridge children — aged six, five and 15 months — that their parents were missing.

“It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Mr. Atchison once told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

The green ’Riders again advanced to the Grey Cup game in 1967, losing to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Saskatchewan’s 56-year wait for a first championship would be followed by a 23-year wait for a second.

Mr. Atchison’s final game was a 25-12 loss to Calgary in the second game of a best-of-three Western Conference final in 1968.

“The only thing bad about losing is that I am a year older,” the veteran said. “But I’m still itching to attend next year’s training camp.”

He retired during that camp, ending a 17-year career that included six selections to the All-Western team. He twice won the Stack Tibbits Award as the team’s most valuable Canadian.

The Roughriders held a ceremony for their all-star middle guard at halftime during a game against Winnipeg the following season. A crowd of 16,828 in Regina gave him a standing ovation, while his team gave him a car, a snowmobile, and a colour television set.

The opposing centre presented him with an arm cast mounted on a stand. The cast had been flown across country to be autographed by players who had once been clobbered by Mr. Atchison.

Contemporary reports describe him returning to school to complete his education, having dropped out after Grade 8. He had worked on a farm as a youth. After football, he worked in the promotions and advertising department of Saskatchewan Government Insurance, later starting a carpentry business known as Atch & Son.

In 1964, as a provincial election loomed, the popular athlete tossed his football helmet into the ring. The Liberals recruited the 33-year-old Roughrider as a way to attract votes from the oldest of what would become known as the Baby Boom generation, who were eligible to vote in their first election.

The candidate acknowledged his football background helped on the hustings.

“It’s a bit easier to talk to people and I guess more are willing to let me have my say, even if they don’t agree with me politically,” he said.

The Liberal standard-bearer in North Regina conducted an unorthodox campaign. Mr. Atchison crashed an event held by his Co-operative Commonwealth Federation rival, dancing with women before helping to make sandwiches.

When his own executive held a meeting at a constituent’s home, the candidate slipped away from the boring talk. He was found in the basement rumpus room playing marbles with neighbourhood boys.

The CCF’s Ed Whelen took the seat with 4,722 votes to Mr. Atchison’s 3,867. Football referee Paul Dojack also lost his bid for a seat in a neighbouring riding, the two Liberal defeats a rare spot of bad news for a party that formed government after the election.

The following year, Mr. Atchison attended the founding meeting of the Canadian Football League Players Association in Toronto.

Mr. Atchison was inducted in 1978 into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame at Hamilton, Ont. He was also named to the Regina, Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan sports halls of fame. The team has honoured him with inclusion in the Roughriders Plaza of Honour. As well, he was named, in 1985, to the club’s all-time all-star team.

His name graces a Regina street (Atchison Crescent), a popular fishing destination in northern Saskatchewan (Atchison Lake), and a sports facility used by the Hilltops (Atchison Field).

Two related stories capture the practical spirit of a farm boy who became a football legend. It is said he arrived at his first practice with the junior team wearing rubber boots, presenting as a rather unsophisticated athlete even for a farming province. Many years later, he wore a pair of light summer shoes in a game played on an icy field in Calgary, the rubber soles offering a better grip than the metal cleats on the bottom of football boots. After the game, he crunched through the snow in the same pair of shoes to get home.

Ronald Wiliam Atchison was born on April 21, 1930, at Central Butte, Sask. He died on June 23 at Pasqua Hospital in Regina. He was 80. He leaves his second wife, Brenda, whom he married in 1989, and their son, as well as another son and two daughters from a first marriage. He is also survived by 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and two brothers. He was predeceased by a grandson.

Atchison revealed story behind gridiron mystery

The mystery lasted seven years — who was the unidentified player who kicked Dick Fouts in the groin, triggering an on-field brawl?

A 1957 preseason exhibition game in Toronto pitting the Argonauts against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders was memorable only for the wild scenes a few minutes from the final whistle.

Reporters were uncertain what had triggered the fight, but the result was clear — Mr. Fouts writhing on the turf of Varsity Field, another player unconscious, fist fights galore.

After the game, the Argos blamed the Roughriders and the visitors blamed the home team.

Years later, Gord Walker of the Globe got Saskatchewan’s Ron Atchison to ’fess up about his role.

“I was trying to block the punt and Fouts was blocking (me),” Mr. Atchison said. “Now he’s a big guy and he set himself with legs apart. I tried to run through him and I guess my knee banged into his groin. I can remember thinking, ‘Oh, that poor ...’

“Anyway, I didn’t block the punt. As I made sort of a semicircle to our bench, I kept looking over my shoulder. I knew if he got up, he’d be awfully upset about it. Then I saw him coming. Just before I got to our bench, I turned around. All I knew was that I was going to get in the first swing.

“But when I turned around, he had disappeared. I didn’t know then but Larry Isbell had seen him coming and rushed off the bench to tackle him.

“Our fellows were holding (Fouts) down. But I kept pulling them off and telling them that it wasn’t his fault.”

Meanwhile, Toronto’s Bobby Kuntz grabbed every Roughrider, demanding to know if they were the one who had injured Fouts.

“He finally met up with Bill Glass,” Mr. Atchison said. “When Kuntz asked Glass if he was the guy, Bill didn’t take him too seriously, I guess. He said, ‘Wha’ if I am?’ and before he could say or do anything else, Kuntz whomped him with that helmet and knocked him out.”

Somehow, the perpetrator and his victim avoided fisticuffs.

“The funny thing after that was that I think Fouts and myself were the only players who didn’t get into some kind of scuffle,” Mr. Atchison said.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Young announcer gives it his all at the ball game

Mike Walker has spent the past four years in the broadcast booth calling minor pro sports games in Victoria. He is just 22. Globe and Mail photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 26, 2010


Mike Walker sits in a booth behind home plate, a headset covering his ears, hands tapping on a laptop like a prog rock keyboardist.

He watches a baseball game, records each play in a scorebook, glances at the computer screen. He Tweets between innings. All the while he maintains a steady patter for an unseen audience following along on the Internet.

“You have to be a little bit crazy,” he said, “to talk to yourself for four hours.”

This has been his life for the past four years, his office high above the action at the hockey arena and the baseball diamond. He turned 22 just last month. He looks like Ferris Bueller but there are no days off.

He has a fancy title as director of broadcasting and media relations for the Victoria Seals. He acknowledges he’d probably make more money this summer by mowing lawns.

As soon as he wakes, he begins preparing a statistical package to be shared with reporters at the ball park. He arrives at Royal Athletic Park hours before the first pitch. Batting practice is a lazy afternoon routine for players but a hectic time for Mr. Walker, who videotapes interviews for clips to be shown on the scoreboard that evening.

For four months of the summer, the Seals players — itinerant strangers from Paris, Tenn., and Norway, Maine; from Pleasant Hill, Calif., and the Dominican Republic — are extended family.

He is always on the hunt for tidbits to share with his audience.

Friday was a bit frantic.

He was preparing to broadcast five games over a 48-hour period to be followed by a press conference on Monday to introduce the Knuckleball Princess. Eri Yoshida, an 18-year-old pitcher from Japan and a rare woman to play professional baseball against men, will start on Tuesday for the Chico (Calif.) Outlaws.

A pair of weekend doubleheaders against the Yuma (Ariz.) Scorpions also marked the occasion of the Seals launching Mr. Walker’s one-man live video streaming over the Internet.

“I feel like Vin Scully,” he said laughing, referring to the legendary 82-year-old voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who famously works alone.

Mr. Walker is a consummate pro despite his youth. Before the first pitch, he offers the temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit (“for our American viewers”), offers a theme for the upcoming game, rattles off a parade of statistics.

As a boy, he watched sports events on television with the sound turned off so that he could provide his own commentary. When his mother, an accountant, won a contest to spend a working day with a sports writer from the local daily, Mr. Walker took the opportunity to meet the people who run the Salmon Kings minor pro hockey team. He became their broadcaster at age 18, making him possibly the youngest to do so. He soon after won the league’s media relations award of excellence.

His youth sometimes create an unexpected generation gap with his peers. Once, over lunch, Vancouver Canucks broadcaster John Shorthouse asked his inspiration for becoming a sportscaster, undoubtedly expecting to hear the name Jim Robson. Mr. Walker instead responded, “You, John.” The great Robson had retired when Mr. Walker was still in elementary school.

He had already spent two seasons behind the microphone before entering a two-year broadcasting program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. His schoolwork led to a stint as a media liaison officer at Canada Hockey Place during the Olympics. He not only witnessed Sidney Crosby’s goal, but he is one of the few to have heard Chris Cuthbert’s “golden goal” call in person.

Mr. Walker’s own ambition is to some day call games in the National Hockey League.

His pregame work on Friday paid off with a pair of juicy details.

He noted that the parents of pitcher Aaron Easton, who came on in relief in the opening game, were in attendance, having traveled cross-continent to Vancouver Island from Maine.

When the pitcher was pulled for a pinch-hitter, Mr. Walker told his audience that Josh Arhart had an unhappy surprise on his return from a road trip from St. George, Utah. Turns out his luggage, including his uniform and catcher’s equipment, had been sent to Tokyo. He had to borrow another player’s jersey.

The Seals won the first game with a “fairly competent, fairly routine” 4-2 victory, before crushing the Scorpions 13-2 in the nightcap.

After the final pitch, he wrote and distributed a press release. His last Facebook entry and Tweet were filed after midnight.

He had been live on air for nearly five hours.

He had just 47 viewers, but he gave it his all.

Mike Walker interviews a Victoria Seals player prior to a game at Royal Athletic Park. Globe and Mail photograph by Deddeda Stemler.


Oxford University Press has announced it will alter the author’s credit for three landmark books of baseball history.

Dorothy Seymour Mills will now be recognized as co-author of a trio of baseball histories originally attributed to her husband, Harold Seymour. Mr. Seymour, a one time bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote what is believed to be the first doctoral dissertation devoted to baseball history.
After his death in 1992, Ms. Mills let it be known that she had done the bulk of the research and much of the writing and editing found in “Baseball: The Early Years” (1960), “Baseball: The Golden Age” (1971), and “Baseball: The People’s Game” (1990).

Ms. Mills later married Roy Mills, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force veteran from Vancouver Island whom she met on a cruise. The couple settled in Sidney, north of Victoria, for five years in the 1990s. They now live in Naples, Fla., where Ms. Mills recently released her 22nd book, “Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession with Its History, Numbers, People and Places.,” published by McFarland.

Better make that her 25th book.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How a wise judge steered one mom straight

Provincial Court judge Justine Saunders (front row, second from the right) stands beside then-B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal and other distinguished panelists during a public forum on citizenship and immigration in 2006. Photograph courtesy the Law Society of B.C.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 21, 2010


A young mother enters the Real Canadian Superstore in Courtenay.

She pushes her three-year-old daughter in a stroller through aisles offering a cornucopia of goods.

She stops. She gathers Blu-ray DVDs. “I didn’t even look at them when I grabbed them,” she says later. She slips them under a baby blanket in the stroller.

She gets as far as the store’s doors before being stopped.

Three months later, she is on the telephone, her child heard playing happily with her husband in the background, trying to explain the inexplicable.

“It was just a bad decision,” the mother said. “That’s not me. That’s not my character. I’m just, like, so ashamed. I’m just embarrassed. It’s not something I want people to know about me. It’s not who I am.”

She repeated a verdict with which no one will disagree.

“I just made a bad decision.”

It was the 24-year-old mother’s good fortune to appear before a judge whose sense of mercy was tempered in the courts of apartheid-era South Africa.

Justine Saunders, a provincial court judge who was appointed to the bench in 1997, studied law at Rhodes University at Grahamstown, South Africa. She moved to Vancouver in 1987 and was called to the bar five years later after completing her foreign law accreditation at the University of British Columbia. She has also achieved a masters and doctorate from the Fielding Institute (now Fielding Graduate University) at Santa Barbara, Calif.

At a public forum four years ago, she recounted the experience of defending black clients during the apartheid years. According to an account published in the Benchers’ Bulletin, a newsletter of the Law Society of B.C., her first client to receive a death sentence was a 16-year-old youth with a child’s IQ.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Why have they weighed and measured me?’ ”

She told the gathering that she didn’t answer his question.

She “didn’t have the heart to tell him that they had to find out his weight so when the rope was put around his neck and the trapdoor fell they would know it was going to make a clean break and kill him.”

Months later, every appeal having failed, she received a telephone call “at dawn, because they hang them at dawn, and I was told by the prison officials, ‘We’ve just hanged your little man.’ ”

On the bench, Judge Saunders has faced plenty of wayward youths and not a few misbehaving adults. Sometimes, the cases wind up as short stories in the newspaper. “I can’t put you in jail today,” she told one youth facing a count of theft and breach of probation, “but if you come back, I will.”

Another youth got 18 months of probation for a string of property crimes committed after his mother urged him to “earn his keep.” One of the conditions was to stay away from his Fagin-like parent.

On occasion, Judge Saunders also presides over happier events. She has sworn in the Port Alberni council and she has presided over a mock trial featuring the Three Little Pigs at a Law Day open house in Nanaimo.

The shoplifting mother received stern words from the judge, according to an account in the Comox Valley Echo.

“This is your last chance,” the judge told the mother. “Using your child to do this is, I think, something shameful. You’re still a very young woman. You need to smarten up.”

She received a conditional discharge. She is on probation for one year and must complete 30 hours of community service.

“I was thankful that she gave me a second chance,” the mother sad. “I couldn’t’ve asked for anything more from her.

“She had a few things to say to me. I deserved it. I tried my best to not start bawling my eyes out in there. My voice was cracking. I just apologized to the court.

“I’ll be able to not get a criminal record and still be able to have a career and put it all behind me. Which is what I really want to do.”

A shoplifting charge is a minor case, one that does not usually get coverage in even the smallest newspapers. But having her daughter with her was a detail too interesting to resist.

“Thieving mom gets a break,” reported the Echo. The story was republished online by dailies in Victoria and Vancouver. “Judge gives a break to mother who used infant as a foil,” headlined one. Yahoo News carried an item.

The mother is mortified to see her name in print. She did not welcome a call from the Globe.

“I’m sorry for what I did. I don’t plan ever to do anything like this again. I’m a good mother.”

She does not even own a Blu-ray DVD player.

The judge agreed to a conditional discharge because the mother wants to return to school.

“Why do I want to be a nurse? I enjoy helping people. I was really close to a friend of mine, an older lady. While she was dying I spent a lot of time with her at the hospital. I was by her side. It influenced me to want to help people.

“Her name was Sharon. She was born in 1948. She passed away this year.”

In a year so far filled with bad news,a wise judge gave a repentant young woman a do-over, a second chance, a mulligan.

Camille Farrell has enrolled at North Island College and will be back in the classroom in September. One bad decision has been answered by two good ones.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A man's 44-year love affair with the pipe organ

Grant Smalley at work on one of his patients. Photograph by Geoff Howe.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 19, 2010


An unseen player worked the four keyboards of the massive Wolff Opus 47 organ in a rose window high above a cathedral floor.

The magnificent notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” roared through the stone interior of a nearly deserted Christ Church Cathedral.

Grant Smalley paused, allowing himself a smile.

“I feel thrilled,” he said during a pause in the music. “It’s wonderful to me, all this air-produced, natural wind sound. No speakers, no amplification.”

Mr. Smalley’s love affair with the pipe organ began in childhood as a choirboy in Oak Bay. For the past 44 years, he has built, rebuilt, and repaired all manner of pipe organs. His craft has a venerable heritage but a limited future. At 66, he is the last of his kind on Vancouver Island.

Mr. Smalley is a general practitioner who makes home calls, a surgeon capable of taking apart countless moving parts before replacing them with a steady hand.

“Pipes are human,” he insisted. “They have a body. hey don’t bleep or toot, but they speak out of their mouths. They have an upper lip. They have a lower lip. They have ears on either side. And they stand on their toe, which is on the bottom of their foot.”

Mr. Smalley, 66, was conducting a tour of his patients, all in good health. The Wolff with its 4,136 pipes is a spectacular instrument. Three others can be found in this sacred building.

A 270-pipe organ can be found to the left of the altar in a side chapel. Built by Bevington & Sons of London in 1862, it was shipped to the West Coast around perilous Cape Horn. It survived the voyage only to be in need of rescue when the original cathedral caught fire seven years later. Two priests hustled the pipe organ away from the flames, the only damage some scorching to the interior. It is said the organ was kept in a local saloon until a new church was constructed.

We then walked to the other side of the altar, where Mr. Smalley sat before the two keyboards of a Harrison & Harrison organ built in England. He had a stirrup pedal to his right and several other tractor-like pedals at his feet.

The stop knobs of turned ivory include hand-engraved notations on which can be found poetry. The knobs on the swell are named “trumpet” and “tremulant,” “lieblich gedeckt” and “echo salicional,” as well as the felicitously named “vox angelica.” The great’s knobs include the “flageolet” and the “open diapason,” the “rohr flute” and the “claribel flute,” and the “swell to great.” The latter pretty much captures the range of emotions when you listen to an organ in its full glory.

Mr. Smalley rose before stepping through a door leading to the interior of the organ. A small notation hand scratched in pencil was attached to the inside of the door: “Erected by W.S. Todd, W. Ackless, M.L. Haywood, boy H. Wood.” It was dated Nov. 19, 1927. Originally built for an English manor house, it was given to a boys’ training farm outside Duncan before being donated to the cathedral in 1976.

The repairman slipped a pipe from its place, the better to show the speckled grey-and-black colouring, an indication it had been forged from equal parts tin and lead.

“Very soft,” he said, laying the pipe across stubby fingers. “I can easily squish this with my fingers. But durable. They can last for centuries.”

Nearby rested a wooden machine crafted by his own hands, a $40,000 instrument designed to accompany a small vocal ensemble. An attention to detail is obvious in the contrasting colours of rosewood and maple keys. His organ is on permanent loan to the cathedral.

A pipe organ is “not just a piece of furniture,” he said. “It speaks back to you.”

Born during the war in Sidney, where his father was an instructor at the nearby air-force base, now the international airport, the boy’s early passion for organ music was taken up by his father. Arthur Smalley, a building contractor, built an organ for the family home. It got so big that the family moved to larger quarters, where the organ had added to it bells, gongs and whistles scavenged form an organ that had been in use at a movie house. The organ remains in private hands in Saanich. Its maintainence is among Mr. Smalley’s happier duties.

He has been busy in recent weeks completing the restoration of a Casavant Opus 400 organ at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in a former Methodist church. The instrument’s 3,100 wood and metal pipes have been silent for a decade, ever since the sanctuary became a performance hall. Mr. Smalley had been introduced to the instrument when assisting organ technician Hugo Spilker in 1966.

The organ will be played in coming days as part of a celebration called Pipes Around the Pacific, a five-day international conference held by the Royal Canadian College of Organists, Canada’s oldest association of musicians. The festival began in Victoria on Sunday.

(Incidentally, the brochure describes the Wolff organ at Christ Church as having been “recently installed,” though it is now five years old. Only in the centuries-old organ world could a half-decade seem but a hemidemisemiquaver.)

Mr. Smalley is looking forward to a celebratory recital to be performed on the Casavant on Tuesday morning, marking to the day the centennial of the organ’s installation. It is the custom to toast the organ with wine poured from one of its pipes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No News is bad news for Nelson residents

Bob Hall, managing editor of the Nelson Daily News, is producing the final edition of the 109-year-old newspaper.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 14, 2010


Bob Hall planned to spend this week of vacation on the golf course with his young son, a respite from workdays spent staring at a computer screen.

Instead, he has made a daily pilgrimage to the historic offices of the Nelson Daily News, a newspaper that has served the residents of the Kootenay city for more than a century.

Over those years, the paper’s staff has chronicled booms and busts in the mining industry; recounted the lives of young men lost in great wars; written about the internment of Japanese-Canadians in local ghost towns; covered the fires and naked demonstrations of the Sons of Freedom sect of Doukhobors; noted the arrival of American draft dodgers and back-to-the-landers and assorted marijuana aficionados; described the film crews and Hollywood stars such as Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in town for the filming of “Roxanne” in 1986; reported on countless city council meetings; and, recorded the births, deaths and marriages that are the lifeblood of any small-town publication.

All that comes to an end on Friday.

“How do you properly put a 109-year-old newspaper to bed? It’s daunting,” said Mr. Hall, who has been managing editor for eight years.

It is the burden of the newspaperman to be both obituarist and undertaker when the body on the slab is your own.

The paper has put out a call to readers for memories of a journal launched just 15 months after the death of Queen Victoria. The founding editor’s promise: “All the news that is news will be published.” That was a more responsible pledge than that of its predecessor, the Daily Miner, whose masthead included the statement, “The Miner is printed on Saturdays, providing the staff is sober ...”

Mr. Hall, 42, said the staff knew the Daily News had been struggling. (What’s black and white and bleeds red ink all over?) In competition for advertising dollars with other media, including a rival weekly paper, the newspaper did not share its precarious situation with readers who now say they wish they had not let a subscription lapse. Their regret comes too late.

“I love the newspaper,” he said. “I love the fact that a small community like this has a daily newspaper.”

The managing editor does not have much staff to manage — two reporters, who also take photographs; a sports editor; the editor of the The Weekender. Mr. Hall has a grand title, but he does the scut work at the heart of any publication. He edits copy, writes headlines, lays out pages, answers telephones, writes a daily column (often featuring his own family, described as the Hall Clan), takes yuletide photographs of Santa Claus atop a snow plow, and, on occasion, personally delivers a copy to a disgruntled reader.

It is journalism at a neighbourly level. The same cannot be said of ownership.

Local ownership of the Daily News ended in the 1970s with its sale to a couple of buccaneering capitalists who got into the newspaper business “as a bit of a lark.” Conrad Black and David Radler bought papers, fired employees, pocketed profits. The Daily News lost much of its editorial staff, precipitating a decline in quality and — surprise — in readership. Then, having sucked a newspaper dry, the owners flipped the paper. Such practices earned both men fortunes on their way to the hoosegow.

On July 2, the Daily News was one of 10 British Columbia newspapers sold by Glacier Media of Vancouver to Black Press, owned by David Black, the Victoria newspaper magnate who is unrelated to Conrad. Within days, Black Press announced the closure of four of their new properties. Among the victims — the Daily News with its 17 full-time and 17 part-time workers.

Black Press owns the rival Nelson Star, a weekly that has since announced it will now publish twice a week.

Mr. Hall said a twice-a-week paper is no replacement for a daily.

“A city council meeting will be on Monday night. On Tuesday, the initial story will come out about what happened on city council. On Wednesday, we’ll have a reaction story to whatever that news item was. On Thursday, letters to the editor start trickling in. By Friday, there might be a column by me. The story evolves. With a weekly, it just doesn’t live as long.”

One former staffer angered by the demise is B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, who worked at the paper as a news reporter and sports editor until being let go in 1982. “Local newspapers are the guts of democracy,” he said Tuesday. He blamed the closing on lax competition laws that permit a rival to buy a publication with the intent of killing it.

The managing editor said the Daily News’s absence will be most pronounced when citizens go to the polls.

“Elections are our Stanley Cup,” he said. “That’s when we matter the most for people.”

On its 50th birthday, the Daily News had a circulation of more than 9,000, remarkable for a city then counting just 6,772 residents.

Today, the Daily News has a circulation of 3,100, about two-thirds of those paid. Single copies cost $1, although the owners decided to charge $1.10 after the introduction of the HST at the start of this month, one more excuse for potential customers reluctant to part with a loonie.

The managing editor is not the only member of the Hall Clan to be losing his job this week. For the past three years, his children, Kyle, 12, and Ashley, 10, have shared a newspaper route in their neighbourhood. His daughter presented him with a hand-drawn card illustrated with her drawing of a person crying. It included a helpful suggestion: “Here are places you can work: Walmart, Safeway, Restaurant!! Yay. I’m sorry. I still love you.”

Mr. Hall will be out of work and he might be out of journalism after Friday, but he is not angry at the people who sent his newspaper to the Great Spike in the sky.

“I want print journalism to succeed here. I want it to survive in some capacity. I want to read it.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

From kitchen klutz to ice cream aficionado

Yves Muselle and Judy Pigott sell premium ice cream from a parlour in Cowichan Bay. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 12, 2010


When the city endures a record-setting heat wave, a columnist should write about those poor saps who tar roofs for a living.

Or we can skip temporal hades and instead enjoy thoughts of a refreshing frozen dairy treat.

We reached Judy Pigott at her home in Duncan to get the inside scoop on how she launched her business.

She was at a point in her life when she thought about starting a hobby. Her mother noted the amount of traffic going past the family home and said, “Holy Hannah, there’s a lot of people going by. You should make ice cream and sell it, Jude.”

It struck the daughter as a cool idea.

Her mother also came up with a name.

She had been in hospital in Victoria with a heart condition when her daughter came to pick her up and drive her home.

“Okay, we’re going to do this, mom,” the daughter said. “But we’ve got to have a name.”

The mother was in the backseat. The pair were laughing and giggling.

The daughter said, “We’re not Island Farms, we’re not Dairyland, we’re the other guys.”

“That’s it!” said the mother.

Thus was born The Udder Guy’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, a name whose terrible pun and cow mascot informed customers about natural ingredients, while also fulfilling the industry’s apparent obligation for cutesy names.

She began by cooking custard on her own stove, experimenting with vanilla recipes until she came up with the right taste. The first commercial batches were even prepared in an ordinary ice-cream machine bought at Sears. It produced less than a litre of ice cream at a time.

Early on, the admitted kitchen klutz — “I’m not good as a Suzy Homemaker,” she says — discovered a good ice cream demanded more than just natural ingredients and good flavour. Science was involved.

The problem is making ice cream capable of lasting in the freezer for a long period of time. She surfed the Internet, talked to chemists, canvassed those with an expertise in all things ice cream. She decided she was not going to put into her product anything she would not feed to her grandkids. No artificial preservatives, or additives.

Ice cream needs air in it, otherwise it will be a solid block like an ice cube. With air, it also needs a stabilizer to prevent the buildup of ice crystals.

“They have all these guar gums and locust gums and agar gums,” she said. “Those are all natural products. I get that. But when was the last time you went out and chewed on a tree?

“Just because it’s all-natural doesn’t mean it’s natural for us to digest.”

She settled on carrageenan, a gel extracted from seaweed, which has been used in food for millennia.

A decade ago, her product hit store shelves, a rare Vancouver Island entry into a premium ice-cream market dominated by names like Haagen-Dazs (conjured to suggest old-world traditions) and Ben & Jerry’s (after founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield).

Oddly enough, she had first made ice cream at age 12, when she got an after-school job at the Jack and Jill Confectionary in Dawson Creek. She was born in Melfort, Sask., to a farming family which traced its lineage to both early North-West Mounted Police officers and to Metis rebels. Her family left the prairies to homestead at Cecil Lake in British Columbia’s Peace River country. She joined the other children in building the family’s log cabin, mixing mud and straw to plug the gaps between logs.

Her parents eventually ran a restaurant, where she waited tables, washed dishes,and peeled potatoes.

As an adult, Ms. Pigott got a university degree and became a teacher at a business college in Toronto. She later taught computer courses. At 62, she keeps the books for a Duncan hotel and operates the ice cream business with Yves Muselle, whom she describes as her life and business partner. Mr. Muselle can often be found dishing scoops at the Udder Guy’s parlor on the main street in scenic Cowichan Bay.

The company features 24 flavours, from Zesty Ginger to Wild Blackberry, the berries handpicked from backroads bushes. The Udder Guy’s tubs are sold at more than 100 stores in the province, including as far afield as the Co-op at Sointula on Malcolm island. It is on the menu at the tony Union Club in downtown Victoria, as well as at the nearby Pink Bicycle restaurant.

The proprietor has a confession: “I’m not much of a junk-food eater.” Her indulgence is an occasional dish of chocolate ice cream, which she developed to taste exactly as she remembered the flavour of a favourite treat as a child.

I scream

The delights of a summertime ice cream persist in memory.

The family in the neighbouring apartment owned a car, so on muggy evenings four kids in pajamas would pile in for an expedition to Dairy Queen on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood, the little curl atop the cone a visual treat to be demolished by eager tongues. Farther away was Elmhurst Dairy with Sealtest ice cream, a landmark because of its billboard featuring the three-dimensional heads of a pair of cows (named Elsie and Elmer).

Later, there would be a pilgrimage to the New Brunswick dairy capital of Sussex, where locals claim the ice-cream cone was invented by a baker. In those stinking hot months when the Manitoba capital is not known as Winterpeg, locals flock to the Bridge Drive-In and, when the lines are too long, the Banana Boat.

It was just our luck that a year after we moved away from living in the shadow of the Hastings Viaduct in V6A, Vince Misceo opened La Casa Gelato down the street at Venables Street and Glen Drive. He started with 40 flavours, has gone beyond 500, and always has at least 218 available, in case you’re hankering for curry, or ginger, or some other exotic flavour.

More recently, expeditions to Hornby Island, featuring the Denman Island dash to the Gravelly Bay ferry terminal, ended with a giant sugar cone with a delight dished from Jacquie’s Wild Fruit and Ice Cream caravan.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sammy Bell, baseball player (1910-2010)

By Tom Hawthorn
July 9, 2010

The brilliant fielding of Sammy Bell delighted Depression-era baseball fans in Montreal.

Bell, who has died, aged 99, joined the Montreal Royals in 1937. For five seasons, he covered second base at Delorimier Stadium in east-end Montreal with flair and panache.

Quick on his feet, sure of hand, Bell snagged ground balls that might have eluded a slower fielder. He led his league in participating in double plays.

So strong was his reputation that after the worst game of his career, during which he committed three errors, the Montreal Gazette noted that the infielder was “playing such good ball he could make a hundred (errors) and still be a pretty handy man to have around.”

The athlete stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 145 pounds, small for a middle infielder even by the standards of the day. The diminutive player was invariably described by sportswriters as wee, tiny, minute, or pint-sized.

John Samuel Bell was born in 1910, a few weeks before the Philadelphia Athletics defeated the Chicago Cubs in only the seventh World Series to be held. The youth excelled in sports at high school in Charlotte, N.C., leading the school to its first state championships in baseball in 1930 and in basketball the following year. He enrolled at Duke University in 1931, earning letters in both sports.

Basketball coach Eddie Cameron named him captain of the 1934-35 team, a campaign during which the Blue Devils went 18-8.

After graduation, Bell played semiprofessional baseball briefly before joining the Birmingham (Ala.) Barons of the Southern Association. He was promoted to the Albany (N.Y.) Senators after one season, before being sold to Montreal for $5,000.

Team president Hector Racine hired as manager Walter (Rabbit) Maranville, who had retired as a player after 23 seasons as a major-league infielder. Maranville understood the difficulties of playing second and shortstop, appreciated the contributions a solid fielder made in the field. Better yet, from Bell’s perspective, Maranville stood two inches shorter. The manager would not discriminate against a small player.

Bell quickly impressed his skipper.

“Old Rabbit Maranville, who ought to know, says little Sammy Bell of Montreal is the best young second sacker he ever saw,” wrote the columnist Eddie Brietz. “Rabbit was around when such guys as Frankie Frisch and Rogers Hornsby were coming along, so young Mr. Bell can step right out and take a nice large bow for himself.”

Bell ended the 1937 season with a solid .290 batting average. He also hit nine home runs.

He again hit nine homers the next season, but even such limited power waned in later campaigns.

A mainstay in the Montreal infield, Bell did not get an invitation to move up to the Brooklyn Dodgers, as their infield included such stars as Cookie Lavagetto, Leo Durocher, and Pee Wee Reese.

The family had a scare during spring training in 1940 at Lake Wales, Fla. Bell’s namesake son, aged 2, was paddling in a pond behind the Royals’ clubhouse when his mother rescued him from a venomous Cottonmouth water moccasin.

Bell played winter ball in Cuba before the 1941 season, but on his arrival at camp in Florida the Dodgers braintrust let it be known that Bell was on the trading block, as the Royals expected more power-hitting from their infielders.

“Bell isn’t a fence-clouter,” the Sporting News noted, “but he can do everything else as well as, or better than, anyone else who specializes in second basing.”

At the midseason trading deadline, Bell was one of a quartet swapped to Baltimore for Dixie Howell, a 21-year-old catcher.

The Gazette praised a longtime Royal. “Bell has been the best second baseman in the league for so long,” wrote Harold McNamara, “it became a habit.”

The newspaper columnist confessed he “will always be a Bell man and will always think fate played him a churlish trick by not giving him a few more avoirdupois so that he could go up to the big leagues.”

Bell never would get that chance. After playing in more than 1,000 International League games, he was hired by the New York Giants organization to be playing manger of the Hickory Rebels in his home state. The Rebels played in a Class-D circuit at the bottom rung of baseball’s ladder. The skipper showed his young charges how to hit in 1945, managing a sterling .382 average in the 67 games in which the manager pencilled in his own name in the lineup.

Bell also managed the Morgantown Aggies and the Newton-Conover Twins in North Carolina. He spent a season in Oklahoma piloting the Muskogee Reds.

He ended his baseball career in 1952, joining a major health insurance firm. He retired in 1975, moving to Florida, site of many spring-training camps.

He would have marked his 100th birthday on Sept. 4.

John Samuel Bell was born on Sept. 4, 1910, at Charlotte, N.C. He died on June 6 at Slyvia’s House Hospice at Ocala, Fla. He was 99. He leaves a son, two daughters, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 71 years, the former Margaret Elizabeth Short, who died in 2006, aged 92.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Michel Mongeau, hockey player (1965-2010)

Michel Mongeau (left) hoists a trophy with Laval Chiefs teammate Denis Paul.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 8, 2010

Michel Mongeau, a professional hockey player, suffered grievous facial injuries when crosschecked from behind into a goal. He recovered from a broken face to resume his career.

Perseverance is a sports cliche, but doggedness is the best explanation for Mongeau’s comeback. He was overlooked and underestimated during his playing days, managing to earn a salary as a hockey player for 17 seasons owing to his own fierce determination

Mongeau, who has died, aged 45, played briefly in the National Hockey League. He had been skipped in the draft as a junior player, but his playmaking prowess in the minor leagues gave him a shot at an NHL roster.

He played in 54 NHL games for two teams over parts of four seasons. In the end, he proved too slow a skater and too small a forward at 5-foot-9 to earn more than a temporary spot.

It was in the unlikely hockey hotbed of Peoria, Ill., that the Quebec-born centre became a fan favourite, leading the Rivermen to a championship.

A peripatetic career included stints with teams in Europe, though he returned to his native province to play senior hockey before retiring just six years ago.

Mongeau was born in Montreal, where his hockey hero growing up was Guy Lafleur of the hometown Canadiens, a team so dominant it had won 10 Stanley Cups from his birth until shortly after his 14th birthday.

At 16, he caught the attention of scouts by averaging more than two points per game for the Lac St. Louis Lions, an AAA midget team.

He moved on to the junior Laval Voisins, a freewheeling ensemble whose two other centres were Vincent Damphousse, a future captain of the Canadiens, and Mario Lemieux, who averaged more than four points per game on his way to a Hockey Hall of Fame career.

The Voisins dominated Quebec competition before flaming out with three consecutive losses in the Memorial Cup playoffs, as Lemieux managed only a single goal. For his part, Mongeau scored three goals and added two assists in a losing cause.

After two more seasons with the Voisins, including a campaign during which he recorded 180 points in 72 games, Mongeau went unselected in the NHL draft. He wound up signing a contract with the Saginaw (Mich.) Generals of the International Hockey League, a minor-league circuit in which he would build his reputation.

He racked up impressive statistics, twice leading the league in assists.

The NHL’s St. Louis Blues signed him as a free agent and he performed well during a callup lasting seven games, scoring a goal and five assist. He also skated in two playoff games, earning another assist.

He bounced between Peoria and the parent club in following seasons.

With the Rivermen, Mongeau centered wingers Dave Thomlinson and Jim Vesey, a high-scoring trio sportswriters dubbed the MTV line. Mongeau led the Rivermen to an 18-game winning streak, which the club claims as a pro record, on the way to claiming the Turner Cup championship in 1990-91.

The NHL’s new Tampa Bay franchise selected him in the 1992 expansion draft, but the centreman played only four games in a Lightning uniform.

Mongeau was skating for the Rivermen in a road game against the Cleveland Lumberjacks on Feb. 27, 1994, when he suffered a gruesome injury. Mongeau grabbed the puck from opponent Chris Tamer, a defenceman employed less for his puck skills than for a bruising style. Tamer crosschecked the shorter player from behind, sending him crashing face-first into a support beam at the back of the Cleveland net.

At first, Mongeau did not realize the extent of his injury.

“I took my mouthpiece out and my teeth didn’t come together,” he later told Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought I lost a few teeth.

“I never lost consciousness. I probably should have. I had some big headaches that night.”

The injuries included a broken jaw, a broken cheekbone, and broken eye sockets, as well as a broken nose. His head swelled to grotesque proportions. Doctors needed three metal plates to rebuild his face. It was an injury more typical of an car crash victim.

Tamer was suspended for a single game, a decision that outraged Mongeau’s teammates, who complained a marquee player had been taken out by a goon. Shortly after, Tamer was promoted to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He enjoyed a long career in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Mongeau ate his meals through a straw, as his wife, Chantal Bourgeois, needed to put his food through a blender. She ate the same fare in the same manner in solidarity.

The player sued Tamer and the Lumberjacks for $3 million US in damages. His wife sought $350,000.

A first trial in U.S. District Court in Akron, Ohio, ended in a hung jury. A second jury ruled against the injured player in 1996.

He returned to the ice after 10 months of recovery, complaining he had to change his style. He also suffered from headaches and difficulty sleeping.

Among the other teams for which he skated were the Detroit Vipers, Milwaukee Admirals, Phoenix Roadrunners, Flint (Mich.) Spirits, Quebec Rafales, Manitoba Moose, and the Cornwall (Ont.) Aces, as well as pro teams in Italy, France, and Switzerland.

He completed his career where it started by joining the Chiefs, a semiprofessional team, in the Montreal suburb of Laval, where he had played as a junior.

Mongeau died on May 22 after a diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer. He leaves his wife and two children.

On his death, he was remembered by the Courrier Laval newspaper as “a true magician with the puck.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Man who recorded Dziekanski tasering chronicles G20 confrontations

Paul Pritchard shows his trusty Sony Cyber-shot. Globe and Mail photograph by Jennifer Roberts.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 7, 2010


It was his job to open the restaurant, so Paul Pritchard arrived early on a Saturday morning on uncommonly quiet streets.

The doors were unlocked at 11 a.m. at the Beer Bistro, a restaurant in a converted bank at the corner of King and Yonge streets in downtown Toronto. An hour passed without a table being seated. A second hour passed in similar fashion.

The 28-year-old waiter was watching a World Cup soccer match on television when interrupted by the sound of a police siren.

He went outside. The air was filled with black smoke. A car was afire. Police, in disarray, seemed to be scrambling to clear the street of pedestrians.

It was the weekend of the G20 meeting, a day when thousands were to march in a peaceful protest.

As had been expected, a militant group broke away from the march, their rampage eventually getting near a bistro in the financial district.

“I was planning on going down to the protests later,” Mr. Pritchard said. “I didn’t think they’d come to us.”

No protesters were in sight, only police. Local residents trying to get to their apartments were being turned away.

The waiter decided to get a better look. He skirted along a side street, found himself alone between two walls of police, who ordered him away. He then trailed alongside the demonstrators.

“I saw two different people get surrounded by police and beat down pretty bad,” he said.

“They didn’t get released until the crowd chanted for their release.”

He realized his cellphone camera was not adequate for what he expected was about to happen. He raced home on his bicycle to retrieve a trusty Sony Cyber-shot camera.

It was with that camera that Mr. Pritchard once captured the shocking images of a man’s death.

At 1:21 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2007, Mr. Pritchard, who had been teaching English in China, was at Vancouver International Airport on his way home to Victoria to see his father, who was dying of cancer. A ruckus in the arrivals area led him to train his camera on a distraught passenger. Four minutes later, police arrived and, in a stunning sequence later aired for millions of viewers, the traveler was zapped by a taser, his anguished cries the last sound he would make before dying. Mr. Pritchard continued shooting over the objections of a security guard.

The rest of the story is familiar. Mr. Pritchard volunteered his camera to police on the promise they would make copies and return it. Instead, they suggested he might get it back in 18 to 30 months. He got an order from the B.C. Supreme Court for its release. He then sold the images to the media, using the proceeds to buy medical equipment for his father.

The images he shot led to the formation of a commission of inquiry headed by Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Appeal Court justice. His report, released last month, found four RCMP officers made “deliberate misrepresentations” in their reports on the incident.

“But for the Pritchard video,” Mr. Braidwood wrote, “we would likely never have learned what really happened, and these officers’ revisionist accounts would have lived on.”

Mr. Pritchard’s name will forever be associated with that of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish emigre whose unhappy fate it was to be met by those four officers. A special prosecutor is reviewing whether charges should be laid in the death.

Looking back, Mr. Pritchard wishes he had intervened before the police arrived, using the skills he had developed in dealing with people with whom he did not share a language.

Fifteen weeks after the airport incident, Mr. Pritchard’s father died. In the two years since, Mr. Pritchard has traveled to Nicaragua and Colombia, where he became involved in a campaign to help a village in a war zone become free of weapons.

Last fall, Mr. Pritchard flew north to Toronto to receive an inaugural citizen journalism award from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. What was expected to be a four-day visit has yet to end.

Mr Pritchard has decided to study journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax. He is waiting tables at a bistro this summer to cover tuition and other expenses not covered by a partial scholarship.

Armed with his camera, he arrived by bike at Queen’s Park in time to see a man bowled over by a police horse.

In his view, a young, peaceful crowd of protestors was under assault as riot police snatched random people before dragging them behind their line for a beating.

“I got up right on the frontline. The guy beside me got shot with a rubber bullet. I was half expecting to get stomped, or beaten. I thought my camera was going to get broken for sure.”

He slipped the memory card from his camera, hiding it in the side band of his boxers.

People were crying. Some jeered, others taunted. He only ever saw one item thrown, possibly a stick, the culprit immediately called down by other demonstrators.

On the other side, he saw, “Anger. Hostility. Using force. Using intimidation. You could see it in their eyes. They were frothing. Ready to go.”

In one of his videos, a television crew, the reporter in suit and tie, flees, fearing assault not by protesters, but by the police.

He has posted four videos and 27 still photographs on his Facebook page. Another is on YouTube. In one, he can be heard yelling at the police, “Your children are going to see this. Your families.”

He would say later he had become enraged by witnessing another injustice.

Few of his coworkers and associates in Toronto know his role in the Dziekanski. He has wrestled with it himself.

“No matter how many countries I put between myself and Canada and that night,” he said, “it keeps popping back into my life. I can’t ignore it anymore.”

He has come to believe he was in that room in that airport at that time for a reason.

Monday, July 5, 2010

White ravens have Vancouver Island birders atwitter

A young white raven checks out the view from a branch near Qualicum Beach, B.C. Photograph courtesy Mike Yip.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 5, 2010


O raven, you clever trickster, you bold scavenger, you brainiacs of the avian world.

When we approach, you barely deign to acknowledge our presence, an insouciance not often seen in the natural world. You mock our superiority, you saucy bird.

Even the myth makers know not what to make of you. Did you create the world? Or are you a harbinger of its end?

Did you bring light to the world, thus condemned to be covered in dark feathers?
Blackness is an essence of the raven.

No wonder Edgar Allan Poe, the master of the horror tale, took your name as the title of a dark story of lost love.

So shiny and black are the feathers of a raven that Hollywood starlets are inevitably described as “raven-haired beauties.”

If their name is a synonym for black, then what are we to make of a white raven?

Mike Yip, a 66-year-old retired school teacher, heard reports of a sighting in the Qualicum Beach area. Armed with nothing more deadly than a Nikon D300 and his own curiosity, he went in pursuit of an elusive quarry.

Mr. Yip was born in Duncan to a sawmill worker. He graduated with a science degree from the University of British Columbia in Centennial Year. To his surprise, he wound up spending his working life in a classroom, teaching math and English at elementary, middle, secondary and alternative schools. The final quarter century of his career was spent in Parksville.

He put aside his chalk in 2001, planning to spend his days on the golf course. But a chance encounter two years later changed his life.

“I came across a strange duck that I’d never seen before,” he said. “I spent two hours watching that duck trying to figure out what it was. I went home and got my old camera. From then on I just wanted to find every bird around and get as good a picture as I could.”

A silent afternoon spent in a swamp with a northern shoveler, an odd-looking duck known for its spoon-shaped bill, turned a retiree into a birder.

He posted online his photographic portraits. He then invested $25,000 to self-publish 3,000 copies of a hardbound, full-colour book with the unexciting but informative title of “Vancouver Island Birds.” It sold out and has since been reprinted. Last year, he released Volume 3 in a lavish series.

Poetry is found in the names of Vancouver Island’s residents — warbling vireo and chipping sparrow; hairy woodpecker and willow flycatcher; northern flicker and Western wood-pewee; belted kingfisher and orange-crowned warbler; red-breasted sapsucker and black-headed grosbeak and chestnut-backed chickadee.

Sometimes, the Pacific winds bring with them an unexpected visitor.

“Because birds have wings," he noted, "you get all kinds of strange ones on the Island.”

Birders recently made a pilgrimage to Tofino to pursue a bristle-thighed curlew, an Asian shorebird that was a vagrant far beyond its range.

In seeking the white raven, Mr. Yip let his home at Nanoose Bay for a familiar woods at Qualicum Beach.

“Lo and behold,” he said, “the first place I looked.”

“I heard a raven. Then I heard another. The second one was the adult. It landed on a tree. A few seconds later a white one flew in.”

He fired off several shots of the blue-eyed and white-feathered bird.

“It’s a jaw-dropping thing. You’re just in awe. It’s such an unusual and marvelous sight. Exciting.”

He has now seen five white ravens at Qualicum in the past three years.

The birds are thought to be leucistic and not albino, the result of a genetic defect producing chicks lacking normal pigmentation.

Other sightings around the globe are rare. Eight years ago, one was spotted at Fairbanks, Alaska. (The University of Alaska Museum museum has a collection of 18,000 ravens, only one of which is white.) Three years ago, an abandoned trio of starving chicks was spotted in a nest at a churchyard in County Durham, England. They were taken to an animal rescue shelter where they were named Tic, Tac and Toe.

Mr. Yip playfully declares Qualicum to be the White Raven Capital of the World.

An earlier report of white ravens led to an exchange with the artist Roy Henry Vickers, who received from Mr. Yip a set of photographic prints of birds of spiritual significance to some.

Some far-away birders wonder whether the white ravens are a hoax, a Photoshopped rather than a natural wonder.

They’re for real, magnificent in their rarity and somewhat bracing in their presence. Some tales have the sighting of a white raven foretelling the end of the world.