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Pursuit: Sudbury Relics capture trophy in world ball tourney

The age 50+ team’s triumph conjures up the heyday of fastball in the Nickel City 50 or 60 years ago
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The Sudbury Relics recently captured the ISC 2022 World Fastball Tournament Legends division.

Racking up their sixth win in seven games over the course of a mid-August weekend in Illinois, the Sudbury Relics, a local age 50+ team, captured the ISC 2022 World Fastball Tournament Legends division.

It was enough to conjure up images of the sport from the heydays of fastball in the Nickel City some 50 to 60 years ago.

For the likes of Junior Ilnitski and Mike Cain, Curtis “Chopper” Assance and Joel Belanger, coaches Howard MacDonald and Frank Tabak, it was a reminder of the fastball they grew up watching, the fastball that could lure young men from across North America to Sudbury to live and work – and, of course, to play fastball.

“To be honest, the competition and level of play in this division has become one of the more popular divisions in softball,” said Belanger, a 53-year-old outfielder who can still cover ground better than most players half his age. “It is a sport that is on the decline.”

That, of course, wasn’t always the case.

“When I first started, we ran into a lot of good teams, a lot of good players,” said Belanger. “Now we’re facing some of those same great players in the 50-plus division.”

The Relics would post a 3-1 record in pool play, dropping Maccabi USA (all-American Jewish team) 8-2, All-Season Patriots (Pennsylvania) 8-5 and the Waterloo Jack Slammers (Ontario – 9-1), but beaten by Cal-State Builders (California) 11-4.

Come playoff time, the Sudbury side (with a hefty portion of imports) downed Ohio Battery in the quarter-finals (11-3), the Lampliter Legends (Quad Cities – Iowa/Illinois) in the semi-finals (5-3) before running away from the Patriots in the final.

The Relics supplemented their lineup with teammates from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Calgary and Edmonton, as well as various pockets of Ontario. 

“We’ve been in the game for 30, maybe 35 years so we’ve made a lot of friends across the country,” said Belanger. “We are really spread out.”

Adding lefty Trevor McCabe from Calgary (Most Outstanding Pitcher), who just turned 50, as well as east coast stalwart and tournament MVP Ward Gosse (Newfoundland) certainly helped the cause, as locals play catch-up to folks from other hotbeds of fastball.

“The fastball in Kitchener, Toronto and Niagara Falls is still a pretty high level,” said Belanger. “If you play there regularly, you’re at a greater advantage than we are here. The level of pitching in northern Ontario right now is just not as high. I play in tournaments in southern Ontario with friends that I’ve made, with other groups.”

All of that said, Belanger and his cohorts are not about to bypass the chance to get some game action within the local Rick McDonald Memorial Fastball League.

“Playing in our league is still beneficial,” said Belanger. “Playing outfield in our league, you get a lot more balls hit than you would in a game where the pitchers are dominating. And we get to stay in game shape. Without it (the RMFL), I don’t think we would be able to sustain what we are doing.”

Much of the Sudbury fastball environment has changed drastically over the decades. Some things haven’t.

“If you don’t face high-end pitching and you go to one of these tournaments, you’re going to get exposed,” said Belanger. “You won’t be successful at all. You need to face quality pitching to be able to play at that level. There are a small handful of pitchers here that can still replicate that – but playing in two or three tournaments a summer helps as well.”

Because of the age bracket, turnover on this team is constant, even if only on an annual basis.

Fresh off knee surgery, Eddie Roy could not take part this year, depriving the Sudbury squad of a very solid contributor both at the plate and in the field. 

“You’ve got to keep on top of recruiting and try and get a little younger every year,” stressed Belanger. He already has targeted RMFL teammate and catcher Todd Parsons, still two years shy of his 50th birthday. “We would love to have him play when he turns 50.”

The 2023 tournament is set for Green Bay (Wisconsin), with the bulk of the Relics already committed. A year later in Surrey (B.C.) may be a little iffier.

Either way, whenever they compete next, members of the Sudbury Relics will be only too happy to remind folks of just how much a part of the local sports fabric fastball was – back in the day.

Rounding out the championship winning roster, beyond the players and coaches already mentioned, were: Kelly Wenstrom (Calgary); Marc Pothier (Edmonton); Craig Telfer (Oshawa); Tony Lisk (Owen Sound); Rod Goode (North Bay); Terry Challis (Oshawa); Robert Bernard (Cape Breton); Randy Bell (Calgary); Craig Crawford (Kitchener); Mike Sedore (Oshawa).

Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.