COLUMN: Slocan Valley Stories — Cow pies and gopher holes

Columnist George Doi on playing baseball in his youth

The New Denver baseball team in 1948. Back row from left: Ray Tippie, Shig Kiyono, coach Bob Kumano, Dave Crellin. Seated mid row: Walt Thring, Turk Avison, Quentin Forsythe, Mas Yamada, Kuts Hayashi, Tommy Pearson, Tamo Takenaka and Bob Butler. Front, bat boy Tak (Lesley) Kumano. Photo: Kumano Family collection/Nikkei National Museum

The Star’s columnist on life in the Slocan Valley in the 1950s and 60s reminisces about playing baseball in the Slocan Valley in his youth.

By George Doi

I liked playing baseball. Having to catch the Greyhound bus to go back to the logging camp on Sundays cut short my playing time, but I really enjoyed it every time I played.

I think the first baseball game I played in the adult team was in Perry Siding. I believe Prince Voykin arranged the game and his Valley team. I don’t know who put our team together but somehow nine players appeared.

The first thing we had to do was flip away the cow pies. Most of them were dry. Then we had to take note where all the gopher holes were inside the diamond to avoid accidents. Probably the outfielders had the most hazardous job – having to catch fly balls and at the same time avoid stepping into a gopher hole. We all played cautiously as we had to go back to work the next day.

The game finally got underway. One batter hit my ball towards first and he got on safely. Ted walked up to me and whispered, “How about if I kept the ball?” and I made like I received it as he walked back and I got into my pitching stance. I eyed the runner on first and he dared me by taking a couple of steps off the base. Ted got him!

That brought a burst of laughter from the players and on-lookers and got everybody talking. Quite frankly I can’t remember anything more about the game itself, except nobody got hurt.

We played many ball games mainly with Silverton and New Denver teams and there was always a good turnout of fans. One player who got lots of attention was Tad Nishimura. He was short in height but was a fast runner. Like a roadrunner, his legs were spinning running from base to base and fans were roaring with excitement.

I liked pitching with Benny Lister catching. His mild manner and soft encouragements helped to boost my confidence and win games that could have gone the other way. The stalwart in our team was Benny’s wife, Vi (Gustafson). She organized all the games, kept records and maintained the score sheet on every game.

When the ball game extended past the time for me to catch the bus, Benny would drive me to the camp in his car so I got to play the full game. You couldn’t find a nicer guy.

Driving to New Denver was always a challenge, especially the first five miles to Cape Horn. There were very few places for on-coming cars to pass and roadside slough and rockslides were common occurrences.

Chris Christopherson, a local old-timer, once told me as we sat in the Halfway Café that the contract to construct the highway from Slocan City to Cape Horn (about eight kilometres) was completed in just one year. He said that the three Grove brothers (local miners) worked on the tunnel using a single jack and double jack. The brothers lived at the north end of Slocan West Road.