For the past two decades, Nelson has been home to a recreational, yet competitive league of part-time athletes that enjoy both the challenge and the camaraderie that comes with playing team sports.
2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Nelson Mixed Slo-Pitch and president RJ Warren says it’s been a successful journey.
“It’s really been a change for us. We have really upgraded,” he said.
Back in 1994, there were two different slo-pitch leagues – the government league and the bank league.
“The government had eight teams and the bank had 10 teams,” recalls Joe Capriglione, a player and team manager (of the squad the Unknowns), who has been with the sport from the beginning.
According to Capriglione, in 1984 Castlegar had one league and the decision was made to attempt to merge the Nelson leagues together to create more competition.
All 18 teams, and two new teams that happened to show up, attended a meeting and the merger was completed.
“Let’s try it, we decided,” said Capriglione. “It’s been going ever since and it’s been great.”
But there was a lot of work to be done to make the 20-team league viable. There were several issues with the ball fields back in the mid-80s.
“When we started out, one of our fields was where the senior playground is now and kitty-corner to that, our other field used a soccer net.”
Warren remembers those days and the “Nelson rules” that had to be created, especially when teams played at Trafalgar Middle School.
“If you hit the portable, that was a double,” said Warren with a laugh.
He explained that teams played at the Civic for a short period, before the new arena was constructed.
“If it (the ball) went on the roof of the little rink, that was a home run. Into the stairs it was a triple. We had all these little rules. But it worked. We just had to play with the land base we had,” said Warren.
Eventually it became clear to all involved that the league needed to rebuild the fields at Lakeside Park in order to remain legitimate. The problem was who would build them and with what money?
Capriglione said “the city, financially, just couldn’t do it and we understood that.”
So team sponsors, players and volunteers banded together to rebuild and reconfigure two ball diamonds.
“The city loaned us workers and materials, but we built them,” said Warren.
He remembers the moment that reality came crashing down on him, the same time as the backstops tumbled.
“We were working on the backstops and we pulled one down from the corner and I looked up at them, they were big telephone poles with wire wrapped around it, and when those came down I thought there was no going back. We had to build them now. My heart was in my mouth,” said Warren.
But that just spurred the volunteers on and the fields were completed.
Now some feel the diamonds are an envy to other organizations.
“People just want to come there because of the background. When we play ball there, it’s just beautiful,” said Capriglione.
Today, the league sports 16 teams, rather than the original 20, and many of the players, men and women, have greyer hair.
“The difference between now and when we started is you don’t have young players coming up. We had 20 teams back then and we were all the same age and we were all playing ball.
“But as we get older now, the young kids aren’t around here, they have to move away. It’s too bad. You have more of an older team, an older crowd. You only have one or two good young teams,” said Capriglione.
But he added that the flip side of that is there are a lot of new teams.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and played in that league, and I don’t know who they are. So there is a lot of new players moving to town,” explained Capriglione.
He said it would be nice to see more young teams get into the league.
“Slo-pitch is great. People work hard and keep it going. I’m lucky to have been there from day one.”
Warren agrees with that sentiment adding 20 years has seen a lot of changes.
Unlike the “old days”, Warren said there is more organization. The league has a proper executive including a treasurer, field maintenance and a scheduler who uses an automated system to organize games.
Despite the advancements, some things remain the same.
“We still do our own field maintenance, put the lines in and do what needs to be done,” said Warren. “We try to keep a focus that we are a rec league and we are here to have fun. But it’s still competitive, especially during the playoffs.
Warren said there are many people in Nelson who were instrumental in making the league a success. Some have been involved even before the league formed.
Names like Blair McFayden, Fred Schneider and countless others played a huge role in ensuring the future of slo-pitch in Nelson.
For more, visit nmsp.kics.bc.ca.