AMONG FRIENDS BY ROSALIE MACEACHERN
Gary Fraser started playing baseball on the North End playground behind his home and there is something about kids and baseball he just can’t shake.
“When I was playing it wasn’t organized ball. It was just a bunch of kids, whoever happened to be around, and we modified the game to suit the number of kids. There were a lot of big families in the North End so it was never too hard to get a couple of teams together. The guy with the equipment probably made the rules and we’d rather play than argue about it.”
By the time he returned to New Glasgow after university and started teaching, New Glasgow Kinsmen Club had a minor baseball program.
“Clyde Fraser was a principal and a Kinsman so I asked him about it and I started coaching a team that summer. Then in the fall I was invited to join Kinsmen.”
These days Fraser is the co-ordinator of the club’s house league program and one of his first jobs is to tell parents things are not the way they used to be.
“The first message is that if your son or daughter is going to play you are going to have to help out with the team. We just don’t have many young people around looking for a chance to coach anymore. It can be tough to find coaches today.”
When Fraser first coached he would borrow a bus from what is now Summer Street Industries, load it up with players and head out of town for games.
“We had some pretty good experiences over the years. We took a team to Boston, stayed at a college campus, played a few of the local teams and saw some great ball players.”
He also took peewee and bantam Kinsmen teams to Quebec in the glory days of the Montreal Expos.
“Both our teams played games in Olympic Stadium. It was all sponsored by the Bronfman Foundation and they were great to us. It was quite an experience between the stadium, the Expos and playing on artificial turf. It was an exchange program so we had two French teams come here and they were great kids.”
About the time Fraser joined Kinsmen a few other guys with a passion for baseball got involved and the club took on construction of the two fields it uses today.
“The land was there and the community supported the idea of having a couple of high quality baseball diamonds. Jack MacIsaac was the MLA and his kids were in the program so he was on board and was a huge help in getting funding.”
The small field opened in 1980 and the larger one in 1981. By the mid-1990s there were 450 boys and girls playing minor baseball in the Kinsmen program.
“Looking back you can see that times have changed. The young kids used to come in the mornings so that’s how we could handle that many kids. Today those kids are in care or camps and they can’t come to a morning program.”
Shortly after enrolment peaked, Fraser left the Kinsmen when he and his wife went to Holland to teach at an international school for four years. He did not come back to baseball until his children, Adam and Sarah, were old enough to play.
“By that time the numbers had dropped off. A lot of guys who’d been involved for years had left the program because their kids were done. I wanted my kids to play so I got involved again but we’ve also had some Kinsmen whose children are grown who have been a big help in strengthening the program again.”
Strengthening the program, which now has 340 players, means more adaptation to changing times.
“Soccer has come on strong and the biggest knock parents have against baseball is the length of the games when the kids are young. To address that, we’ve adopted a no walk rule. The player gets five pitches and then the first base umpire comes in for another three pitches. Once the kids start swinging they start hitting and we can be done a five-inning game in an hour-and-a-half.”
Fraser oversees the program’s 10 to 12 employees whose duties range from field maintenance to running games. They also offer morning clinics for those who can get to the field.
“We’d like to see more kids at the clinics because the guys running them are enthusiastic and make it fun. A lot of kids today come into the program never having swung a bat so the extra practice can be a big help.”
It is a requirement that Kinsmen players who make rep teams also play house league.
“It is their chance to try a different position but, more importantly, they are the ones who have gotten the most from the program and it is their chance to give back. It seems to work well for everybody.”
Fraser pointed out that without the Kinsmen the Town of New Glasgow would have to organize a program.
“Because the Kinsmen have done a great job through the years they get the town’s support and they have some companies and individuals who have been great when asked for help.”
Besides having a program for his own kids, Fraser enjoys seeing some of his old players coming back to the field.
“We’ve got a guy playing peewee rep this year whose father was on our Boston team. John Russell was on my team the first or second year I coached. He is our Bantam AA coach now and his son Colby is one of our employees. It is great to see the support continuing.”
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com