It was one of those hot, humid afternoons we’ve been having this summer – obviously a forerunner to what climate change is going to be like.
Four of us – all sports-loving guys with Pictou County roots – were gathered around a table suited for two at Tim Hortons in Cole Harbour.
The conversations were jumping all over the map when one of the fellows hurled a question in my direction. If a Blue Jays announcer was eavesdropping, he would have described it as a fastball, low and inside, as it crossed over a plate of Timbits at 99 miles an hour.
The guy with the query, an addict of many athletic disciplines, wondered about the biggest disappointment I had in local circles.
I surprised him by responding in less than 10 seconds. That’s because my most lasting regret has never faded in over 60 years.
There have surely been things that upset me: like the closing and demolition of New Glasgow High School, the closing and demolition of New Glasgow Stadium, the loss of senior hockey in the province. I could easily sneak in the now-55-year Stanley Cup drought owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not long ago, I consulted the internet about disappointments in life. It said “disappointments are inevitable, and how we cope with them is often a defining moment in our lives.”
Another explanation I saw: “Disappointment is not meant to destroy us. If taken in stride, it can strengthen us and make us better.”
I laughed when I read that sports fans likely suffer more disappointments than any other groups.
So I tossed a screwball back at my questioner.
My biggest disappointment still bothers me, even though I’ve known for over half a century that nothing really brings back the past.
A short stroll takes us to 1960.
I was only a few months into my career with The Chronicle Herald when I was writing the final chapter in what had been a dream league.
It was obvious it was going to happen that year – just as my vanishing childhood was struggling to tackle the challenges of adulthood.
The “loss” was the demise of the Halifax and District Baseball League, born provincially in 1946, arrived in Pictou County as the Stellarton Albions in 1950, and passed away in early 1960.
That brief portion of our lives was enriched by local stars and talented imports playing a kids game in six Nova Scotia communities.
Let me say first, we’ve been blessed with great sports: hockey, baseball and softball, football and basketball, boxing, golf, curling, paddling, lacrosse and soccer. Just name it. Nobody has gone under-entertained.
We’re rich in sports.
Yet, for me, my greatest sports disappointment was the Albions in Pictou County, and the demise of the H&D involving the Truro Bearcats, Kentville Wildcats, Dartmouth Arrows, Halifax Capitals and Liverpool Larrupers.
I was 12 in 1950 when the Albions joined the league and, almost immediately, my summertime highs were games in Stellarton. I was a happy and thrilled kid, when “our team” won back-to-back-to-back championships in 1951, 1952 and 1953. A feat unmatched by any other franchise.
I had become a teenager and, with each winning season, I was there in the crowds that got big enough that a second grandstand had to be built.
Then 1954 stood out. That was the season I joined John (Brother) MacDonald, our high school athletic director who was also sportscaster at the new CKEC radio station. Brother and I spent that summer together, with him doing the broadcasting, and me handling the scoring and statistics.
We travelled with the Albions to the other league centres, a lot of trips during which I learned a great deal about the sport, Brother having been a Stellarton first baseman and league batting champ.
That lead to my writing years with the Evening News as the H&D moved through the next few years, including its departure.
The league continued in its six-team format through 1956, with Halifax, Liverpool and Dartmouth each taking turns as champs.
The good days began disappearing.
In 1957, Liverpool and Halifax folded, leaving just four franchises. Kentville won the crown that summer. With the same makeup in ‘58, Truro grabbed its one and only championship.
The bad news spread to Pictou County in 1959, the Albions shutting down, replaced by Halifax’s return. Dartmouth became winners – its fourth title in 11 seasons.
That brings us to the ending early in ‘60.
In late April, Kentville had announced it was pulling out, leaving just Dartmouth, Halifax and Truro. League president Harry Butler said the circuit would not continue without a fourth team.
A return of the Albions was the only option.
I admit in the next few days I spent a lot of hours shadowing Albions president Webb Cunningham, listening to his phone and in-person conversations.
Though they hadn’t operated the previous summer (after nine H&D years in the fold), Cunningham held the key to the league’s very existence.
He had made connections with Detroit Tigers president Bill Dewitt to see if that organization could provide players to come to Stellarton. Yes was the reply, but not until the next season.
Both sides remained optimistic.
But not for long. In one of my old scrapbooks – its pages yellowed by time – this headline appeared over my May 2 story in the Halifax paper: “H&D League hit by Stellarton’s ‘out’ decision.”
Cunningham and Butler knew it was over. The league wouldn’t operate that summer, or for all the summers that have followed.
It was an era that lasted for just nine seasons in Pictou County – not a big part of a fan’s life expectancy. In that time, I went from being a 12-year-old in the grandstand to a 20-year-old journalist in the press box.
That, maybe more than anything, is why I still miss those Albions.