What a start I had to my career.
While still in high school in the mid-1950s, I was given a summertime dream job to cover senior softball for the Evening News.
A few summers later, as The Chronicle Herald’s regional representative, the local softball scene remained one of my personal priorities.
What made it so interesting?
More than anything, it was the Trenton Scotias of that era, a team climbing year by year, division by division, towards the peak of the sport, not just in Nova Scotia, but in the Maritimes.
It was a journey that had a storybook ending.
It all began to unfold in the late 1950s with Ike Murray as coach, and reached its lofty objective under Bink Almon.
The cast was a marvellous collection of senior talent.
Catchers were Doug Brown and Lonnie Reekie. Infielders included Gun Mason and Butch MacNeil on first base, Nelson Wilson at second, Ralph Cameron at shortstop, Rab MacDonald on third. Outfielders were Jim MacNeil, Demp Murray and John Ryan, while primary pitchers were Barry Semple and Don (Scow) Vincent.
Why another look back at that great aggregation? Because the mountaintop for those Scotias was reached exactly 60 years ago.
What a season it was in the old Steeltown.
For several years, the Scotias were getting better and better, closer and closer to the sport’s highest prize in the Maritimes.
In the late 1950s, huge crowds began flocking to the old ball field in the town’s north end as the team climbed the softball ladder division by division, rung by rung, season by season.
In 1958, when softball was into its best era ever in this province, the Scotias won the Nova Scotia Senior B title. They immediately declared their intentions of moving up to the Senior A level.
It wouldn’t be an easy change, however, even though softball observers in the county believed wholeheartedly that Trenton had the best roster ever put together in the neighbourhood.
By 1960, they showed what they were made of, achieving their next objective by becoming Nova Scotia Senior A champions. That season lost a little of its lustre when the guys lost Maritime honours by one run in a deciding game.
Then came 1961.
It was a grand time to be a softball supporter in Pictou County.
If you remember being at the games that summer and fall, or reading about the results in the papers, you’re not young anymore.
But join me in looking back at that season.
The games were always exciting, the crowds always noisy and supportive in large numbers, and all the Scotias played their hearts out along the road to victory.
After all these decades, after watching later softball giants like the Brookfield Elks in the 1970s, the Halifax Dairy Queen and the always-contending Liverpool Cubs, I still maintain that the 1961 Scotias were the best softball franchise I had the opportunity to witness.
So let’s reflect on how it happened.
As the 1961 season opened, it was only natural to keep in mind what had occurred the previous year.
As Nova Scotia A champs, they faced the Minto Miners, losing the opener in New Brunswick by a 6-1 score.
It was back to Trenton for a possible doubleheader.
The Scotias won 5-3 on Vincent’s pitching and Reekie’s two-run homer. The crowd was boisterous as the clubs entered the finale.
Unfortunately, Minto shocked Trenton with eight runs in the second inning. But again the Scotias didn’t quit and almost made it all the way back. The final score? An 11-10 heartbreaker.
The Scotias were more determined than ever to go the distance in the 1961 playdowns.
They met the Sydney Combines in the best-of-three provincial semi-finals. They grabbed an 11-9 verdict in Cape Breton, before returning home where two-run homers by Wilson and Cameron produced an 11-2 decision and the series.
Next came Halifax Texaco in the final. It didn’t start well at home for Trenton. Leading 6-1, they gave up three Halifax runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth to suffer a 7-6 defeat.
On the Halifax Commons, game two was tied 9-9 in the ninth when two Halifax errors helped the Scotias register a 10-9 win. In the deciding contest, Ryan’s homer broke a 6-6 tie to give Trenton its second consecutive provincial crown.
The Pictou County squad then faced the Saint John Metros in the best-of-three Maritime final. To a man, the Scotias talked only of making up for the never-forgotten loss 12 months earlier.
The opening action was in Trenton with a massive crowd in attendance—and where Pictonians got their money’s worth.
Trailing 6-5 into the fifth inning, Ryan’s single sent Cameron home to deadlock the score. Then a wild pitch by the Saint John pitcher allowed MacDonald to add what proved to be the winning marker.
The series moved to New Brunswick.
The Scotias suffered an ugly 8-2 defeat that forced a third and deciding game. The Nova Scotia club, however, certainly didn’t hang their heads and surrender. That was obvious to those of us on the sidelines.
Of course there was another squeaker before the series concluded. Deadlocked 6-6 late, Ryan slammed another four-bagger as Trenton took a one-run decision, the same margin that cost them in ‘60.
And so the Scotias completed their four-year journey to the top, bringing home the Maritime Senior A title that had previously eluded them.
It was a long time ago in many ways.
Thinking of the players, the lone casualty for many years was third baseman MacDonald who passed away much too young.
It’s changed now. Time has taken the two men who coached the club, and many of the champions we cheered are gone to greener fields.
But for those of us still around to look back six decades, we remember those Scotias and cheer their efforts once more.
They made Trenton proud.