The Terry Fox Sports Complex was a beehive of activity this past weekend, with as many as three diamonds on the go, simultaneously.
The thanks for this reminder of pre-pandemic sport comes courtesy of the fact that baseball is, by its very nature, an activity which leans naturally towards physical distancing.
And, of course, a huge helping hand from all of those involved with Voyageurs Baseball, the local group that has found a way to generate game play for six separate rep teams, all while remaining compliant to the health precautions that must be observed, limiting teams of this size to no more than two other bubbled opponents.
In the case of the 18U Voyageurs, the chosen adversaries were none other than the Oshawa Legionaires and the Ottawa Canadians, the latter making the trip to Sudbury Saturday for a four-game weekend after the locals took two of three from the former, one week earlier.
"Honestly, we thought the whole season was canned by the end of the summer," said Voyageurs' center-fielder and key offensive cog Caleb Cain-Plante. "We hadn't played a single game, all summer, and then we heard that we were going to play Oshawa and Ottawa with our little bubble - it was awesome!"
"We had played an intra-squad game, but it's not the same feeling. There's an excitement about coming back to baseball."
Consistently touted as a top-end hitting talent, Cain-Plante has worked hard to improve defensively, making the move to the outfield a few years ago. "I was originally a pitcher, a bit of an oversized kid that could throw hard," explained the native of Sturgeon Falls. Thankfully, the setting for his positional transition could not be better.
"I've got good range and good reads; I can thank (former) coach Brodie (Jeffrey) for that," said Cain-Plante. "All of those outfielding drills definitely helped. In the outfield, that first step is so important. You want to make sure that you are going in the right direction with enough momentum. The best advice I got in the past few years was to freeze on a line drive."
"Take your time, assess the ball, rather than make a step in the wrong direction," he added. "You might have a few balls drop in front of you, but that's better than taking a few steps in and watching it fly over your head all the time."
After dropping three close games to the Canadians by scores of 4-3, 2-1 and 6-3, the 18U Voyageurs closed on a winning note, building up a 5-1 lead Sunday afternoon and holding on for a 5-3 victory. Individual highlights on day two included more outstanding pitching, this time courtesy of Braeden Pakkala (four strong innings in game three) and Scooter Rienguette (complete game win in the finale), as well as a three-run double from Alex McNiven.
"I'm really just trying to stay in the moment," said Cain-Plante, summarizing his thoughts on being back out on the diamond, fully engaged in game mode. "You just forget about everything else and take each pitch as they come. It's really a nice release; hitting the ball is the best feeling in the world."
Actually, THE absolute best feeling is likely cranking one beyond the fence, nailing the four-bagger, the jack, to borrow popular baseball vernacular. It's even better when this happens at age brackets where the feat might not often be seen.
A member of the Valley East U11 Voyageurs, Landen Creasey enjoyed the thrill a few weekends back, in Muskoka, drilling a two-run shot that showcased his potential, even if the notion of proper etiquette in the sport might not yet have sunk in.
"It was over the fence on a really slow pitch, right down the middle," recalled the grade six student at Copper Cliff Public School. "The field is about the same size as here. I just stood there and watched it - and then my dad told me not to do that anymore."
Just to be clear, the lecture was precipitated by the youngster's reaction to the dinger, and not the fact that he powered one out of the yard. Now in his fourth year of rep baseball, Creasey mans one of the hot corners, with the 5'8" eleven year-old settling in nicely at first base. "It helps to be kind of big, with a long reach - and you have to be able to catch the ball," he explained.
The U11 Voyageurs would also enjoy a three for four weekend, besting the Muskoka Hornets 8-1, 13-8 and 8-3, but dropping game two by a final score of 13-6. Joining Creasey on the team roster are Ty Belanger, Brady Holden, Ben Kawa, Joe Leduc, Pierce Mills, Justin Mrochek, Evan Ouimet, Gillis O'Daiskey, Trent Peters, Brett Rienguette, and coaches Scott Rienguette, Joel Belanger, Dan Cameron and Michael Creasey.
Still more offensive fireworks up at the top diamond as Colton Audette helped the Valley East 13U Rep Voyageurs bounce back from a 6-6 draw with Muskoka in game one, belting a three-run home run as part of a 10-4 triumph for the locals in game two.
Mind you, his reaction was markedly different than the one experienced by Creasey. "It was a high knuckleball; there was no spin at all," said Audette, who parked the pitch 262 feet away, beyond the fence in straight-away centerfield. "I had no idea I had hit it that well, I didn't even feel the ball off the bat."
"I was rounding second base when I heard everyone start cheering," added the grade nine student at Confederation Secondary, who was celebrating his first ever over the fence HR. That said, the ten year veteran of the local baseball scene - "baseball runs in the family," he noted - was equally excited about his ability to shine defensively when the teams first met in Huntsville, earlier this month.
"When we went to Muskoka, I made a diving catch," he stated. "It helped that it was raining, much easier to slide on the grass."
His contribution at the plate on Saturday was much appreciated by starting pitcher Will Church, who enjoyed a strong outing, going five innings in picking up the win. "I'm more of an accuracy pitcher," admitted the multi-sport talent. "Our catcher is really good at framing pitches, so I just try and play catch with the catcher."
The contest was somewhat bittersweet for the 13 year grade 8 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary, representing what is likely to be his final outing with the Voyageurs, focusing on the development of his basketball game as he prepares for his high-school years ahead.
Rounding out the local baseball scoreboard were the 16U Voyageurs, who dropped a three game set in Ottawa, as well as the Valley East 13U Select Voyageurs, who managed to squeeze in one game with the Hornets on Saturday.
There will be more action at Terry Fox this coming weekend with the Oshawa 16U Legionaires in town for a four game series: 12:00 and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday – 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.