Compared with past years, almost everything was scaled down at the 2020 Gord Closson Oldtimers Fall Classic on Aug. 28-30.
Because of COVID-19, fewer teams competed at this year’s edition of the long-running fastball tournament and fewer fans were allowed on-site. Even the scores were smaller, thanks to a one-hour-and-20-minute time limit on games, with a couple finishing in 0-0 ties.
That didn’t mean there was any less excitement during the three-day event at Glenora’s Waldon Park. The masters division, in particular, featured several thrillers, not the least of which was the final on Sunday afternoon, won 5-4 by Mark James Excavating over the Parksville Red Sox.
The teams were even until the fifth inning, when Josh Fred crushed a home run to put Parksville ahead 3-2. MJE responded in the bottom of the sixth, going up 4-3 on a two-run shot by Mike Blandin. Fred’s second homer of the afternoon made it 4-4 in the top of the seventh, but MJE struck again in the bottom of the final inning when Adam Bird walked with two outs, and Ray Anthony singled him home.
The masters semifinal between MJE and Gord’s Geriatrics was another memorable matchup. The Geriatrics gave up seven runs in the first inning before a pitching change, then settled in, eventually scoring five in the fifth to go up 10-9 and two more in the top of the sixth to lead 12-9. Blandin socked a grand slam to put MJE ahead 13-12 in the bottom of the sixth, and Korrey Gareau struck out the side in the top of the seventh to preserve the victory.
Those same two teams squared off in the tournament opener, a bizarre 1-0 victory by MJE. The pitchers were on fire, with Gareau striking out 12 over five innings for MJE and Craig Snyder sitting down 11 for the Geriatrics. Although the Geriatrics touched eight bases and MJE only touched four, MJE ended up scoring the lone run of the night. With a runner on first, the umpire was hit by the ball. The Geriatrics catcher turned around to check on the ump’s welfare, leaving the ball live, and the runner came all the way around to score. The teams agreed the run should stand, and it held up as the winner.
“The losing team touched twice as many bases as the winning team,” tournament organizer Joe DiLalla noted. “It was a strange game, a strange way to lose.”
The open division was won 3-1 by Wheatsheaf over L.T. Consulting, an exact reversal — down to the score — of the result from the teams’ round-robin game.
Home run hero Blandin was named MVP for Mark James Excavating. The rest of the MVP parade included Dale Kenyon (Duncan Pipers), Shawn Koster (Victoria Outlaws), Joel Rossi (L.T. Consulting), Clayton Martin (Wheatsheaf), Hamish Troup and Dan Cheetham (Parksville), Cole Adams (Longwood Brewery), and Dan Schultz (Gord’s Geriatrics).
Shawn Miller was named Favourite Umpire, Warren Griffin was named Wilky Weekend Warrior, and Wheatsheaf won the Team Participation trophy. Jim Gayse was named the Mr. O’Keefe Most Sportsmanlike Player, Ray Anthony was named the Ron Dill Memorial Most Inspirational Player, Hamish Troup received the Brent Harrison Memorial Young Buck Trophy, and Longwood Brewery took home the Shawnigan Merchants Last Place Trophy.
Colleen Dill, a tournament mainstay who was once again there for the entirety of the three days this year, received the Chris Dame Most Positive Person Award. Dill is also a friend of the family of Mark Olson; Olson died suddenly earlier this year and his wife Ashley and sons Ace and Axel were selected to receive the proceeds of this year’s tournament.
Organizers worked closely with Island Health to make the 2020 tournament a success, and they also expressed thanks to the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the community of Glenora. According to DiLalla, they only hit the capacity of 50 people in the beer garden “a couple of times” and provided three wash stations for players and fans, as well as requiring everyone to sign in and out of the park.
From the feedback DiLalla got, everyone at the tournament felt safe and enjoyed the scaled-down tournament.
“Most everybody I talked to was glad they were there to pay their $400 for charity,” he said. “For most of them it was the first tournament of the year.”