By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HAGERSVILLE—While the rest of us wait patiently for winter to drop its last snowflake, Hagersville resident Tim Richardson and the rest of Team Canada Modified Fastball (TCMF) are waiting eagerly to hop on a jet to Aruba, where they will compete in an Aruban Flag Day international ball tournament, held in the town of Oranjestad from March 23-26, 2023.
TCMF have been competing in the tournament for the past 10 years. While the women’s team won in 2016, no Canadian men’s team has yet claimed a similar victory. Richardson thinks this is the year that all changes.
“We’re taking the best team down there that’s been in 11 years. We’ve hand-picked players that could afford to go and put them in the best position to allow Team Canada an opportunity to be successful,” said Richardson, who is serving as Player’s Coach this year.
Playing for Team Canada is the culmination of a lifelong passion for Richardson, who explained, “I’m 68 years and I’ve been playing ball since I was 10 years old. I’ve played hardball, fastball, won an Ontario championship with a slo-pitch team in the 80s, and started up a slo-pitch team in the Caledonia Men’s League 40 years ago, Buds Boys, and that team is still going today…. Baseball has been like a family to me.”
For the last 12 years, Richardson has played in the Ancaster Veteran Slo-Pitch league, which is where he first met TCMF founder Earl Sutherland, who was born in Aruba and dreamed of bringing a Canadian team back to his home country to compete.
“I was fortunate to play on that team. There was 15 of us,” said Richardson of the first Canadian team to make the trip. “We didn’t do very good that first year, but he’s taken teams down ever since.”
Richardson compared The Aruban Flag Day tournament to Canada Day: “They have a three-day celebration and baseball is a small part of it, although we have hundreds of fans that are in the stands day and night.”
Aruban baseball differs in a few interesting ways. Richardson explained, “The first difference is pitching. In normal fastball, you step ahead and windmill the pitch over your head and around. In modified pitching, you’re not allowed to do that. Your arm can only come back to your shoulder and forward in a whip-style pitch.”
He said on TCMF’s first tournament in Aruba, they didn’t know that change initially. Their “amazing” Canadian championship pitcher was practising when the Aruban team first informed them of the rule, so “he had to modify his style of pitching to fit that style. It was a challenge.… We won one of our five games.”
Unlike North American ball, in Aruba you also can’t steal home or any base unless a pitch goes past the catcher’s glove. Additionally, the outfield positioning is different.
“They add an extra infielder…. You’ll be standing at the plate and think, ‘I’ll just pop it over the infield.’ Well, these Aruban and Venezuelan players and others … they’re so fast, it’s really hard to hit any gap.”
Richardson said that he and the team feel an immense sense of pride when they line the bases ahead of their games, in uniform, with the Canadian anthem playing.
“When I was asked 10 years ago, I couldn’t believe it…. I felt so appreciative of being asked,” he said. “For me, to put that uniform on, representing Team Canada, to be there with my wife on an exotic island to represent my country by playing the game I’ve loved playing, I’ve never felt that experience in my life.”
Richardson’s garage wall is proudly lined with photos of the various teams he has played on over the years, with a special place of honour reserved for a framed letter of congratulations he received from former Haldimand Norfolk MP Diane Finley following the inaugural tournament.
“It was just amazing,” he recalled.
While organizing the trip is a challenge every year, from reaching out to players around the country to figuring out the finances, the rewards far outweigh any headaches.
TCMF departs for Aruba on March 19. They will hold practices and exhibition games on the 21-22 and will compete on the 23-24. If they advance, semi-finals take place on March 25, with the finals the following day. Richardson said that, for the first time, their games will be livestreamed, with no time difference, through their social media page.
Win or lose, Richardson and his teammates know how lucky they are and plan to enjoy every minute: “We go for dinner, we tour the island. The Arubans receive the Canadians so well, and the Venezuelans and the Dutch, and everybody else that’s going.… The Aruban team couldn’t believe how well-organized, friendly, and social we were. It’s the Canadian way.”
True to that Canadian spirit, the team has rallied to collect 250-300 pounds worth of extra gear, largely donated by the Caledonia Men’s Slo-Pitch League and the Ancaster Veteran’s Slo-Pitch league, including bats, gloves, helmets, cleats, and more to distribute to Aruban children throughout their stay there.
They even found a loophole to get the equipment on the plane without added expense, as one of the team’s players, Shayne Chick, is a military veteranand as such is afforded the ability to bring two extra bags on the flight free-of-charge.
The team was also supported through a cash donation from I.L.A Sports, a Six Nations-based business, whose logo adorns the team’s jerseys above their player numbers on the back.
He concluded, “I hope we can be successful. I know we’re going to represent Canada respectfully, but I’d love to bring home a trophy.”
We’re pulling for you boys!