So many memories... so many base on balls...
It was way back in 2006 when regular Batters Box poster Joe "Jobu" Buscemi had a dream: a dream of baseball. Specifically, of playing the Great Game somewhere in the city of Toronto. At that time however, there wasn't much to choose from in regards to hardball leagues in Toronto. Most of the options were either casual softball (beerball) leagues, or were leagues of advanced skill levels and based in Mississauga and other likewise non central Toronto locations. This led Jobu to an idea: why not create a new hardball league by proposing the idea in a thread on Batters Box?
So that is what went down, and even the most optimistic hopes of Jobu and VBF (another Bauxite helping to organize) could not match the instant high level of interest in the idea. Within a few weeks there were enough committed players (myself included) for at least two teams and everything was in motion. The TBBL (Toronto Bauxite Baseball League) was born. The challenge now was finding a field. While there were some initial half-hearted "pie-in-the-sky" suggestions (is the Dome available if the Jays are out of town?), the TBBL eventually, with the assistance of York Baseball coach Jim Turner, were able to land Smythe Park, a field (with a mound, thankfully) in the western part of Toronto near Jane and Eglinton. There was also some hope of the league initially beginning with four teams but for a number of reasons (mostly the ability of several players to commit every week) the first season would feature just two teams to square off and do battle each Saturday evening: the White Sox and the Reds.
The first season of the TBBL was, well, interesting to say the very least. Many of these players had not played organized baseball in a long time, if at all. Combine that with nobody aside from maybe three pitchers possessing consistent ability to throw strikes and the Smythe Park gravely infield being prone to unusual bounces, and you had a recipe for some wild games. It wasn't great baseball by any stretch, but you were likely certain to witness something you'd never thought was possible on a diamond. I'll let longtime Box contributor Magpie describe an example of it, in a game report named White Sox Versus Reds: Le Rouge et Le Noir on August 20th, 2006:
I wanted to see some good baseball on Saturday.
Obviously, this ruled out Yankees-Red Sox. As it turned out, Orioles-Blue Jays was something of a stinker as well. But none of this was my concern, for I was at Smythe Park.
Saturday night's struggle between the Reds and the White Sox, at a minimum, offered better pitching than the home side has given the fans at Fenway this weekend.
The Reds surged out to an impressive early lead, if 14-1 is your idea of an impressive lead.
Were the White Sox discouraged? Well, probably. But they kept pecking away - five runs here, four runs here, and by the sixth inning they had closed the gap to five runs and had the bases loaded. Could they complete the comeback?
No, they couldn't. The Reds' bullpen ace slammed the door in the seventh - they say he was throwing a screwball, which hardly seems fair. But the Sox did make it interesting. And a good time was had by all.
We didn't see a starting pitcher walk nine batters - we leave that stuff for the teams playing at Fenway. We did see home runs and strike outs. Doubles galore. And some extremely interesting base-running, the likes of which I haven't seen since Willie Mays was in his prime.
Consider this play, which was surely the evening's highlight. The Sox had a runner on first. The Reds pitcher threw over and caught the runner napping. Rather than stand there and be tagged out, he lit out for second base, dashing past a startled second baseman as he did so. The Reds shortstop hurried over to cover the bag, the third baseman hustled over to back him up, and the second baseman scrambled to get back into the play. All seemed to arrive in the vicinity of second base at roughly the same time, as the first baseman threw the ball and... well, I'm not really sure what happened. But anyway, there was the baserunner standing safe at second, and there was the baseball lying on the ground.
At which point, the runner then looked up, noticed that no one was covering third base... and away he went, with the third baseman in hot pursuit.
Another infielder picked up the ball in hopes of making a play at third base. This involved hitting a moving target (the third baseman, running along the basepath in tandem with the runaway baserunner.) Moreover, the moving target was running away from the ball, which meant that this gambit somewhat resembled a quarterback leading a receiver. In addition, this was a moving target whose attention was mostly occupied by trying to keep up with the by now gasping and wheezing baserunner.
It didn't work.
The throw went astray into left field, and the runner headed for home. He seemed on the verge of collapse as he neared the plate, but he arrived safely, to appreciative roars and huzzahs from the assembled multitude.
Now that's Entertainment!
If I'm making this sound like the 1962 Mets, I'm sorry. But that was so cool... a little poetic license seems appropriate.
Actually, it's pretty obvious that the quality of play has steadily improved as the league has gone on. The fact that I myself haven't actually played in a couple of months probably has something to do with that, of course. Oh, if I could turn back time...
So yes, a good time is being had by all. Check it out. Pick a team, and cheer them on.
The first TBBL championship was naturally the eternally predictable matchup of the White Sox and the Reds (the only two teams!). Despite the Reds having the advantage for most of the regular season (6-3 or 6-4 was their record. Don't quote me though, the W-L records this far back are hazy and possibly non existent), the White Sox pulled off a thumper of a victory in what is now known forever as "The Fog Game", thanks to an incredibly thick patch of autumn fog that was rolling through the outfield of Smythe Park. It was an incredibly fun summer of baseball for all involved and thanks to that, plans were quickly in motion for a second season, ensuring this inaugural summer of the TBBL was not to be a one hit wonder.
It's been nine years since the TBBL (rechristened the "TMBL" when it incorporated a few years ago) was conceived and it continues to flourish. The number of teams has since expanded to eight (there are divisions now!) and the quality of the baseball being played has improved with every passing season. The "Godfather" of the league, Joe (Jobu) Buscemi, has since left the organization, but the TMBL has been fortunate to have the tireless efforts of Michael Kolaric, John Viktorin, long time umpire Ron Alymar, statman/website guru Daniel Kolaric, groundskeeper Dave Skopiwsky and a host of many others who continue to help out in any capacity. After these ten seasons, the baseball league that was born on this very website continues to go on strong.
The tenth TBBL/TMBL championship will be played two weeks from now (September 12th) at Smythe Park, with the Sox (seeking a fifth title) going up against the defending champion Pirates, one of the recent expansion teams.
You can check out the league website here (it's quite sleek) with stats that go back to that inaugural season: http://tmbl.org/teams/default.asp?u=TMBL&s=baseball&p=home
Some photos of the league over the years, including some of the 2006 "Fog Game" -- http://s1022.photobucket.com/user/corpse666fiend/library/2006-2008%20TBBL?sort=2&page=11
Here's the original Box thread with Jobu's proposal: http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20060312124357828
A followup thread: http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20060616002620421
Magpie's recap from 2006: http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20060819231215353