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HomeSportsFor the love of the game: Tigers edition

For the love of the game: Tigers edition

Dal baseball team competes weekly despite little recognition

(Photo by Jennifer Gosnell)
(Photo by Jennifer Gosnell)

It’s a cool and clear Tuesday evening at the Halifax Mainland Commons. The sun is beginning to set, as a few cars pull up to the baseball field adjacent to the Canada Games Centre.

With bags of equipment in hand, men pile out of their cars and make their way to the field. They remove the protective tarps from the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box. They retrieve the bases from a storage shed. Others begin to rake and groom the infield.

But these men aren’t the grounds crew. They’re Dalhousie’s baseball team.

The Tigers have been paying ball since 1992. In those 22 years, very little has changed – until now.

This season, the Tigers ball club joined the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Association, an organization promoting university baseball in the Maritimes and Ontario.

This is a step in the right direction, according to Jake Boyle, a fifth-year informatics student that acts as the teams coach and manager. He’s in charge of logistics on and off the field. Also, he starts at first base.

“Some years we do well, some years we don’t,” he says.

The team’s annual budget is $1,500 and each player pays an additional $150 out of their own pocket in team fees. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for frivolous spending.

Dennis Trainor, a third-year nursing student, shows off his sun-bleached cap, saying “This hat is three years old.” But at least his hat displays the team’s logo, as few players actually have matching hats. Another player searches the dugout, shouting “What’s a guy gotta do to get a jersey around here?”

The team carpools to games at the Commons and rent vans for road games; some of which are as far as four-and-a-half hours away. But this is a home game, which leaves them even more chipper tonight.

The first pitch won’t come for over an hour, but there’s plenty to be done before the visiting St. Francis Xavier X-Men arrive.

The Tigers keep things light through a combination of batting practice and field maintenance. While the left-handers take their first swings of the night, the first year players paint baselines down first and third.

From freshmen to seniors, Dal’s club consists of students in all areas of study. Past incarnations of the team have included students of medicine and law. Each player also represents a competitive club outside of Dal – some within the HRM and others from Ontario and New Brunswick.

With the field prepared, the Tigers continue to warm-up; throwing, running, stretching and fielding grounders and fly balls. It’s nearly a two-hour drive for St. FX and they’re not expected until shortly before the eight o’clock start time.

By the time the game starts, the sun is fully set, the stadium lights have turned on and the weather has shifted from cool to cold. The Tigers try to keep loose as St. FX organize themselves in the visiting team’s dugout minutes before the first pitch.

Dal sits a game above .500 tonight, although Boyle and the rest of the team like their chances of making the playoffs. Though, he also notes the potential difficulty orchestrating post-season travel and finance.

But right now it’s game time, and Boyle says “We gotta do what we gotta do.”

The Tigers come into the contest eager for a win after losing 13-3 to the University of New Brunswick. With St. FX sitting in last place, the team feels confident they can beat St. FX for a second time this month.

The start of the game comes with a noticeable shift in mood. It appears to be time to take care of business. The Tigers take the field defensively to start the inning, however, the bench remains an active and integral component to the game. Not only do the players act as first and third base coaches, they also score the game in real time on the “GameChanger” app. Real time scores and stats keep tabs on every team and player in the CCBA and teams are responsible for recording these stats during the game.

Between innings catcher Devin Ferguson and starting pitcher Andrew Neima discuss the subtleties of St. FX’s offensive and defensive strategies.

The tension rises again when St. FX takes a four run lead. The Tigers find themselves in some unexpected trouble and look to rally. Left fielder Justin Armstrong knocks a double to right field, but is tagged out during the next at bat after a questionable call by the only outfield umpire. An unfortunate turn of events that the players vocalize to the officials.

In an attempt to shake things up, Armstrong is subbed out in a defensive adjustment in the fifth inning. Boyle jokes that Armstrong is “the only player who could hit a double and get benched.”

Bailey Huber, a first-year engineering student, knocks on his bat superstitiously while on deck. He says, “It’s a baseball thing,” then adds, “Or maybe it’s just a New Brunswick thing.”

Despite the team’s best efforts and regard for superstition, they fail to come back and lose the game 6-0.

The team gathers together after the game, clearly disappointed with the loss. Infielder Aaron Ferguson says, “We took that team lightly.”

The sense of loss hangs in the cold night air, but the team still needs to clean up the field and get back to Dal, hopefully before midnighwt. It’s business as usual for them, of course.

The players of Dal’s Baseball Club work around a shoestring budget with virtually zero acknowledgment for their efforts. They make personal and financial sacrifice to play the game they love. The players are some of the best in the Maritimes and their passion for the game overshadows their need for recognition.

This all stands as a testament to the dedication and enthusiasm of the hidden gem that is the Dal Tigers baseball team.

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