Manitowaning lights up the sky

Larry ‘Hopper’ Harasym had the honour of flipping the switch at the Manitowaning ball field. The special occasion was marked with a celebratory 3-pitch game featuring local sports celebrities, like Mr. Harasym. photo by Jackie White

For the first time ever, lights go on at Manitowaning ball field

by Greg Lockeyer

MANITOWANING—Well, it has been a long time coming. Years, if not decades, but at approximately 8:10 pm this past Friday night, the skies above the community of Manitowaning were lit up when long-time local fastball icon, Larry ‘Hopper’ Harasym flipped the switch to turn on the newly installed lights at the Manitowaning Ball Field.

Master of Ceremonies, another local sports icon, Ron Cooper, sporting a form fitting uniform from the past, stood in front of home plate to welcome the large crowd of hometown residents, and a few outsiders, who had gathered to witness this historic event.

For many, many years, the ball field within the Township of Assiginack was the only playing surface on Manitoulin that did not have lights. This meant fastball games had to start earlier than in other communities, especially during playoff season in late August and early September. Some games had to be moved to other communities that had lights during playoff season due to the fact that extra innings would often be needed to complete games.

As Mr. Cooper proudly stated, ‘if you build it, they will come’. This, of course, in reference to one of best lines in motion picture history, the line by actor Kevin Costner from the famous ball movie from 1989, ‘Field of Dreams.’ Ironically, it was a grant pursued two years ago by Assiginack’s events co-ordinator Jackie White, to the Toronto Blue Jays Care Foundation ‘Field of Dreams’ program that provided funds available to the Municipality of Assiginack to do the initial upgrades to the local ball diamond last year. New fencing, player benches and covers, along with a complete overhaul of the infield and outfield were the most notable and needed improvements. Late last summer, Ms. White did her magic once again when funds were received from Investing in Canada Infrastructure Programs to allow for the installation of the new lighting system.

In an exhibition game to mark the historic event, a group of young lads from the Manitowaning area took on a line-up of well-seasoned fastball veterans who had dusted off their gloves from mothballs to hit the field once again in a friendly game of 3-pitch. Great to see local vets such as Jamie MacKenzie, Tom and Scott Hughson, Reuben Allen, Murray Gammie, Bob McDonald, Kevin Burnett, Ryan Stewart, Johnny Jackson, Manitoulin’s fastest man ‘Jimmy Trudeau, Joe Cooper, along with Ron Cooper and Larry Harasym, who had carried the Manitowaning fastball dreams for many years. Even a pinch hit by Mike Gibbons was in store. 

Of course, no game would be complete without a barb, or 10, at an umpire and this game was no different. When Mr. Cooper spoke that someone said the lights were 40 years too late, one spectator piped up to say “40 years too late” to which one of the veteran pitchers yelled back to say “you couldn’t see a strike then and you wouldn’t see one now with the lights!” Seems to me that perhaps longtime fastball umpire Wayne ‘Chipper’ Chapman was in the crowd! Later in the game, in a twist, Ron Cooper couldn’t find his way around a rule!

Proving that some things in the mind never change, although body movements say differently now, Hopper Harasym was at his best, diving for a ball at short. One of the best ball players ever on Manitoulin, Mr. Harasym never played a game without getting his uniform dirty. Prior to the game, this writer had a chance to chat with Mr. Harasym and he proudly stated, “I never thought I would see this day of lights on our ball field.” One of the classiest persons of all times.

At one point when the veterans had actually made an out, they were tossing the ball around the infield and a lull came over the crowd and it seemed like a voice from above was loudly saying, ‘let’s have that apple around!’ Of course, anyone who followed Manitowaning fastball back in the day knew that was a reference to longtime player, Father Al Felix.

While the outcome of the game was not important, the laughs and memories will last forever. The young guns belted out many home runs during the game, but let’s be honest—hitting slow-pitch is like going to the driving range on an airport runway to see how far you can hit a golfball. There is no doubt none of these youngsters would have hit balls that far if they were facing the likes of former Twang fastball fireballers Larry and Parry Robinson. Heck, even this former chucker, ‘Wee-Chuck,’ as longtime Manitowaning supporter Jeanette Allen would call me.

While she stays away from the spotlight, none of these renovations would have happened without the persistence of municipal employee Jackie White. Known as ‘Jackie of all Trades’ (swim instructor, Zamboni driver, etc.), is an incredible asset for the Assiginack Township, finding funding avenues for so many projects in all areas. Well done, Jackie!

When the game had finished and veterans had gathered their gear, talking about how sore they would be the next day, one thing from the past remained the same as long time fastball catcher and Manitowaning businessman Reuben Allen was the last to leave the bench. Mr. Allen was re-living stories from the past even as Ms. White was turning off the lights.  This writer was only too pleased to be the other person talking with Mr. Allen.

Great job, Assiginack and may your goal of promoting youth ball end up helping revive the sport of fastball on Manitoulin. It needs to make a comeback!