It is autumn now and across North Surrey’s legendary Whalley Athletic Field the vacant diamonds wait silently, a time to reflect on one of this country’s greatest unsung traditions, I am sure. The sounds of baseball will return in the spring and the perennial ritual will resume in the same humble way it has done for decades. A new crop of young novice players barely taller than their bats, their gloves like weighty appendages on their little wrists – will learn to hit, catch, and throw a small ball and then race around a square of corner bases in a game too complex in rules to learn in any other way than to play it.
It is not a game I learned before moving to Canada from China and taking up residence in Surrey, so I have marvelled as I have watched how these skills are passed on to the young new players. The youngest will learn to swing a bat and hit an airborne ball that is carefully delivered into the strike zone by a pitching machine calibrated to ensure just the right arc and speed for their ability. The often-missed catches by base players and fielders is at this level a source of laughter, with a frenzied dash to retrieve the ball and throw it – somewhere! There is a lot of fun in this for everyone. More serious play happens on the adjacent diamonds where you can watch the more experienced, and ever taller, players performing at a remarkably higher skill level each successive year.
This is all a great testament to the adults who volunteer in their roles as coaches, umpires, and supportive parents, the custodians of this tradition. Especially great is that these custodians are often former players themselves, moving through all the ranks from beginner to seasoned players, and then returning in adulthood to instruct and officiate. It is truly an amazing cycle.
This year was a special one for the Whalley Allstars; the team went all the way in August to play in the 72nd Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA. It was a source of pride for everyone connected to the team, as well as for Surrey and for Canada. Whalley has a long history of developing champions. Since the league was formed in the late 1950s, its annals show hundreds of championships including 59 district pennants, 60 provincial championships and 34 national championships. In the Little League World Championships in Williamsport, this year was the sixth time a Whalley team has competed there.
There have been many honours and accolades already bestowed on the team, but I would like to add one that left a deep impression on me as I watched the team on television even as it lost in the semi-finals at Williamsport this year. What made me so proud of this local team that was representing my community and my country was something much more than the baseball skills in which they obviously excelled. Something else is taught on the ball diamonds in Whalley Field.
The manner in which these young players accepted defeat, the respect and honour they showed to their competitors. I think this kind of sportsmanship is the greatest skill they learn on the diamonds at Whalley Field in Surrey. It made me very proud to live in Surrey and to be a Canadian.