Almost four decades later, the summer of 1978 is still very clear to Dennis Springenatic.
A member of the Whalley Little League team which represented Canada at the World Series, Springenatic recalls weeks of practice, a national championship and playing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania against other teams of 12-year-olds from around the globe.
“I’m 50 now, and looking back at being 12-years-old in Williamsport, I don’t think there’s one day where I don’t remember what we did,” he said, seated in his family’s 1950s-themed diner, the Round-up Cafe, in Whalley. “Staying at the little cabins they had for you, the cafeteria, watching the other teams play, the swimming pool in the compound. Lots of security…
“Those things as a 12-year-old were ‘wow.’ And there was the stadium with 20,000 people watching you.”
Playing at the World Series five times helped make Whalley Little League the best-known youth baseball organization in Surrey – and perhaps the province.
The organization that is celebrating its 60th anniversary tomorrow (Saturday) has also represented Canada at World Series tournaments in other age groups, including the Junior (13-14 years-old), Senior (15-16) and Big League (17-18).
“I don’t know about it being famous, but it’s a town that people know through baseball,” said Springenatic, son of Whalley Little League legend Orest Springenatic. “People know where Whalley is – it’s in British Columbia, it’s a part of Surrey.”
The 1978 team was the second from Whalley to reach the World Series, the first being in 1973, a team which was also coached by Orest. The league also represented Canada in Williamsport in 1997 and 2005.
(Below, the Whalley All-Stars celebrate their Canadian Little League Championships win over the East Napean Eagles at the Whalley Ball Park in August 2006. The black-and-white photo shows one of the league’s early teams).
Dennis Springenatic recalls the disappointment of losing a provincial championship in 1977, saying it was the first step towards going to Williamsport a year later.
“Whalley hosted the nationals at our park in 1977, so we got a berth into the tournament,” he said. “But Trail was very good, they had (former NHLer) Ray Ferraro on their team. They ended up beating us. We were pretty disappointed.
“But we had seven or eight returning guys, so the next year, we were prepared. We had the experience of being of being to a national championship.”
In the summer of 1978 in Vancouver, Whalley topped Trail for a B.C. championship, then won the national title in Windsor, Ontario to earn the trip to Williamsport. They faced the eventual champions from Taiwan in their first game of the single-knockout tournament, and were quickly eliminated and relegated to a consolation playoff.
“I pitched against them and they beat us 12-0,” Springenatic said. “I think I was the only one to get a hit off them, or maybe there were two of us who had a hit.
“But we played real well the next two games, there were three or four of us who hit home runs. We were in the middle of the pack of all the teams there.”
With two wins in three games, it matches the best result Whalley has had at a World Series tournament. It also established Whalley as a winning program, one which would challenge for provincial and national titles every season.
“I credit guys like my dad and Chuck Bailey,” said Springenatic. “They were self-employed guys who could come to the park in the morning and again in the evening.
“I think it starts with the coaches who have been around there. My dad was there for 40 years. He always had a lot of good people around him. He and Mr. Bailey became friends in 1975, and when (Bailey) came around, he brought some good people with him.”
Orest Springenatic was honoured by Whalley Little League in 1992, which named its Major Diamond at Whalley Ball Park as Orest Springenatic Field. In 1996, a year after his passing, he was inducted to the B.C. Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bailey, who served 10 years as Whalley Little League president, was also honoured with the City of Surrey’s Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in North Surrey.
What Orest Springenatic and Bailey started, others have built upon, said Dennis.
“There’s a lot of other good people,” he said. “Ron Balaski just retired this year, he spent 20-odd years there. Ed Myers has been there since the early 1980s.
“There’s a winning tradition, you look at the pictures and some of the banners that are there, the kids see that and know it’s not just a dream to go to the World Series.
“It’s a possibility, because it’s been done before.”
Whalley Little League will celebrate 60 years of baseball – 1956 to 2016 – on July 9 at Whalley Ball Park (13351 105A Ave.), from 1-7 p.m. with games, presentations, a cake-cutting (2 p.m.), an alumni game (3:30 p.m.) and other activities.
Former players of Whalley Little League have been reminiscing on the organization’s 60th anniversary Facebook page.
“Lot’s of great memories with the guys and coaches and being fortunate to be on a team that made it down to the senior league world series back in ’86,” posted Kelly Gordon.
“Thanks to Orest Springenatic, Chuck Bailey, Bruce Murdoch, Bill Beckett, and Barney!” wrote Mark Avery, a teammate of Springenatic on the 1978 team. “I remember Mr. Spring saying we could keep the (equipment) bag if we won the BC’s and we thought that was a big deal back in 1978! Thanks to WLL for all those summers of great experiences and lifelong friendships.”
Springenatic is planning to be at Whalley Ball Park tomorrow to reconnect with former teammates and coaches.
“I’ll go to the park and say hi to people I haven’t seen for a while. It’s always nice to touch base with people you haven’t seen for 20 years or so,” he said. “It will be nice to catch up with a lot of people I haven’t seen since Little League.”
More information on Whalley Little League and its 60th anniversary is online at www.whalleylittle