Jim Leith hadn’t been to a ball game in a long time, and it had been even longer since the retired radio broadcaster had been in the booth behind a microphone.
But earlier this month, he found himself in exactly that position – at a baseball game, serving as the volunteer public-address announcer for the White Rock Tritons.
And after being largely isolated and stuck at home in recent months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Abbotsford senior was thrilled.
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s been able to go to to a ballpark as a fan… and I have a lady friend in White Rock, Linda, and we’re both big baseball fans, so we were out a couple weeks ago and said, ‘Hey, let’s go to the ballpark,’ because I’d heard that the Tritons were playing,” he explained.
While watching the game at South Surrey Athletic Park, both Leith – who has decades of experience doing sports play-by-play and public-address work – and Linda were impressed with both the ballpark itself and the quality of talent on the field.
All the other hallmarks of a traditional baseball game were there, too – from the crack of the bat to the emphatic calls from the umpires to the on-field chatter of the young ballplayers themselves.
But something was missing.
“We both kind of wondered, ‘What’s missing?’ and one thing we thought of was that there was no P.A. system. We saw these kids coming up to bat but we didn’t know who they were,” Leith explained. “Linda kind of gave me a poke in the side and said, ‘Maybe they’re just looking for volunteers and they don’t have anyone to do it.’
“She said, ‘You know all about this – this is your thing.’”
Leith’s broadcast resume is a long and varied one. Over 30 years in Victoria, he spent time as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Cougars, and then transitioned to basketball, where he was on the mic for University of Victoria men’s basketball games during the team’s string of seven straight national titles. Along the way, he also worked countless track-and-field meets and baseball games, and also served as the announcing co-ordinator at a pair of Commonwealth Games – in Edmonton in 1978 and Victoria in ’94.
Leith admits he didn’t exactly leap out of his seat and volunteer for the Tritons’ gig – not at first, anyway. Mostly, he was worried about having to make the frequent commute from Abbotsford. However, he soon relented, and at a later game, went and found a member of the Tritons – Keith Fluet, who is a member of the organization’s board of directors – and offered his services.
“There was a desire from Keith and Kyle (Dhanani, Tritons general manager) to improve the game presentation and I thought hey, if I could help them with that, then great,” he said.
His offer was quickly accepted and, with Linda sitting next to him, he soon found himself back doing what he’d done for most of his adult life – announcing sports.
“I’m still shaking off a little rust, but I guess I’ve got a bit excited about it, because we’ve got to know some of the people, and around the park we’ve met some of the kids and we’ve just been quite impressed with them,” he said.
“It’s a gig that’s kind of given me some new life, and I’m just enjoying the ride.”
Leith has worked a handful of games already, and he’s been busy over the long weekend, as the Tritons’ senior team hosts the BC Premier Baseball League’s season-ending tournament. And while discussing his busy schedule, Leith took the opportunity to praise the organization for how they’ve treated him.
“I just volunteered – I didn’t ask for anything. And then Kyle came to me and said, ‘Hey, Friday is going to be a long day. Would you like us to get you a hotel room so you don’t have to drive all the way back to Abbotsford?’
“That just smacks of class, and how can you not try to do your best for people like that?”
Leith said he wasn’t making any definitive plans to return to the job next spring – “I’m taking things day by day,” he said – but whether he’s behind the mic or in the bleachers with Linda, it’s clear the the BCPBL, and the Tritons, have a new fan.
“It’s not the Blue Jays or the Mariners, but doggone it, they put on a good show.”