Against the Grain  02/07/09 7:58:51 AM

Saskatchewan's Own Field of Dreams

Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things. Denis Diderot -- French author & philosopher (1713 - 1784)

Even though it was over 32 years ago, I remember this incident like it was yesterday. My baseball coach was standing toe to toe with an umpire on the third base line. As the argument over the call became more heated, with one swooping motion, his baseball hat came off his head and flung to the ground with such vigor that dust spread from the spot where it landed.

My coach then proceeded to pick his hat up, dust it off with a flick of his wrist and while maintaining the upper hand in the argument, throw it down in disgust once again, within inches of the first landing, except this time he would stomp on that hat with his right foot for emphasis. And before that umpire could toss my coach from the field, he picked up his hat, dusted it off again, turned his back to the umpire and walked off the field into the bleachers, without saying another word. He knew how to win, even when his team wasn't.

For me, this story began much earlier than that day on the ball field and this story is reminiscent of the goodwill and effort of all coaches in small town Saskatchewan; however, this man was the exception to every non-written rule about coaching. He did not have the required coaching certificates of today -- he did not need them because above all, he was a motivator. He was the personification of a winner as he not only created hockey and baseball players, he shaped boys into men.

Besides baseball, I was also privileged to have this man as my hockey coach from the time I first laced on skates and waddled like a duck with a hockey stick, within the confines of the brand new Edam Vawn Playdium. I wasn't much of a skater back then; too tall, too gangly and too meek. I don't think my feet and brain started synchronizing until I was 13 years old, although some would say today that it still has not changed. I don't remember much of his coaching before I was a teenager although I do remember he was synonymous with the hockey rink. While my early years in sports were uneventful, in the formidable years while I was 13 to 16 years old, this man would have an enormous impact shaping the life of this teenaged boy from the Prairies.

I still remember the first "vocal lashing" I received in a hockey dressing room. Our room at the time was next to the hallowed dressing room occupied by the "Edam Three Stars" and as all local minor players still do, I pined for the opportunity to play for the red and white.

During this particular practice, our coach was readying our team for the upcoming Provincial hockey playoffs. After a 90 minute skate where we continually did lines, circles and ended with laps upon laps, we retired to the dressing room. As our team was slowly taking off our equipment, our coach came into the room and stopped right at my feet as I was unlacing my skates. My head was lowered when I saw his feet and I dared not look up.

"Geezus H ... (Those of you who knew him, will know the rest of the line) Weber, look at you, you didn't even break into a sweat!" as he continued to look for a bead of perspiration anywhere, "What do I have to do to get you to sweat?" I learned that day that anything less than 100% was not appropriate, even if it was only a practice.

While hockey was a winter pastime for our coach, his true sports love was baseball and that became evident when the grass turned green each spring. I was 13 years old when I began playing organized baseball and when coach approached my parents to play in Edam rather than with the local team in Vawn. Our local team was organized only to play in the sports day held annually. I was a pitcher but knew nothing about baseball. Up to that point in time, my throwing skills were honed throwing rocks at mud hens in our dugout -- lots of rocks.

His patience with me was unwavering. Learning to pitch from the stretch and set was soon second nature, as was the devotion that our coach had to our baseball team.

Edam entered the Provincial Bantam playoffs that year and advanced to the final four in Fillmore, SK and again the following year in Churchbridge, SK and then to Leader, SK in the Midget finals, the year after that. It was in Leader that 10 baseball players from the tiny village of Edam, SK -- population 290, and surrounding areas, made local history. In 1976, Edam won the Midget Provincial Playoffs. In the Provincial Midget baseball playoffs in 1976 there were no population divisions and in order to win, Edam was required to beat teams from Saskatoon, Regina and the host team from Leader.

The untold story of this team is how this coach's passion was transferred to his players and for one weekend in Leader, SK, the little team that could, did everything our coach asked of us. We learned that special weekend that you can overcome any obstacle if you have passion and drive. Our coach never gave up on us - and we watched how he out-coached and out-maneuvered each team we came up against. Other teams were more talented - but they did not match our coach's heart.

Although I have had many coaches and mentors during my tenure on this planet -- I will always have only one coach.

It is with deep sadness that my coach, Paul McCaffrey of Edam, Saskatchewan, died December 21, 2006. At his request, there was no funeral - no fanfare and no final goodbyes. Heaven forbid someone might actually fuss about him.

It should come as no surprise that years ago, the ballpark in Edam, SK was renamed "The Paul McCaffrey Ball Park". Like the baseball diamond that grew from a corn field in Iowa, Saskatchewan has its own Field of Dreams -- albeit born from Paul's field of rye. Those of you volunteering your time coaching today -- know that it may take years for your advice and guidance to sink into children's and teenagers' thought process -- but it will, and I am a walking example of that.

For all who pass "The Paul McCaffrey Ball Park" on Highway 26 in northwest Saskatchewan, let the record show that above all, passion is one of the greatest gifts you can instill in your children.

Farewell Coach and in my version of Field of Dreams, please take time to have a game of catch, with my Dad.
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