Cricketts bat for love of the game

Penticton slo-pitch players having fun, warming hearts while overcoming difficulties

HALEY BEGGS takes a big swing during a Crickett’s team practice. The Crickett’s will be playing in the 10th annual Sheila Bishop Memorial Wooden Bat tournament on Aug. 9.

HALEY BEGGS takes a big swing during a Crickett’s team practice. The Crickett’s will be playing in the 10th annual Sheila Bishop Memorial Wooden Bat tournament on Aug. 9.

Haley Beggs stands under the hot Penticton sun on a Wednesday afternoon waiting for her turn at bat.

Just like hundreds of adults who play slo-pitch in the city, her reasons for falling in love with the game are simple.

But unlike most who play, Beggs only has the use of one arm when she bats. She doesn’t let that stop her from hitting short drives up the line to third base, while her teammates whoop and cheer her on.

“It keeps me active and I like being outside with friends, it’s fun. I look forward to this every week,” she said.

As does the rest of the team, which consists of players with physical or mental challenges.

The ringleader of the squad is Scott Stephenson, who asked a few of his special needs friends to join and word quickly spread.

In ode to their coach Greg Crickett, they entered Actionfest in June against able-bodied players and now look forward to the Sheila Bishop Memorial Wooden Bat Tournament, held during the Penticton Peach Festival.

Crickett said Actionfest was a hit for not only his players, but the teams they faced.

“Most of the teams we faced thought it was awesome and were saying how great it is to just play good old baseball. They would change their star players to different positions and were serving up melons to our batters because they wanted to see them hit and let them play,” said Crickett.

“I never even knew I was going to have this much fun, as stressful as it was making sure everyone was at the field for the games and then trying to fit everyone into the lineup to play.”

The Cricketts, came up against an undefeated A division squad from Chilliwack called Revolution while at Actionfest and prepared themselves for a team of competitive players.

“I was wrong. The Revolution really had fun and were great sports. We actually ended up in a tie. My guys were jumping up and down on the field and thought it was great,” said Crickett, who added Revolution shared the most sportsmanlike team of the tournament honours with them.

Getting help at a few key positions from able-bodied players has also been a big assistance to the team to get them used to the rules and give out pointers.

As word about the team keeps spreading, Crickett keeps finding more and more players.

“I had one guy that I didn’t even know, who I found out is a power-lifter at the Special Olympics, just walk right up to me at the field,” said Crickett.

“It was literally minutes before the game started and he said he wanted to play.

“The team has such a love for the game.”

Some of these guys are fanatics about it and I am just glad we can give them the opportunity to play real games instead of just practice.”

Besides a few setbacks, walking off before they had three outs and some interesting plays, Crickett said the players are keen to learn.

“Most of the umps have been great and let a lot of the things go,” said Crickett.

“We have seen some great plays too, balls that we thought there is no way the fielders will get that and then just fall right into their gloves.”

The enthusiasm and good sportsmanship the Cricketts have shown are exactly what the Wooden Bat Tournament, is looking for.

“We want everyone to have a good time and keep in the proper spirit of it which is a great thing with Greg Crickett’s team because it fits right in with everyone’s mindset. We even have one team with all family members, the Berthelsons, who have grandparents, parents and kids all playing on the same team,” said organizer Paul Borba.

The decade-old tournament was created in honour of the Penticton woman it is named after, who lost her long battle with cancer.

All proceeds from the tournament are donated to charity, with over $30,000 given out to various groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society, children’s charities and the DragonFly Pond Society over the last 10 years.

As well, they have given five local families money to deal with medical issues.

Currently there are 11 teams signed up and Borba said he would love to see that number grow to 16.

“Everyone who comes has a lot of fun and it is nice to play with the wood bats, because many players have never used them and it makes the game a lot more fun with lower scoring and a lot more defence.

Hitting home runs with those bats is hard to do,” said Borba, who added he appreciates the volunteers who donate their time to run the tournament, including the umpires.

The tournament runs from Aug. 9 to 11. To enter a team contact Borba by email at paul-borba@hotmail.com.

More details on the tournament can also be found at www.peachfest.com.