Baseball has been an inherent part of Cranbrook's sporting fabric since the beginning. Lacrosse, hockey, cricket, rugby and (American) football all found popularity among the locals in the early days but it was baseball that gradually rose to the fore.
Early Cranbrook Athletic Associations came and went year by year, often starting with a bang and ending with a debt. Host teams were expected to supply and equip a ball field and to pay the travel and accommodation expenses of the visitors. Small crowds meant out of pocket payments and the unlikelihood of future matches.
Cranbrook had the players, they had the field and they had the desire. What they needed was a winning team and that was precisely what they got in 1902.
They were a disparate bunch; journeymen of various trades joined by little more than a love of the game. They took to the field late in the spring of '02 and they started winning - both games and fans. People began flocking to the former Moir Park hill to cheer them on. Managed by local Cosmopolitan Hotelkeeper Eneas "Enie" Small, who demanded good clean play, gentlemanly manners and all things in moderation off the field, the team earned the respect of friend and foe alike as they mounted victory after victory.
They were led on the mound by a young man by the name of Jamieson, the team's only pitcher for the entire season. "The Kid" had the stuff, at one point winning three complete games in three consecutive days against Pincher Creek and Medicine Hat, no small feat by any standard.
The travel could be tiring with games often coming immediately following long train rides but it was said that the Cranbrook team "could go to the moon and win 60 minutes after they got there." It was a great season of great ball. When the season came to an end there were no trophies or pennants for the Boys of Autumn, but there was a tremendous amount of local pride and it may be said that this team, in their first and last summer, served to give focus to a young community as had little before.
The next few years saw the gradual increase of local ball at the junior and intermediate levels. Match games of all ages became popular: Town vs. Railway, Bankers vs. Lawyers, and Small Town vs. Small Town. A game between the local Standard and Adolph lumber companies in 1905 is worth a mention. Logging camps often competed with one another, both on and off the job, with feelings generally running high all around. In this case the game, umpired by William Oliver, came close to chaos several times as he found himself "at the centre of a threatening and pugnacious group" protesting his calls. It seemingly bothered Mr. Oliver not a wit and, impartial as the local newspaper claimed him to be, he himself was reported to have pocketed $100 in winning bets. Impartial, indeed. Still, it was all par for the course and gambling on outcomes was a much anticipated aspect of local sports in general.
By 1907 baseball was the rage, so much so that a large and enthusiastic gathering at the fire hall organized the first Cranbrook City League in which four teams - the Clerks, the CPR Shops, the Town and the CPR Offices - met in a 24-game schedule throughout July and August. The best field was on Moir Park Hill but games often took place at both what is now Balment Park and Baker Park (in the area that would later become the Gyro swimming pool).
1910 saw Cranbrook field its second winning team in a decade. Local organizers began corresponding with out of town players in order to entice them here with job offers in exchange for their baseball talents, a practice routinely undertaken by many communities and one that would continue locally with both baseball and hockey for many years. A two week, 11-game road trip in August, 1910, resulted in 11 straight wins against Nelson, Rossland, Trail, Northport and Colville. When the team returned they received a glorious welcome at the CPR station. Stores closed, banners flew, streamers streamed and hundreds gathered along the streets as the players were placed in a gaily decorated wagon and pulled by local citizens (including Mayor J.P. Fink and Judge Wilson) along Baker Street, up 10th Avenue to the Catholic Church corner and then down 9th Avenue to the Cosmopolitan Hotel where proprietor Enie Small, President of the club, bade one and all welcome. They were loudly hailed, as "The Undisputed Champions of the Inland Empire," a title that invited many challenges the following year including Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, Taber and Kalispell. The boys proved themselves up to the task and continued to put Cranbrook on the sports map.
If there was one constant problem with local baseball it was that, for nearly five decades, evening baseball games rarely went past seven innings in the latter part of the season due to the onset of nightfall. Ballpark lights would eventually come of course, as would a real, honest-to-goodness, slightly too small, beautifully situated ball park.
Step back through the turnstile of time next week for Ghosts, Giants and the Colored House of David.