For some, fastball is more than just a sport, but rather a family tradition.
59 year old, Joe Bird and his two sons Joey and Justin came all the way from the Paul First Nation, just west of Edmonton, to compete at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships in Prince George. To this day, Joe still remembers how he got his kids involved in the sport. “One time we had no catcher and no pitcher and I made my oldest son become a catcher and then I made my younger one become a pitcher,” he said. “I stay beside them when we play, I play third base so they’ll feel more secure and happier, it makes me feel better playing beside my boys at this level.”
Joe’s son Justin says they never miss a year together. “It’s pretty cool playing next to my dad cause he’s a really old guy and he still wants to play, it just gets me really excited to want to play with my own boys when they get bigger.”
The Bird family has been attending the tournament since 2004, but there’s one legend who’s got just about everybody beat. Jerome ‘Stumpy’ Boyce plays for a team out of the Shuswap, but he’s originally from about 20 miles east of 100 Mile House. Boyce has been playing in the Canadian Native Fastball Championship for more than 30 years. In fact, being the die-hard he is, Boyce broke his ankle in the first game of the tournament, but nothing could stop him from playing. “It’s hard to swallow the pain, but I just can’t seem to miss the game,” he laughed.
Boyce says the most important part is continuing the legacy of the game and passing it down to the younger generations. “It means a lot in my heart, I’ve been playing ever since I was a young boy and now my boy plays, and I’d like my boy and his kids and his kids to keep coming,” he said. “It’s a dying sport and it’s just love of the game.”
Meanwhile, love of her sport is precisely what motivated a small town girl from Oswheken – Six Nations, Ontario to become the only First Nations fastball player to make the latest roster for Team Canada. Carey-Leigh Thomas plays shortstop and recently won a bronze medal at the world championships last week. She says she aims to be a good role model to open doors for the next generation. “I love this atmosphere, meeting new natives and playing against other natives and I give them encouragement too because if you want it bad enough, you can do it and you can make it,” Thomas said. “It’s just nice when all of our nations can come together and enjoy the sport that I loved growing up playing.”
On the men’s side, that passion is no different. Travis Nevin and Mikey Willis are a pitcher and catcher combo coming all the way from the Sipekne’katik Band in Indian Brook, Nova Scotia. The two caught a flight at 2:30 in the morning to travel all the way across the country and play with the Prince George River Kings. “I was basically born and raised to play,” said Nevin. “My old man used to play and I just learned from him, Mikey was good so I started bringing him with me and it’s working out great.” Nevin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Canadian First Nations parents and hopes to make Team USA when they select their final team for 2017 in January.
However, it’s not just the players on the field that are the rising stars. Trent Seymour may be in a wheelchair, but he’s now Canada’s first paraplegic fastball umpire. He says he’s honoured to be calling games at the national level. “It’s pretty special for me because two years ago, I was in Saskatchewan for the native Canadians also and then I missed last year, but being out for this one is pretty special for me to see all my old teammates and just to see everyone out there having fun.”
The Canadian Native Fastball Championships continue all day Sunday with games scheduled at Carrie Jane Gray Park and Freeman Park from 8am to 8pm.