By Sean Orr
VANCOUVER – Gravel dust fills the air like late August wildfire smoke. Wild hand gestures by real umpires. I don’t understand any of it. “What happened?” I ask, fully aware of my naivety. “Greasy baseball.” It was the old hidden-ball trick, apparently. Although it was probably an insignificant play in an even more insignificant game, it felt momentous.
“You’re not much of a sports guy,” notes Bruce Dyck, member of the Mount Pleasant Murder and drummer for the now-defunct B-Lines. He recalls a chance encounter when both our bands were on tour in San Francisco. My band NEEDS had bought me a ticket to a Giants game for my birthday. It would be my first baseball game. “Well, I do like hockey,” I reply sheepishly.
“You’re going to write about this,” demands Heath Fenton, another local musician involved in the East Van Baseball League’s Mount Pleasant Murder chapter. He is drunk. I am going to politely decline, having zero knowledge about this bizarre summer ritual, when we are interrupted by an errant foul. “Heads!” It’s my chance to sneak away. I stand next to some burly men who can only be described as men who look like baseball. Like it’s the only thing they care about in the world. Tightly creased ball caps, arms folded, wide stance, speaking in riddles, saying things like, “Nice lights.”
“That guy throws pretty hard,” I say, now starting to revel in my ignorance. “Yeah, he played in college. In Louisiana.” ‘That doesn’t seem fair,’ I think to myself. More riddles. Someone yells something. Was it trash talk? I want to hear trash talk. I want to hear Trash Talk. The inning is over and pop-punk comes on instead.
I roam the edges of Strathcona Park, strewn with squatting camper vans and a modified school bus with a sauna in it. Someone has set up a kiddie-pool. Sean Elbe, captain of the East Van Black Sox, is walking around with just his jockstrap on. I’m amazed by the dichotomy between rigid organization and free-spirit.
Evan Wansbrough, better known as Evan October, so named for baseball’s post-season, expands: “[The East Van Baseball League] is primarily embodied by players who are musicians, artists, small business owners — or patrons of those things — based in East Vancouver. The balance we’ve achieved comes from embracing and managing a culture within the league that reflects the same values as are applied in to those interests off the field. There’s a DIY mindset in the league, and a healthy sense of friendly competition between players that makes the league feel like home to our players, as opposed to just their individual teams. That’s where we differ from other leagues.”
Indeed, the musical pedigree is impressive. Such musical entities include Youth Decay, Daggermouth, Sunshine, The Greatest Sons, Parallels, Tranzmitors, La Ti Da Records, The Corps, Broadway to Boundary Records, Timbre Concerts, Isotopes, Needles//Pins, The Courtneys, Rain City Recorders, Fox Cabaret, Shockload, The Real McKenzies, B-Lines, Ballantynes, The Uptights, Milk, Teenburger, Regrets, The Tubuloids, Negative Nights, Hot Loins, Vicious Cycles, and Nervous Talk.
While I wrote above about the late summer finals, it’s now spring, and spring is to baseball what Sunday is to church. This year, the EVBL is looking to capitalize on last year’s tremendous success. “This time last year our goal was to add a third team to our sandlot group. We figured we could probably pull it off. Once the word got out that we were recruiting players we quickly ended up with enough for three new teams for a total of five. This season we are expanding yet again, this time doubling in size to 10 teams. We never thought Vancouver was such a baseball town.”
Neither did I, and I never thought I’d be writing about it. But here I am, excited for some more greasy baseball in 2017.
For schedules and merchandise go to www.eastvanbaseball.comEast Van Baseball League