As the Big Grassy Braves, they took home a league title the season after they tragically lost one of their own.
As the Fort Frances Braves, they did it again for another one, who happened to be the son of that first teammate.
The emotions were overflowing last Wednesday night after the Braves beat the Barwick Blue Knights 9-4 in the third-and-deciding game of the Rainy River District Fastball League final at Couchiching.
In a poignant post-game team picture, the team gathered at home plate and held aloft the jerseys of Leland and Linden Indian.
Leland’s passing in 2013 sparked the Braves to win the last of three-straight RRDFL titles in 2014.
Then this past January, Linden succumbed to an illness at just 26 years of age after being one of the most beloved players not only on his team but throughout the league.
The importance of winning their first title in three years just eight months after Linden’s passing resonated with every member of the Braves.
“All year long, we’ve been wanting to do this for ‘Lindy,'” said Mike Parisien, who was the team’s hottest hitter during the post-season and one of the main reasons the Braves finished first in the regular season with an 18-1 record.
“We played with heavy hearts tonight,” he noted. “We knew he was up there watching us, yelling at us to give ‘er.
“It’s nice that we could win it for [Linden’s sister] Nancy and the rest of the Indian family.
“It sure doesn’t feel the same without him,” Parisien admitted. “It’s not the same coming to the field. But he is with us all the time.
“This season was dedicated to him and we didn’t disappoint.”
Nick Ashworth put the Braves up to stay in the third inning with a go-ahead RBI triple that arced high in the air and then landed just inside the right-field line–almost like someone up above helped place it there.
“To win tonight for ‘Lindy’ . . . that’s everything,” smiled Ashworth.
“He was always the life of the team. I’m glad we got the big win for him.”
The Blue Knights, playing in their fifth-straight league final but with just one title to show for it, jumped ahead in the first against Braves’ starter Jaden Gustafson.
Vaughan Wilson led off with a single, moved to second on a passed ball, and scored when Pearse Jackson’s high chopper befuddled second baseman Jesse Tom and chipped off his glove into right field.
Cole Allan then hit an RBI grounder to bring in Kevin Gemmell to make it 2-0.
Coming off a 4-1 win in Game 2 to even the series, Barwick seemed to have the momentum on its side until Gustafson took matters into his own hands.
His one-out triple in the bottom of the first paved the way for Tom’s RBI double to trim the lead in half.
“They got up early and tried to take the wind out of our sails,” noted Gustafson, who was visibly frustrated following the Game 2 loss.
“But right away, we got one run back and then we settled in and played our game,” he noted.
The Braves tied it in the second on Brandon McGinnis’ RBI triple that got Allan turned around the wrong way to allow Jacob Jack to score.
While that wasn’t technically an error on Allan, it was a precursor to what was to come for the Blue Knights.
Ashworth’s one-hopper was fielded by Barwick starter JJ Landry and he tossed over to Brad Wakefield at third, causing McGinnis to break for home.
Wakefield reached into his glove but couldn’t get a handle on the ball as McGinnis zipped in to put the Braves up 3-2.
That was the first of eight Barwick errors on what was an uncharacteristically poor night for the Blue Knights and especially Wakefield, who made five errors and was replaced at the hot corner in the sixth.
“I’m sure that any one of the guys on our bench, if you asked them, aren’t happy with the way we played,” said Wilson.
“We had five hits on top of some defensive breakdowns,” he noted. “I would hope that we all feel a little disappointed.
“That being said, I’m pretty proud of our team for the way we all pulled in the same direction over the last month-and-a-half.”
Jackson singled home Wilson to tie it in the third, with Allan then hitting another massive bouncer that sailed over the left side of the infield to bring around Gemmell for a 4-3 lead.
But Gustafson dialed up his best stuff after that, allowing just one hit and a walk over the final four innings for the complete-game victory that featured 14 strikeouts, including fanning the side in order twice.
“Jaden kept his head in there, buckled down, and played his game,” lauded Parisien.
“He hasn’t pitched much all year but he was there when we needed him.”
The Braves, playing without starting catcher Cole Tymkin and with starting centre-fielder Dakota Andy late to the game due to work obligations, scored three times in their half of the third to lead 6-4.
McGinnis had an RBI sacrifice fly to cash in Chris Bourgeois before Ashworth’s rainbow plated Parisien.
Wakefield, who earlier in the frame sailed a throw to first over the fence running alongside right-field, then fielded Tim Archie’s grounder but double-pumped and was late with the throw to first as Ashworth dashed home.
The Braves added another run in the fourth.
Parisien flied out to Brandan Pratt in left with Gustafson at third, leading to a play at the plate that saw the ball get there in time but skip past Gemmell to the backstop.
Parisien then sealed Barwick’s fate in the sixth.
After Gustafson was hit by Landry to start the inning, Parisien roped a two-out single to centre that Ryder Woolsey let get past him all the way to the fence.
That brought Gustafson in easily while Parisien also rounded the bases to score on the play.
“I think coming out with a positive outlook after Game 2 and staying optimistic really helped,” noted Parisien.
“No one got down on each other, and made sure that we put the bat on the ball and give them no easy outs.
“Our effort really put the pressure on their defence and that was an especially big factor tonight,” he added.
Wilson tipped his cap to not only that speed factor but also the experience within the Braves’ lineup.
“They’ve got excellent leadership with guys like [Tom, Archie, and Parisien],” he noted.
“They’re the guys you want teaching the younger guys how to be on the ball field.
“I had a blast getting to this point in the season,” Wilson added.
“This isn’t what we wanted but, hey, that’s how a ball game works sometimes.”
The local fastball season ended the following night with the RRDFL all-star game at Couchiching, in which Team Wilson upended Team Kurtis Wepruk 6-1.
Sight & Sound Wolves’ ace John Desaulniers was fantastic, throwing a two-hitter with six strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings, sitting down the last eight batters he faced.
Matt Godin (Dawson Tigers) had a two-run homer for the victors.
The RRDFL and Rainy River District Women’s Fastball League awards banquet will be held Sept. 23 at the Couchiching multi-use facility.