The Rainy River District Fastpitch League (RRDFL) handed out its annual awards on Saturday at the Fort Frances Royal Canadian Legion also inducting a new team into its hall of fame.
That night, in addition to their regular annual awards the league also admitted the Emo Bulldogs to its hall of fame.
Between 1994 and 2002 the Bulldogs were crowned regular season champions six times, they won the playoff championship six years in a row, won 40 individual position awards, had six Homerun King recipients, and 1 MVP recipient.
The team formed after the Fort Frances Fastpitch league folded in 1994. They were sponsored by Alton Pollard and Circle D Restaurant and played out of the old Legion Softball Park in Emo on the fairgrounds.
One of the team’s catchers in those years was Wayne Strachan. He says the fact that they were a combination of three different teams from the defunct Fort Frances league certainly helped.
“Once the Fort Frances League folded we kind of amalgamated three teams together,” Strachan said. “Guys that continued to want to play and guys that were all friends and familiar with one another and were very competitive.”
According to Rainy River District Fastpitch League president Vaughn Wilson the Bulldogs saw success even outside of the District.
“The Bulldogs enjoyed a lot of success in tournaments across the region, from Kakabeka Falls to Winnipeg, and south to Fargo, ND. They consistently finished in the top spot or very close to it whenever they competed,” Wilson said. “In 2000 the Emo Bulldogs travelled to Fargo, ND to compete in a 16-team qualifying tournament where the top five teams would earn a spot in the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) “World Series”. After a strong showing in that tournament the Bulldogs became the first club team from our league to compete at NAFA where they earned a sixth place overall finish. (NAFA tournaments often field more than 50 teams from all over Canada and the United States, and occasionally teams from places like Japan and Mexico). By stepping outside of our league and flexing their muscle they opened the door for teams like the Sight and Sound Wolves and the Northern Selects to compete at NAFA. Since 2002 the RRDFL has sent at least one team to almost every NAFA tournament with two fourth place finishes. Jim Fowler, who managed the Bulldogs during their time in the RRDFL also managed the Northern Selects to their 4th place NAFA finish in 2015.”
Strachan says that while players came and went, they always had good chemistry.
“Throughout the years, adding different players, it was just the right chemistry,” Strachan said. “The right mix of personnel I guess at each position, and we had a lot of fun with one another, it was a pretty loose atmosphere where we just wanted to play ball and have fun. I guess it was a bonus that everyone involved was pretty good at what they did and everything came together for us to have success.”
Despite all of that success Strachan says the fact that many of the team members remain friends 20-plus years later really sticks out.
“As much as it’s great to win, win games and win championships. Throughout the years, I think what stands out the most is all the guys from that team are still friends and we still try to do things together,” Strachan said. “Present day, we still try to get together as many guys as we can at one time, whether it’s a golf outing, or just to see one another and reminisce. I We’ve all kind of moved on to our own lives and have our own families to deal with a lot of time. But I guess just the friendship that we’ve built throughout the years has continued to this day.”
At the event Wilson also lauded the longevity of the league which has been giving out its playoff trophy since 1963.
“Besides Muskie sports and Borderland Racing, there is nothing in our district as far as sports goes that really compares to the longevity and organization the RRDFL has enjoyed,” Wilson said. “It is our responsibility as players and managers to be good ambassadors for our league and to do everything we can to ensure that ten years from now we’re still handing out these awards. Traditions like our year end banquet are important because we can look back at how far we’ve come and it motivates us to get stronger for the future.”
Pitcher – John Desaulniers Sight and Sound Wolves
Catcher – Austin Jack Manitou Thunderbirds
1st Base – DJ Mosbeck Barwick Blue Knights
2nd Base – Brett Mann Sight and Sound Wolves
3rd Base – Kevin Gemmell Manitou Thunderbirds
Shortstop – Travis Tom Manitou Thunderbirds
Outfield – Justin Wagner Frequency Hearing Stratton Eagles, Nick Hunter Couchiching Missiles, Ryder Woolsey Barwick Blue Knights.
Utility – Aaron Caul Sight and Sound Wolves
Rookie/U17 – Callum McCormick Frequency Hearing Stratton Eagles
Manager – Vaughan Wilson Barwick Blue Knights
HR King – Jackson McLeod Sabaskong Lakers
Kingsley Downs/Gus Lindberg Memorial (Umpire’s Choice) – Duane Carlson Sight and Sound Wolves
Shane Jarvis Memorial (Sportsmanship) – Shelby Nosan Frequency Hearing Stratton Eagles
Gerry Harasymyk Memorial (MVP) – John Desaulniers Sight and Sound Wolves
We added Charles Joseph’s name to our memorial plaque for current members of our league who have passed on.
Regular Season Champions – Frequency Hearing Stratton Eagles
Playoff Champions. – Sight and Sound Wolves