A century-old staple of southern Ontario summers holds out hope for baseball

By Sean Fitz-Gerald, The Athletic

Jack Dominico was waiting, and he was not happy about it. He was waiting to hear from the mayor. He was waiting to speak with someone in the permits department at city hall. Most important of all, he was waiting to see if baseball teams would compete for the trophy that bears his surname again this year.

“Just sittin’ around,” he grumbled.

Dominico is the owner, general manager, and granite bedrock of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a fixture of the Intercounty Baseball League. The league – a fixture of southern Ontario summers for a century – began play as the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the world and survived not only the Great Depression but also World War II.

It plays in cities and towns such as Hamilton and Guelph, Barrie and Kitchener. Dominico is unique in Toronto because he does not charge admission. Fans can watch for free, reclining along the lush green hills at Christie Pits, across the street from the Christie subway station in the city’s west end.

They watch teams comprised of promising teenagers and former professionals who have returned home, spending their days at regular jobs before changing into their spikes and caps at night. One league executive called it the “best amateur baseball you can ask for.”

“It’s kind of strange that we’re not playing,” Dominico said. “It’s really hard to believe.”

As COVID-19 swept across the world in March, three of the league’s teams — including the defending champions and the finalists — announced they were suspending operations for the season. That left the five remaining teams at a crossroads: Hibernate for the summer, or wait for a chance to play.

Those five remaining teams (Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Welland and London), met again (virtually) last week to discuss their future. They are running out of time to create a meaningful season that, while shortened, would still be long enough to preserve the integrity of the league and its history.

They decided to wait one more week. They have another call scheduled for Wednesday.

“There was just enough good news to say, ‘OK, let’s just wait a bit,’” commissioner John Kastner said.

Three of the five remaining teams have received promising signals from local officials, he said. There are still questions about the final two — Hamilton and Toronto — where the virus has been especially stubborn.

Kastner is a friendly former journalist who is the general manager of the Stratford Perth Museum, which has extended one popular exhibit (“Justin Bieber: Steps to Stardom”) through to the end of 2021. The league is hoping to play between 18-20 regular-season games or about half its usual schedule.

“I’m really reticent to be the commissioner who just absolutely gives up on this,” he said. “I know that would have been the logical and easy thing to do in March when three of our teams … say, ‘we’re out.’”

The Barrie Baycats have emerged as the New York Yankees of the IBL, having captured the league title in each of the last six seasons. They withdrew from the upcoming season while there was still snow on the ground at their home park, north of Toronto.

This would have been their 20th anniversary season.

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