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Team put North End on baseball map

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Winnipeg’s North End is known for being home to everyone from Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal fame to Burton Cummings of The Guess Who.

This column will hopefully gain some attention for a group of kids who overcame enormous obstacles to rise from the North End to the top of the world

During the summer of 1965, when most Canadian were taking their annual three-month break from hockey, a ragtag little league baseball team made up of kids from low income and immigrant backgrounds was cobbled together from the best of the best in a house league sponsored by the Canadian Polish Athletic Club.

It is a classic underdog story fashioned by overcoming abject poverty and class discrimination.

Despite the fact the players on the CPAC all-star team used gloves handed down from older brothers and wore sneakers that were always a couple sizes too big or small (they were always growing in or out of them so they would last longer), the lads from Old Ex coped with being called "North End trash" and decisions which at least implied favoritism being shown to other teams in the Little Canadian Baseball championship.

For instance, CPAC was leading its first game 5-0 and their pitcher was three outs away from throwing a no-hitter when the game was called because of rain. For some reason, CPAC was required to replay the entire game and some bad bounces almost eliminated the team from the tournament before the players regained their form in three extra innings and won by six runs.

CPAC’s third game was against a team which had won the Manitoba championship three years in a row and had scored 37 runs in its first two games. But CPAC had a secret weapon, a 4-foot-6, 70-pound pitcher who had developed a devastating curve by throwing large "softballs" in the Lord Nelson elementary school gymnasium during the winter. Still, a CPAC outfielder had to throw a perfect strike from right field to home plate to nail an opposition runner with two out in the bottom of the final inning to preserve a 1-0 win.

In the provincial final, the potential winning home run was taken away after it was ruled the CPAC player failed to tag home plate. It took three extra innings before CPAC could regain a one-run lead but this margin was in danger of disappearing when the opposition loaded the bases with none out. But two pop-ups and a home run that fell one foot short of the fence gave CPAC the Manitoba championship.

CPAC became the only team from Manitoba in 47 years to win the Little Canadian championship by beating a team from B.C. with a walk off home run with two outs in the bottom of the final inning.

The red CPAC jackets which were given to the players were more of a reward (and status symbol in the North End) than any trophies. But these kids never considered themselves heroes because of their exploits on a baseball field, even when they grew into men. That status was reserved for just one CPAC player, who grew to value the red serge of the RCMP as much as his valued red jacket. Sadly, Cpl. Alan Giesbrecht died in the line of fire saving a woman from a crazed gunman.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg-based writer.

Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Times area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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