Slo-Pitch City Keeps Game Alive In London, Area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com
Original publishing date July 28, 2018

In the late 1970s, London earned the title, “Slo-Pitch Capital of Canada,” thanks to its participation numbers and hosting of provincial, national and international tournaments.

But today, with no major adult slo-pitch complex nor league operating within the city limits, it’s now Dorchester’s eight-diamond Slo-Pitch City which goes to bat for the game in southwestern Ontario.

During its heyday which extended into the 1990s, slo-pitch offered by the City of London’s parks and recreation department saw almost 500 men’s, women’s and co-ed teams fill every corner of the city on any given night. If you enjoyed an evening walk through a school yard or park during that span, chances are you watched an adult slo-pitch game.

Now, only smaller groups like the Huff N’ Puff Seniors Fitness Association and Forest City Sport and Social Club organize slo-pitch leagues in London. The City doesn’t run slo-pitch, and offers fewer than 30 slo-pitch diamonds to local teams.

“And not all of those diamonds are being used by slo-pitch teams,” said Mike Vandertuin, the City’s supervisor of allocations and sport services.

Local slo-pitch received a big boost in 1995 when a private corporation – Dreamers – built a 15-dimaond slo-pitch and baseball complex on Exeter Road near Wonderland Road on land leased from Z Group. About 100 slo-pitch teams once played league games at Dreamers. Owners capitalized by opening a bar and restaurant to service the 1,000-plus participants.

But with Z Group now developing the land, about 40 teams have moved to Slo-Pitch City. Z Group could not be reached for comment on the development, previously reported to include residential, commercial and light-industrial construction.

According to Slo-Pitch City co-owner Fred Ward, with 200 teams participating and weekend tournaments helping to fill the schedule at the Dorchester complex, slo-pitch is alive and well in London and area. In fact, Ward said if he had another 12 diamonds, they would be full every night, too.

“We have a full house of 80 co-ed, 40 women’s and 60 men’s teams, plus provincial qualifiers every weekend,” Ward said. “There are a lot of smaller leagues in communities like London, St. Thomas and Ingersoll. Slo-pitch is alive and well. But it would be even bigger if we had more diamonds.”

According to Ward, a decade ago slo-pitch was still one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada. But he blames a “lack of diamonds” for what he called “stagnant growth.” Ward said it is “very expensive to run a complex for five or six months. Land is gold today. The Dreamers property value is very high.”

Gilles LeBlanc of Softball Canada said with 90,000 slo-pitch players of all ages registered across the country, participation in recent years has “flatlined. But we’re happy with those numbers because we aren’t decreasing like many other sports.”

Slo-Pitch City has operated since 1975, and since 1986 Ward and his son, Dave, have operated the Dorchester complex. In 1974, former City of London parks and recreation administrator Ken Benjamin set out to make London the so-called Canadian slo-pitch capital.

A member of the London Sports Hall of Fame and Slo-Pitch Ontario Hall of Fame, Benjamin, 85, founded the famous Benny and the Jets men’s slo-pitch team which went on to win Ontario and Canadian championships, and competed at world championships in Florida.

An Intercounty Baseball League legend, Benjamin was also a player/manager with The Champs slo-pitch team for 40 years, and helped them win a national title in 1990.

“London really was the Slo-Pitch Capital of Canada,” Benjamin said. “In 1974, we had 100 fastball teams and only a dozen slo-pitch teams. But slo-pitch kept growing. We reached 450 teams with 48 on hold, until the Spivak family later donated land at (the now defunct) Wally World park, put in six diamonds and took on those 48 teams. The sport was a huge deal back then.”

Benjamin said when London hosted the World’s Largest Slo-Pitch Tournament from the mid-1970s to 1990, “We had about 350 teams from all over North America and filled every hotel room in London, St. Thomas and Woodstock. That meant a lot of money for local tourism.”

In fact, Benjamin once organized London’s annual winter Sno-Pitch Tournament which drew about 600 teams. “That amazed me, that we pulled that off,” he said.

It’s no snow job that slo-pitch remains a hot sport, but in these parts it’s alive and well and living in Dorchester.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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