STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n"
(Satan, from John Milton's Paradise Lost. Book 1, lines 254, 255, 263, 264)
In the spring of 1975, Davie Van Roth and Hamiota Red Sox pitcher-first-baseman Jimmy Arroyo graduated from Brandon University with teaching credentials. They had become best friends and soul mates, even though they bitterly competed against each other on the basketball, racquetball, and tennis courts. It was a competitive rivalry just to prove who was best. They also became drinking buddies. Van Rothʼs asceticism towards baseball began to wane a year earlier when he befriended Binscarth pitcher Garth Neville and first baseman Ron Low. It was sometime after his prison release and league suspension when he cried, Fuck it! I just donʼt give a shit anymore.
Arroyo, from Central California, was also one of Bob Bennettʼs original recruits at Fresno State in 1970 and was sent to Manitoba in 1971 where he hit .352, seventh-best in the league for the Virden Oilers. A year later, the lefty won five of eight games for the oil town before leading the expansion McCauley Blazers in hitting with his .292 average in 1973. Last season, Arroyo hit .327 for the Hamiota Red Sox, the leaguesʼ tenth-best. He played wherever the money was the most.
The Binscarth Orioles didnʼt offer to renew Van Rothʼs contract; instead, they went after, and finally landed flame-throwing Bruce Bremer in addition to former National Team pitcher and longtime local hero Garth Neville. Former Redbird pitcher Bob Kutzan rounded out the Orioleʼs pitching staff. The aging Kutzanʼs claim to fame was a losing performance in an exhibition contest against the great Satchel Paige on one of Paigeʼs late barnstorming tours during the early 1960s. “Kutz,” the “Stu” Miller of the MSBL, had three pitches -- slow, slower, and slowest; slower than Congress.
You can check out but you can never leave. As promised a few years earlier, the Dauphin Redbirds honored their commitment by offering Van Roth a teaching position once he received a Manitoba credential. He would accept, but only on the condition that a teaching position and baseball contract also be offered to best-buddy Jimmy Arroyo. The Ruby Warblers didnʼt have much of a choice as several other MSBL teams would have gladly met Van Rothʼs demands, especially the Brandon Cloverleafs who had not beaten Van Roth in six previous tries. The path led back to where he was before.
The Dauphin Redbirds were mostly bottom feeders ... that is until Van Roth showed up and led them to a championship berth in 1970. After vying for that title, the Birds fell to the bottom of the MSBL again with their 5-15 record while Van Roth sat out the season in California with an arm injury. Throughout the early 1970s, the Redbirds either challenged for a pennant and championship or finished at the bottom of the heap. They advanced to the playoffs in 1972 and won a pennant a year later with Van Roth toeing the line, but landed back in the cellar with another 5-15 season in 1974 with Ross Stone and Gary Keating handling the bulk of the pitching while Van Roth was in Binscarth. The roller-coaster ride continued in 1975 and the common denominator can only be attributed to Davie Van Roth. It didnʼt matter who Dauphin hired to handle the pitching -- nearly all played first base when not on the mound. Van Roth was an All-Star shortstop when not toeing the rubber, and was among the best in the league while in the batterʼs box. He was no longer known as “The Animal.” That distinction faded several years ago after leaving Yuba College. Third baseman Ken "Little Bulldog" Buchy nicknamed him TC as he often wore his Twin Cities Giants cap while on the field. It was customary in the MSBL for imports to wear their back-home caps during ball games. “The Phoenix” might have been more appropriate as the Redbirds kept rising from the ashes whenever Van Roth showed up.
Van Rothʼs Darwinian will to survive had finally paid off. It had been a struggle but he returned to Dauphin as their playing-manager and was now in charge. The scars of stigmata caused by McCrackin, Engelken, Mallard, Cuthill, MSBL league officials, prison, and Binscarthʼs dismal season of a year ago suddenly had all gone away. Did he somehow bring all that calamity upon himself or was the curse of destiny simply playing out her prearranged role? No matter. Van Roth was now the boss ... and with a new attitude. He alone, would be determining who plays, who pitches, and who bats where in the lineup. He had climbed his way to the top of baseballʼs ladder before, only to fall back to earth due to someone elseʼs decision making. There would be no vindictiveness on his part. Left behind were all the pariahs along with their self-satisfying egotistical ways. Serenity at last?
"At times, thereʼs been a part of me, tucked away in some corner of my mind, where Iʼve felt regret; regret that I never got a chance to play in the minor leagues and prove myself at a higher level. The dream was to wear a big-league uniform, even if for only one game. But now, I feel somewhat relieved, content, and satisfied, although not entirely; relieved that I no longer had to take any abuse or get sucker-punched by an American coach; content that I wound up in the Canadian leagues and got to be a big fish; satisfied that now, I get to call the shots.” (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer)
Now, with complete control, he would run his practices similar to the ones ran by his former coach at Yuba College. Put on some happy song. Let all your troubles be gone. Letʼs ride. Upbeat music, including Steve Miller Bandʼs “The Joker,” Claptonʼs “I Shot the Sheriff,” and the Canadian playersʼ favorite, Bachman-Turner Overdriveʼs “Takinʼ Care of Business” blasted over the P A system during batting practice. BTO were from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The mood on the ball field was once again jovial and Van Rothʼs spiritual realms were close to becoming earthly. He returned to the northern town of Dauphin with yet another clean slate -- Tabula Rosa Part lll. Finally, at age 25, he became comfortable in his own skin ... tranquility at last.
Left-handed pitcher Ross Stone from Nipawin, Saskatchewan returned for his fourth season with the Redbirds; although, as in the past, wouldnʼt be available until the first part of July. Jerry Falk, ace pitcher for the Manitoba champion Carmen Goldeyes Junior baseball team was also added to the Redbird pitching staff. The hard-throwing nineteen-year-old and often temperamental lefty pitched for the Comets of Mayville State College in North Dakota during the past couple of seasons. General Manager Newton brought in Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman Dave Manthorn from Nova Scotia to handle the catching chores and former Brandon Cloverleaf Bert Ready to play second base; although Ready wouldnʼt be ready till midseason due to a knee injury suffered while also at Mayville State. Key local returnees included the Buchy brothers, Bob and Ken, Gary Keating, Johnny Morrison, Jerry Shumanski, Siggi Sigurdson, relief pitcher Brodie McLean with his Palm Ball, reserve outfielder Rollie “Sweet Daddy” Secord, and Ste. Rose du Lac native Leo Valcourt.
Like Van Roth, Arroyo had married a Canadian citizen, received Canadian Landed Immigrant status, and attended the University of Manitoba where the two ballplayers first met. They both opted to transfer to Brandon University and enter the Universityʼs Education Department. After graduation in the spring of 1975, they decided to reward themselves by taking a 10-day vacation, back home to California, before returning to the Keystone Province and the start of ball season which typically begins in the latter part of May.
“I had just bought a brand new 454 Monte Carlo, silver with a burgundy landau top. It wasnʼt easy keeping this rocket ship under eighty miles per hour and was just outside of North Platte, Nebraska when I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights in the rearview mirror. Radar! I was clocked at 105. The State trooper led us into North Platte where I deposited 120 dollars worth of travelerʼs checks into a mail slot at the courthouse. We didnʼt get ten miles out of town before making a return trip. This time, I was booked for going 75 MPH. The fine was sixty dollars and a personal escort to the State line.” (Ibid. May, 1975. pp. 101)
After a seven-day stay in Central California, Arroyoʼs father dropped him off at the Van Roth house in Olivehurst-Linda along with another traveler. This is my baby sister Kathy. If itʼs all right, sheʼd like to ride along. Mom thinks it best that she get out of California for a while. Sheʼs nineteen and can help out with the driving.
Uhhh ... okay ... why not? Sure, replied a skeptical Van Roth.
The Arroyos were fair-skinned blue-eyed Portuguese -- Jimmy with his wavy, reddish-blond hair while sporting a constant, reassuring, charismatic smile ... and Kathy who had blossomed into a real beauty with her bleached blond hair and eyes of blue. She was somewhat cynical, especially towards her much older brother, and ... was out to prove that she was no longer that gangly little kid sister anymore. She, unlike her much older brother, was long-legged and a tad more than just indiscriminate. Kate was one of those California Valley girls that had gone wild.
Ross Stone, Van Roth, and Arroyo were paid $500/month plus cottages at Dauphin Lake for the summer while Falk and Ready were provided room and board with a host family and a job with the city mowing boulevard lawns when time permitted, which wasn't very often. The 1975 Birds soared to a 5-0 start including Arroyoʼs 3-1, four-hitter versus the Souris Cardinals, Van Rothʼs 14-1, seventeen-strikeout masterpiece against Grandview, Arroyoʼs 11-5 win over McCauley, and Falkʼs 9-2, fourteen-strikeout gem over the Neepawa Cubs. Falk, Manthorne, and Van Roth all homered against the Cubs. During the win streak, Dauphin had scored thirty-seven runs while only allowing nine.
“We were putting a good old-fashioned whipping on the Lakers at their home ballpark in Grandview. I came to bat in the seventh inning when they brought in their hard-throwing catcher to pitch. Antonio was one of the guys that Cuthill added to the Provincial team last year with his .200 batting average. The first pitch whizzed by my ear and the next was thrown behind me. I eventually took a four-pitch walk and the next batter, Arroyo, was plunked on the shoulder. We both scored and came to bat again in the eighth. I got drilled in the ribs with a fastball and Arroyo was plunked a second time. Both benches emptied and a donnybrook nearly broke out. There was a lot of swearing, pushing and shoving, but no punches were thrown. In the bottom of the ninth, Antonio came to bat with no outs and a man on first. I wanted the shutout but thought, ʻwhat the hell.ʼ I reared back with a little extra on the pitch and planted one in his ribs, about the same location where I got hit. My first thought was: ʻOk, bring it on Tonyʼ when he started for the mound; but instead, he veered off and began to trot toward first base. About halfway, he slowed to a walk and called a timeout after reaching the bag, then moved towards his first base coach, bent over, and began to spit up blood before being helped off the field and taken to the hospital. I had broken two of his ribs. No regrets.” (Ibid. June, 1975. pp. 102)
On June the twenty-first, Dauphin pounded Binscarth ace Bruce Bremer for twelve hits, however, the fireballing left-hander picked up his fourth straight victory as Arroyo took a tough 7-4 loss. Van Roth went 3-4 with a double and his third homer. Arroyo added three singles. Two days later, Van Roth tossed his second one-hitter of the season with a 7-1, thirteen-strikeout triumph while Johnny Morrison hit his first homer of the season. Dauphin improved to 7-2 the following Saturday when Arroyo homered with Falk topping Hamiota. Kathy has left and gone back to Cali.
“Iʼm not so sure Kathy wasnʼt the reason why we got off to such a great start. Iʼd never seen “Little Bulldog” play so well. Unbelievable, I thought after seeing Kate give the mayor a lap dance while his wife was in the kitchen drinking with the other gals. Brenda, Oxana, and the other groupies were going wild. Rachelle would roll out her beach towel down the left-field line and worship the sun in her bikini while the games played on. We just kept on partying and winning.” (Ibid)
Van Roth had read Lucreciousʼ On the Nature of Things and John Stewart Millʼs autobiography in 1967. Both of these works advocate Epicureanism, that ancient school of Greek philosophy that rejects determinism and depicts pleasure as the highest good. He had studied the works of Soren Kierkegaard during the summer of 1968, including his famous existential work Either/Or. The two-volume set, located on the fourth shelf along with other works of existentialism, was one of his older brotherʼs hand-me-downs. I knew a little bit about the Danish philosopher but mostly in a religious context. He was a maverick, somewhat like Martin Luther, in that he rebelled against the church. It wasnʼt good enough simply standing at the pulpit, delivering the same old sermon and then pass the collection plate; nor was it enough for the parish to merely attend church every Sunday. Neither should be guaranteed a ticket to heaven. One must take it a step further and live the ethical life on a daily basis. Under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard laid out the three stages of life in his The Seducerʼs Diary, or the way of becoming a true self. The first stage was a life of music, seduction, and drama, or the aesthetic life. The second stage was the ethic life which involved moral responsibility and critical reflection. The last stage was religious faith -- an intense personal commitment and unending dedication to God.
Kierkegaard experienced all three of these stages. In college, he became a man about town while hanging out at Copenhagenʼs au courant establishments of modish thought. He drank, smoked cigars, and became engaged to the popular Regine Olson. He then contemplated and reflected before giving it all up, including his beautiful fiancé, and then, ... dedicated the rest of his life to the ultimate commitment -- to God. Van Roth also lived those three stages of life before reaching age twenty-six, only in reverse order. He dedicated his life to baseball, his metaphorical God, during much of his early years. His mother and Bertrand Russell taught him an ethical way of life, and now, he was living Kierkegaardʼs aesthetic life -- the first stage -- the one of pleasure. He no longer resisted the temptations of the Redbird way of life and was finding tranquility in J.S. Millʼs Utilitarianism, or the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. He let his hair grow long, began drinking, and now attended all the Redbird parties. Half the team was meeting at the “Bully” or Boulevard Hotel just across the street from the ballpark for five or six brewskies after practice. They were also throwing lake parties after home games. The high-flying Birds were giving new meaning to the phrase, team camaraderie. They were family, perhaps too much of a family.
The Scarlet Raptors were on a roll and all was going well until they decided to take a five-hour road trip to Flin Flon -- Manitobaʼs copper and zinc-mining town located on her northwestern border with Saskatchewan. There, they would open tournament-play against the host team Flin Flon Johnnyʼs of the Polar League. The Philadelphia Flyers with their Broadway Bullies had recently won the National Hockey Leagueʼs Stanley Cup. Team captain Bobby Clarke was home for the summer and opted to pony-up the two-thousand-dollar, first-place prize money for his hometown Flin Flon Baseball Tournament. Five years earlier, Dauphin center fielder Johnny Morrison, along with Philadelphia Flyer Reggie Leach, led the 42-18 Flin Flon Bombers to a Western Canada Hockey League Junior championship.
“Everything was going great until the Flin Flon Tournament. A lot of prize money was up for grabs so there were some top teams from the Saskatchewan Major Baseball League along with the Johnnyʼs and Thompson Reds of the Polar League. Teams were loading up with American pick-ups, mostly imports from Southern California. Johnny Mo hit the longest home run I had ever seen, most likely 450-475 feet, and we shut out the Unity Cardinals 2-0 in the final. We may have won the tournament but lost three wives. At two in the morning, Skeeterʼs wife and Bert showed up with a near-empty bottle of whiskey. There was a big party going on in room twelve. When I got back a few hours later, my Monte Carlo was gone, and so was Jude. A week later, Arroyoʼs wife filed for divorce and moved back to Virden. Skeeter also got the boot, although his wife was the one that caused the problem this time.” (Ibid. July 1975. pp. 102)
For Davie Van Roth, a serious relationship, including raising a family, was beyond his reach, for the landscape of his mind was filled with a game that commanded all his attention and became his surrogate. Baseball had brought them together, and five years later, the game would tear them apart. It was “Hey Jude” or the game -- Iʼm no eye in the sky. I canʼt read your mind. Youʼve never opened your heart and let me in. Youʼve shut me out of your dreams; never telling me where youʼre going or where youʼve been. Youʼre so silent. Why do you need to be so free? No one can put a chain around you. Itʼs me or go your own way.
Clouds had formed in her tea cup, so goodbye Ruby Redbird. Nobody hangs a name on you. Better catch that dream while your crazy diamond still shines brightly. With the looks and attitude of a Quarterflash, Jude hardened her heart and wiped away her tears ... then left, leaving all her misconceptions behind. There'd be no more waiting for Godot; no more living in anticipation of something that shall never be hers; no more standing on the corner waiting for her knightʼs return after a long road trip. “Hey Jude, donʼt make it bad,” had had enough of the Redbirds and their boozing lifestyle ... picked up the pieces and went home ... then packed up her shattered illusions of love and returned to Brandon to finish her education. There would be no more dragging her heart around for Sir Redbird in his white satin uniform didnʼt shine anymore. She now realized that her future lied well beyond that yellow brick road. “Hey Jude, donʼt let me down” had left and gone away. All that time spent together without either knowing the reasons why.
A year later, Jude and her 4.0 GPA, graduated with honors and a Baccalauréat Degree in French. A year after that, she received her teaching credentials from Brandon University which led to a lengthy career as a high school French immersion teacher. Just what she wanted, sheʼd be in the end.
You ever gotten your heart broken? Asked Jane Aubrey in For Love of the Game.
Yeah, replied pitcher Billy Chappel. When we lost the pennant in ʻ87.
Youʼre perfect, cried Jane. You, and the ball, and the diamond, youʼre this perfectly beautiful thing. You can win or lose the game, all by yourself. You donʼt need me.
Van Roth faced another tribunal -- this time in front of a panel of high ranking Catholic officials, and this time, he would repent to save Jude from expulsion. The marriage was annulled before the eyes of God. Jude remained a member of the church and allowed to keep her free ticket on that stairway to heaven. Although Van Roth was free to roam, his path was headed down a descending escalator that could very well lead him straight to hell.
The Redbirds were much stronger defensively once Ross Stone arrived at the midway point of the season. They now had a shortstop with Van Roth taking a permanent role at the all-important position. Ken Buchy anchored third with Bert Ready at second and Arroyo at first. Van Roth was the North Divisionʼs starting shortstop in the leagueʼs annual All-Atar game and would also pitch one and a third innings of scoreless relief in the 15-15 slugfest, the only pitcher of many that didnʼt give up a run. His only other pitching assignment during the second half of the regular schedule came against the Riverside Canucks where he picked up a win after Arroyo got tossed out of the game for engaging in a verbal fistfight with the umpires. Falk and Stone handled most of the pitching down the stretch with “Stoney” shutting out Hamiota 3-0 on July the eighteenth and besting Brandon on the twenty-third. Falk picked up wins against Hamiota, Riverside, and Binscarth.
“We were on a roll and flying high after our victory in Brandon. We picked up a twelve-pack of Molsons, a bucket of KFC, and were headed back to Dauphin when the “Silver Bullet” got clocked again, this time at 150 kph or 93 mph. The Mountie wanted to nail me for impaired driving and driving with an open container, but we tossed all the beer out the window while the officer made his U-turn ... at least I thought we did. Keating stuffed one bottle to the bottom of the tub of chicken. Not to be out-fooled, the cop reached down, and with one hand dripping in mashed potatoes and gravy, retrieved thevidence. Keating wouldnʼt fess up that it was his, and eventually, Johnny Mo took the rap. I got lucky as the copper either forgot about the speeding or just let it slide.” (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer. July, 1975. pp, 101)
The hedonistic Redbirds went 10-5 after their fast start and finished the regular season at 15-5, tied with the McAuley Blazers for the best record in the MSBL. Four Redbirds hit over three hundred during the regular season with Arroyo leading the attack with his . and led the team in home runs. He put the ball in play, striking out only once during the regular season. Falk and Van Roth led the pitching staff with 5-1 and 4-1 marks respectively (third and fourth-best in the MSBL). Van Roth, again led the league in fewest runs allowed per nine innings and ERA (1.13). His 14 strikeouts per nine innings was also a league-best. Dauphinʼs .750 winning percentage topped their 1973 mark for best Redbird record of all-time, one win less than Binscarthʼs 16-4 tally of 1972, a league record for winning percentage. A coin toss placed the Birds as the divisionʼs number two seed and a date with the 12-8 Binscarth Orioles in the opening round of the best-of-five Division playoff series.
“By the time the playoffs rolled around, Arroyo and I were downing five to six shots of whiskey before game time. The Doors and Zeppelin blasted away from the stereo while traveling to away games. We were flying high, playing loose, and both of us were killing the ball; as if on some kind of baseball stairway to heaven. Iʼd look across the diamond and thereʼd be ʻPopeyeʼ Arroyo standing at first base with this big olʼ shit-eatinʼ grin on his face. He was hitting over four hundred and leading the league at the three-quarter mark. What a difference a year can make. Last year, I was in a military prison and thought my world had come to an end. This year, I was playing footloose, didnʼt have a care in the world, and was having one of my best seasons.” (Ibid. August, 1975. pp. 103)
The 1975 MSBL playoffs posed some interesting pitching match-ups as the leagueʼs top five pitchers were all from the North Division headed by McAuleyʼs Dan Kaupla at 9-1, Bruce Bremer of Binscarth at 6-1, Dauphinʼs Jerry Falk and Dave Van Roth at 5-1 and 4-1, and McAuley Blazer Jon Langston from Long Beach State at 4-1. Kaupla, a fifth-round draft pick out of Fullerton College in Southern California spent the 1972 season with the Bristol Tigers of the Appalachian League where he posted a 2-1 mark with a 4.17 ERA. The following year, he went 1-4 with a 3.00 ERA while pitching for Detroitʼs class-A, Anderson Tigers of the Western Carolina League.
The MSBL South Division contained the older and established league teams of Brandon, Riverside, Souris, Hamiota, and Virden. Although suspect in the pitching department, the South possessed the leagueʼs top sluggers in Bob Wilson, Roy McGloghlin, and National Team cleanup-hitter Bobby Thompson of the Brandon Cloverleafs, Stan Furman and ex-St. Louis Card farmhand Bill Carpender of the Souris Cardinals, and ex-pro Mark Fisher and Cliff Seafoot of the Riverside Canucks. The North had the fireballers in Bremer, Kaupla, Falk, and Van Roth when his arm was healthy.
Binscarth defeated Dauphin 12-4 in the opening round of the MSBL North Division playoffs before a much-anticipated match-up between Davie Van Roth and Bruce Bremer unfolded in game two. They had never faced each other. According to the Brandon Sun, Van Roth was baffling the Oriole hitters with an assortment of “junk.” His once tailing fastball was gone and had only pitched five innings in relief during the last five weeks; still, he took a five-hitter and 4-2 lead heading into the ninth. Johnny Morrison had given Dauphin its lead with a grand slam in the first inning but Van Rothʼs right arm was now hanging by a thin thread. With one out and a man on first in the ninth, lefty Ross Stone took over and got the left-handed-hitting Garth Jackman to hit into a force out; but two singles and a misjudged fly ball gave Bremer and his Orioles a 5-4 victory and the league-leading Redbirds were just one loss away from getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.
“Olʼ Stoney” the veteran, rebounded in game three with a nifty seven-hitter, shutting out the Orioles 7-0 and Jerry Falk followed with a 9-0 shutout of his own. Dauphin pounded ex-National Team pitcher Garth Neville for thirteen hits in the first six innings, scoring four runs in the fourth, four in the fifth, and two more in the sixth. Van Roth and Bert Ready each collected three hits apiece. The victory set up the final with Stone going against Bremer. Dauphinʼs lefty Ross Stone out-dueled Binscarthʼs Bruce Bremer 6-3 and the Dauphin Redbirds moved on to meet the McAuley Blazers for the North Division title. Van Roth and Arroyo were the hitting stars for Dauphin, each collecting two hits apiece and driving in key runs. The hard-throwing Bremer went the distance but only struck out three Redbird batters.
While Ross Stone and Gerry Falk were heading the pitching department, it was Arroyo, Manthorne, and Van Roth that were doing most of the hitting. Arroyo was leading the playoffs with his lofty .541 average while Van Roth was fifth at .413. The Redbirds were scoring big, averaging nearly seven runs per game against some of the leagueʼs best pitching; some of the best pitching in Western Canada. McAuley and Dan Kaupla took game one 8-4, besting Redbird pitcher Jimmy Arroyo although the lefty went 4-4 at the plate including a three-run homer, boosting his playoff average to .571 and nearly .800 for the last three games. In his second start of the postseason, Van Roth tossed a six-hitter while posting a 9-3 victory and chipping in with another two hits. Ken Buchy had three hits for the victors. Blazer pitcher Ross Lynd lasted but an inning and a third giving up seven runs in the second frame.
Arroyo won game three 12-7 for his first postseason win and the propitious Redbirds were just one win away from winning their second Division title in three years. Dauphin had now scored twenty-five runs in their last three games and forty-five during the post-season. They roughed up Long Beach State pitcher Jon Langston and two relievers for thirteen hits including three by “Skeeter” Keating and two each by Van Roth, Manthorne, Buchy, Sigurdson and Bert Ready. One of Keatingʼs hits was a solo shot off reliever Ross Lynd in the seventh. Arroyo went 0-3 and 1-7 in his last two games lowering his playoff batting average to .471. Langston gave up eleven runs on nine hits and seven walks in just six innings, absorbing his second loss of the playoffs and worst shellacking during his two years as a McCauley Blazer. The Redbirds were knocking on heavenʼs door.
The Hamiota Red Sox, winners of the South and a team that Dauphin had easily handled both times times during the regular season, were waiting in the wings. Four of Hamiotaʼs top five batters were left-handed hitters and had difficulty with left-handed pitching. Dauphin was loaded with lefties. Baseball heaven was visible through the gathering clouds but Dauphin had been close before, only to fall in typical Dauphin Redbird disheartening, gut-wrenching fashion; also, Charlie Manson look-a-like Dan Kaupla with his MSBL Pitcher of the Year Award stood in the way. Would the priests in their crimson robes reach the top of baseballsʼ Jacobʼs Ladder or would there be a judicium divinum; Van Rothʼs divine punishment for his neglect of Saint Jude?
Jerry Falk left the team and traveled to Ontario to pitch for the Manitoba Junior Provincial Team. Why not? There would be pro scouts there. Rarely does one appear at an MSBL regular season or playoff game. Ross Stone returned to Saskatchewan to meet his teaching obligations, leaving the pitching burden resting on the shoulders of a sore-armed Van Roth and number-four pitcher Jimmy Arroyo. One has to wonder why Redbird management paid good money to bring the aging Stone and his family to Dauphin in the first place. He was a pitcher only as his golf swing took away any chance of his helping out with the stick. The regular season would be half over before his arrival and he would leave just before the most important part of the season -- the finals.
Manager Roy Cuthill of the McCauley Blazers was as sly and cunning as a Machiavelli; more devious than Shakespeareʼs Iago. The clever, graying olʼ fox was hated by several around the league, even by a few of his own, but especially by Binscarth and Dauphin players. He may have had the attitude of a dull steak knife, but he made a brilliant tactical move involving the Blazersʼ 9-3 loss in game two. Redbird Park was sopping wet at the time so Dauphin management agreed to play the game at a neutral site, in Grandview, some thirty minutes away. Big mistake. Redbird left fielder Siggi Sigurdson, a dentist by trade, had a late medical emergency and notified the team that he and utility player Gord Fidorchuk would be late.
The dashing and effervescent Siggi Sigurdson, DDS, was from the lake region near Winnipeg and moved to Dauphin to set up a dental practice. He became a tireless workaholic toiling long hours, six days a week and became wealthy. The left-fielder loved baseball, also a penchant for the bubbly. Trailing only “Sweet Daddy” Secord and “Skeeter” Keating, Siggi would be ranked as the teamʼs number three arm-bender. Often, after practice, he and his band of hangers-on would meet at the Laverandre Bar and Restaurant where they would engage in alcoholic foolery, and “The Sig” would put it all on his tab. It must have been a grand or so a month. He drove a 1974 Vette and appeared rather debonair with his long, blond Scandinavian hair and blue eyes while clad in a blue leather jacket and white slacks. He and the young, alluring Rachelle Allard soon became an item. The Allards owned the town and their Ford dealership provided free Redbird transportation.
League rules state that an umpire can declare a game a forfeiture if a team canʼt field nine eligible players at the scheduled starting time. Sound familiar? Not being able to field a team late in the season has always been an “Achillesʼ heel” for the Redbirds, but under the circumstances, the umpires allowed the game to be played. Immediately after the loss, the scheming Cuthill filed an official protest with league officials. He delayed the protest till after the game to see the outcome and to get Van Roth out of the way. League president Don Campbell again sided with the shrewd manager and the victory was reversed. Now, McCauley had the upper hand and was one win away from the title.
Kaupla didnʼt pitch the next game for the Blazers. The confident Cuthill knew that Van Rothʼs arm was shot and opted to save his ace for the league championship series. After a rain cancellation, Jon Langston got a chance for redemption in a rematch with Arroyo. The overhand curveball specialist responded by tossing eight shutout innings and cruised to a 4-1 victory. Van Roth collected three more hits including a double raising his playoff batting average to .455. Again, this delicious game of baseball was dangled before his eyes, only to be ripped away with no stairway to heaven in the end. The well-rested Dan Kaupla won three games against Hamiota for a record-breaking six in the playoffs as McCauley won the MSBL championship.
Van Roth rebounded from last season's debackle and produced another stellar year. Overall, he finished with a 7-2 mound record, averaged 14 Kʼs per nine innings pitched, and led the playoffs in hitting with his .455 average (20-44), edging Riversideʼs Mark Fischer. As a professional, Fisher hit .300 in 1970 for the Lakeland Tigers of the level-A Florida State League and is considered the MSBLʼs greatest hitter of all-time. During the early 1970s, Fisher and Van Roth took turns leading the MSBL playoffs in hitting with Fisher grabbing the honors in 1971 and 1974. Van Roth won playoff batting titles in 1972 (.538, 14-26), 1973 (.556, 20-36), and again in 1975. He sat out the 1974 playoffs after getting suspended. Both Fischer and Van Roth won league playoff batting titles three times, the only MSBL players ever to do so.
Dauphinʼs 24-11 overall record (.686 winning percentage) was their greatest season and would last another ten years until Rick Huntze and two other University of Arkansas players would lead Dauphin to an all-time-best 14-4 regular season and 2-2 in the playoffs before both Dauphin and McCauley were suspended. Again, a soggy Redbird Park, a McCauley manager, and an MSBL president would play major roles in yet another bitter Redbird ending.