UNITY - Despite taking a hard-hit foul ball to the side of her head during her very first game as a ball game scorekeeper, Unity’s Mary Anne Gaetz stuck to it and has now kept score for ball games and tournaments for 51 years.
Although Gaetz never played ball herself, she loves watching ball and would come down to the diamonds to watch men’s games pretty well any evening there was action. In 1967 there was a men’s fastball league with seven or eight teams and Ray Atkinson, a member of the Unity Merchants, noticed her consistent presence. He asked her if she would be interested in keeping score.
“I thought why not, as I was there watching anyway,” Gaetz said. She doesn’t remember who played that first game, where she sat on the bench inside the fence. But she does remember there were telephone poles just inside the fence and a foul ball deflected off one of the poles, giving her “a pretty hard smack on the side of my head.”
She was immediately moved to the outside edge of the bench and the players were told to make sure to catch any foul plays coming her way. Because of their concern for her safety and because she loves watching ball, Gaetz kept coming back to help out as a scorekeeper.
Fifty-four years later, Gaetz with her clipboard and scoresheets, today behind the fence or in the announcer’s booth, is a familiar sight at all levels of Unity ball games and tournaments. (Over time there were three years during which she did not keep score, thus being a scorekeeper for 51 years.)
When first the men’s fastball league and then the Saskatchewan Major Baseball League folded, Gaetz started attending more minor ball games. Seeing the growth of the players and the development of their skills over the years has become one of her favourite things about ball.
She remembers Cardinals’ Jarrett Gartner as a youngster, running for foul balls at games and tournaments until his small pockets bulged with quarters. This year she got to record his exploits as a member on the U18 provincial team.
She has also witnessed generations of ball players, and remembers Ed Ralston playing, with Mark at the diamonds as a baby. Then Mark went through the ranks, eventually becoming a member of the men’s senior team. Today she can watch Mark’s children play.
She had been pleased to see Regan L’Heureux bring back senior men’s ball in 2003, re-inventing the Senior Cardinals as a contender in the North Saskatchewan River Baseball League. “I was happy to see senior ball back in town and being played on the diamonds behind the rink,” she said.
Although she started out as a scorekeeper for men’s fastball, Gaetz said she has no preference between softball and baseball and does not have a favourite league or level. She loves it all: men’s to Mosquito or U11 to U18 in baseball and from Squirts or U11 to the Juniors, ages 19 to 21, in softball. Rather than the level of ball, she appreciates seeing outstanding plays and the “overall effort shown to make plays that you would consider not makeable.”
That being said, her favourite tournament “would have to be the U21 Western Canadian Championships, which Unity has hosted five times.”
Gaetz has collected some souvenirs over the years. In 2013, the Senior Cardinals hosted provincials and Unity won the title. Pat Wildeman, Sask Baseball representative, presented each player with a plaque and afterwards gave one to Gaetz as well, for a remembrance. In 2018, when Unity hosted the U19 Western Canadian Championships, Yvonne Michnic, Sask Softball rep, presented Gaetz with both a silver and a bronze medal as a thank you for all her hard work.
Gaetz remembers 2018 as a very busy one, scorekeeping a total 62 games over the season. 2017 was also busy, culminating with keeping score for most of the games in the eight-team Senior AA Tier 3 provincials.
When Battleford hosted Westerns in 2014, they called Gaetz for scorekeeping help. They organized a ride for her to the diamonds with Pat Risling and John “Huntz” Klaehn. She kept score for four games on the Saturday. Gaetz said, “They made sure I was fed, presented me with a souvenir T-shirt [and] made sure I had a ride home that night.”
She regrets not having been able to attend and keep score at the Canadian Senior Men’s Basebase Championships in 1974. The event was co-hosted by Unity, Lloydminster and North Battleford and she was scheduled to work, but sadly her father passed away opening day.
Along with the plaque, medals, T-shirts and duffle bags she has received along the way, Gaetz has also been honoured by Unity teams more publicly – throwing the first pitch for a Senior Cardinals’ tournament and at one of the girls’ tournaments too.
Asked about the not-so-happy memories, Gaetz remembers an incident when a protest was made after a player had been ejected from the game. “I had to remember what led up to the call [and] who instigated the bench clearing after the call by the umpire,” she said. She also had to attend the umpires’ meeting and go over the details she had recorded in the score book.
That being said, Gaetz said there is absolutely nothing she dislikes about her role. She didn’t even mind filling out the detailed stat sheets required in the early days. Pre-Internet, these would be completed at home after the game and had to be taken to the post office to be mailed to the league representative.
Memories include, at a Senior Cardinals’ game, working alongside Eldon Elliott, sports announcer at CJNB Radio in North Battleford, who passed along some scorekeeping tips; receiving calls from Sherri Solomko and Susan Chorney asking her to keep score when their girls were playing and/or hosting tournaments; and, in 1999, at the first Westerns hosted in Unity, having to wear a winter coat to the Friday night game as the evening was so cold (summer temperatures returned for the rest of the weekend).
She enjoyed watching The King and His Court – a talented and entertaining four-person softball team led by Eddie “The King” Feigner – play against the Unity senior team. Also fun were donkey baseball games. In donkey baseball, the players had to hit a ball and then jump on a donkey to round the bases. In the field, players had to ride donkeys to where the ball was hit, pick up the ball and then get back on the donkey before throwing to another player, also seated on a donkey.
Unlike umpires, scorekeepers are not paid. It is a volunteer position, in most towns taken on by a parent or assistant coach, or perhaps shared by players on the bench in adult leagues. This makes Gaetz’s 50-plus-years contribution to Unity’s ball teams even more remarkable. She is an important part of Unity’s ball community. Coaches and managers will be glad to hear she has no plans to stop scorekeeping as she still loves watching the players as they develop their skills.