A collective of sports enthusiasts have come together to preserve the rich fastball history that has taken place over the last 90 years.
Beginning on August 22nd and 23rd, fastball fans will have the opportunity to visit the West-Man Border Fastball Museum (WBFM) located 20 KMs outside of Russell, MB at Asessippi Beach.
Although the doors will open, public health guidelines will dictate what the opening will look like as the planning committee works with current health concerns and protocols. Next July the plan is to hopefully host the grand opening, but updates will follow closer to the date.
At the fastball museum, visitors can explore the rich past dug up by a dedicated team of volunteers.
The idea to build the West-Man Border Fastball Museum started two years ago. Rick Goraluk had an idea to bring together fastball teams, former players and their families from the past 60 years and have a reunion at Asessippi Beach and Campground. As part of the reunion, Daryl Nernberg, co-founder of the WBFM took three weeks to collect fastball memorabilia from the teams that regularly played in tournaments on both sides of the provincial border.
Rick and Karen Goraluk organized a slo-pitch tournament held the same weekend. This gathering was an overwhelming success and the "museum" was a hit. Nearly three hundred names were recorded on the attendee list during the reunion tournament. Participants came from everywhere in the local area and further away, including from Texas and Maple Creek.
Since that day two years ago, Daryl thought it would be a good idea to preserve that history and to create a permanent fastball museum to be located at Asessippi Beach and Campground.
Teams featured in the museum include the Colts and Braves from Langenburg, the Flames and Cougars from Churchbridge, the IMC team based out of Esterhazy, the Esterhazy Extreme, and the Atwater Steelers. Teams from Calder, Gerald, MacNutt and Wroxton are also forever preserved in the museum; over 130 teams who played border fastball between Manitoba and Saskatchewan are on the museum’s list. There are over 50 teams at the moment with donated memorabilia and that number is growing weekly.
Things really picked up this past January as information, stories and mementos flooded in. Since that time the material in the museum is over double the amount he started with three years ago.
Larry Nernberg joined the cause and contributed a majority of the Saskatchewan information, travelling the countryside to gather artifacts. Nernberg said, “I didn’t think it would be this big. When I started, I pictured six or seven jerseys. After that, I kept calling people and it kept getting bigger. All the towns along the border were very helpful in contributing. Now, the project has a life of its own.” He added, “I like history. I've been having fun. I bet I was on the phone everyday [beginning in January]. There are stories like you wouldn’t believe.”
As you can imagine, bringing a project like this to life requires many different resources.
Daryl mentioned local ball enthusiasts who wish to get involved or share their history can give him a call.
As far as funding, $10,000 is raised through donations at the moment, but the goal is to get to $15,000. The group applied for three grants as well to help cover costs.
Helping to keep the cost low, Rick Keay sold the sea can to the group at a friendly rate which they developed into the museum; the committee is very thankful for this.
A portion of the money raised helped purchase a sea can, seek municipal permits, and to begin modifications of the sea can, which will house the museum. Westman Border Fastball Museum is now an incorporated non-profit organization in the Province of Manitoba and the new committee is seeking further support.
Through word of mouth, this project has taken on a life of its own. People are asking how they can contribute and be a part of this museum.
The new committee is taking donations and is in the process of reaching out to fastball enthusiasts that were originally involved in the creation of this local sports history as players, family and fans.
Donors are encouraged to contact Daryl Nernberg for information on how to donate via e-transfer or by cheque to preserve the history of fastball in the region. Daryl can be reached by phone at 204-773-3014 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Fastball History
130 teams who played border fastball between Manitoba and Saskatchewan are on the museum’s list of names. The stories include those of the Langenburg Braves and Colts who were active around the late-70s. The Cotls lasted a bit longer than the Braves and both teams played simultaneously at one time at the height of fastball in town. The Braves were spurred by a gentleman named Chuck Nelson who came to the mine from Brandon, along with a handful of others. Randy MacDonnell’s name came up when discussing the more well-known athletes who played for the Colts. Langenburg is also represented at the museum through the Langenburg Belairs who played in the 50s/60s and the Langenburg.
The Calder Comets are featured. Gerald Shymko was a main pitcher with one team involved in a Yorkton league. When Shymko was on his game, his rise ball pitch was unhittable by most hitters who faced it. Another addition to the museum comes from Calder. Barry Calanchie kept numerous types of stats for the games which brought another level of interest for the fans and players, as well as preserved the history for later generations.
Churchbridge had two teams at once for a while, the Flames and the Cougars. Rob Daum took a huge opportunity to join a touring team as a shortstop. He toured with the team across Western Canada for six weeks filling in as an injury replacement after the tour stopped in Churchbridge.
The Esterhazy IMC team involved many memorable Esterhazy players such as Clayton Foley. Other towns in the mining community were represented by players such as Dwayne MacDonnell, Don Fogg and Randy Park from Langenburg. Churchbridge was represented by many including Rob and Gene Daum, and Garnett Putland.
In 1977, some members of the Esterhazy IMC squad joined with the St. Hubert Colts. The team went to the United States and was successful competing at a tournament in Minot.
Jerry Halyk was a large part of the Esterhazy-based IMC franchise that joined the Yorkton Fastball League for four years in 1978, 79, 80 and 81; the team won the league each year they were involved. Prior to playing with IMC, Jerry also had success as part of a team from Roblin that won a provincial championship in 1972.
In later years, many players would join the Atwater Steelers who have been around since the late 50s. The Esterhazy Extreme popped up briefly before Atwater became the main team again. In 2016 the Atwater Steelers celebrated their 75th anniversary. The program has been successful in Atwater, but did move to play in Esterhazy, initially requesting that they continue to be known as the Atwater Steelers.
Glen Hawkett played with Atwater and later the Esterhazy Extreme, he would be known by many teams in the area as a gifted player and dedicated club member.
Not to be mistaken for Esterhazy, the Esterhaz Eagles were a school team based south of Esterhazy and mainly composed of the Babyak family; they had seven boys on the team which made up the majority of the squad.
Stockholm had multiple teams including the Pioneers, Blues and Kings who all played fastball at the same time in the 70s; eventually the teams merged together as the Raiders in the 80s.
Brian Banga’s name came up as a notable player with Stockholm Blues as well as the Atwater Steelers. He was an excellent pitcher who also played with Atwater for a while.
The Gerald Comets are included in the museum with history dating back throughout the 70s and 80s. Gerald played in the Yellowhead league with some of the Langenburg teams, amongst others. An earlier version of the team was known as the Waldron Hotel Comets before becoming the Gerald Comets after the hotel no longer sponsored the team.
Many teams are mentioned from Melville. At one time Melville and Yorkton had their own leagues. When less players were available, teams began to move away from their inner-league play to join further out leagues.
The museum shows the history of these leagues including how the Yorkton Merchants were the last team that played out of Yorkton.
As more teams look to contribute memorabilia to the project, the museum continues to develop at a rapid pace. The museum committee hit a home run finding a way to establish a local hub honouring border fastball’s greatest memories.