There is no doubt that when it comes to sports in Rankin Inlet, hockey is king. With enough players to make up several teams across several age groups the people playing another sport are a distinct minority. But what other sports lack in numbers they more than make up for in passion and dedication.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Rankin’s fastball league, which just wrapped up its inaugural season.
The league was started by Robert Kabvitok and his wife Holly Mercer because their son Kayden is a baseball fanatic. He has a wicked curveball and hopes to pitch in the major leagues one day.
Kayden’s parents were unsure if the sport would be as popular with other kids, but after reaching out to the community, they had more than 20 players – including two girls – eager to take part in the fastball experiment.
The fruits of their labour were on full display during the weekend tournament which was held to cap off the end of the first successful season and it did so in fine fashion.
For three long days the two teams, which had been fine tuned with small trades to even them out in preceding weeks, took to the ball diamond to slug it out.
I went down to check out the action several times over the weekend. When the Red Sox closed off the second day with a 2-1 lead in the series, I knew I couldn’t miss the final showdown on Sunday.
As I watched the first game unfold I was struck by how much talent was on display. Individual athletes showed incredible prowess – which included the first home run of the summer. But it was the players’ ability to play as a team that really stood out.
The work of Dave Wiseman, a former baseball player in his time, was clearly evident as big plays were made throughout the afternoon. Wiseman, who was brought on to help officiate the league, remained busy trying to organize strategy for each team during breaks in the play. The fact that each game was won by a single run is a testament to these young athletes.
The enthusiasm off the field was almost as infectious as the game itself.
Volunteers chipped in to serve up free food, people came down to sell baked goods and the Northern Store and Sinniktarvik offered pizza, burgers and other refreshments. And of course, there were the parents and relatives who came down to watch and honk their horns every time a big play was made.
As the weekend drew on, the crowds continued to grow until the final game when the Blue Jays found themselves with the bases loaded, down by a run, with two outs, in the bottom of the last inning. Kayden was at the mound with the game at his finger tips. His Red Sox has lost the last game after a player was walked with the bases loaded. After a long drive that would have won it all just barely veered into foul territory, words of encouragement came from the dugout and the field, encouraging him to settle the game down.
He ripped the next pitch in. The batter made strong contact sending the ball deep into left field.
The shortstop reached out and snagged the ball, whipping it over to second base to get the out they needed to end the game and win the championship.
After baseball gloves were done raining down from the sky the two teams lined up to shake hands.
The dramatic ending and the sense of pride that both teams felt was a beautiful thing to behold. In just a year, a group of young adults was brought together to play a new sport.
They exceeded expectations on the field and they stood a little bit taller when they were sporting their jerseys.
And for a moment they made it possible to believe one day a young ballplayer from Rankin Inlet or somewhere else in the Kivalliq could be the first player from Nunavut to play in the MLB.