Inverness Oran Sports

Sports

Creignish community ball park renamed Smokey Field

Alex Dan MacEachern and Frank MacInnis helped unveil the new “Smokey Field” sign at the Creignish ball field as the man of the hour, Smokey MacNeil, gives a modest thumbs-up during the ceremony on Saturday.


September 13, 2023

-by Bill Dunphy
    It’s only fitting if you are known as Mr. Baseball that the ball park you helped build is named after you.
    The community of Creignish bestowed that honour on John Dan “Smokey” MacNeil at a ceremony on Saturday – renaming the Creignish community ball park “Smokey Field.”
    It was 51 years ago when Smokey, Frank MacInnis, John King, and Hughie MacEachern began coaching ball teams in Creignish, playing their games at the field in Long Point,
     In 1985, they received a $25,000 grant from Billy Joe MacLean, which they used to build the field and tennis court, a club house, and dig a well at the site in Creignish.
    In 2017, the Creignish Youth, Adult and Seniors Wellness Club received a $36,000 provincial grant to restore the ball field, tennis court, and playground.
    The project included a walking track around the field, a new grandstand and dugouts, and proper drainage.
    “There is a core group behind this program who have put in many hours of work here,” said Smokey. “And I could never have done this without Frank MacInnis,” Smokey said.
     In order to match the funds for the work being done at the field, Smokey said in an Oran article at the time, that there was a lot of ‘in-kind’ work being done.
    He said Jimmy Walker has provided equipment; Ron McGee, who Smokey coached in Little League, operated the loader and backhoe; Todd MacNeil provided work with the excavator; Darren Cummings, in keeping the baseball programs running; Father Hughie MacDonald, who said to Smokey, “What are you doing and how can I help?”; and Lillian Berry, who Smokey described as, “The key to all of this.”
    Also that year, Smokey received the prestigious Recreation Nova Scotia’s Bluenose Achievement Award. The award recognizes an individual or community group that provides or supports activities and services that successfully achieves the values and benefits of recreation.
    On Saturday, Smokey received the best award possible – the admiration and respect of his community.
    Following the unveiling of the new sign and a blessing from Father Barrett, the large turnout for the celebration moved into the hall where a lunch was served and some speakers took the stage.
    Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster recounted the 1984 provincial championship Creignish won, calling it, “One of the greatest moments in the community’s sporting history.”
    Down 11 runs in the last inning, Creignish came back under Smokey’s encouragement: “Come on boys, let’s do it! Get those bats going!”
    MacMaster said it would be impossible to count the many people Smokey had a positive impact on.
    “Good things happen to people who take the time to make it happen,” he said. “To acknowledge you today, that’s what we’re here for. Thank you for everything, and look at all the people who are here for you today.”
    Deputy Warden Catherine Gillis, who is also the District #6 councillor for the area, described Smokey as “fun, knowledgeable, and caring.”
    She added, “You are so deserving, thank you, and keep up the good work.”
    Frank MacInnis told a story of how he and Smokey ended up at the same Blue Jays game seven or eight years ago with the Los Angeles Dodgers (Smokey’s team) in Toronto.
    MacInnis was on the first base side and Smokey was on the third base side. Making his way over to where Smokey was, he saw a big crowd in a circle with a guy with white hair in the middle.
    Asking what was going on, someone said, “Sandy Koufax is here!”
    “There was Smokey, wearing a Dodgers’ shirt, Koufax on the back, with people taking selfies, shaking hands, and wanting autographs.
    “There is a pile of bogus Koufax autographs around to this day,” he said.
    MacInnis added, “That was his 15 minutes of fame in Toronto. Back home, Smokey is Mr. Baseball. He’s a legend in Creignish and well known in Halifax too. I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
    At the end, Smokey’s sons Tyler and Cory took the stage along with their dad, sharing memories of playing in Creignish and asking dad for advice as coaches.
    “Baseball is in the blood of this community,” said Tyler. He recalled a time while coaching in Halifax. “I remember calling dad and saying we’re really hammering them, what should we do. ‘Don’t lay off them,’ was the reply.”
    He said there was another time at a provincial playdown game where everyone had their rosters and we had some names on a piece of loose-leaf. They wanted every name, address, and date of birth in 15 minutes.
    “That’s crazy, I said. I called dad and out of nowhere our roster appeared,” Tyler said.
    Cory also had good memories of home.
    “When I think of Creignish, you have the church, the hall, and the field. At our house it was the field. Gotta go to the field. Got to check the field. Go to the top and look down at the field. God the field looks good!”
    He added, “This is truly special. When Geraldine (Lavallee, who organized the event) mentioned this, I got really emotional.”
    Batting cleanup was Smokey.
    “It’s been quite a day, I’m so proud to be part of it all,” he said. “It takes a community to do this.”
    Smokey recalled growing up in Inverness, tossing ball with Uncle Gicks and playing with the Copleys, Fitzners, Charlie Webb, and being coached by Buddy Timmons and Lloyd MacDougall.
    “Buddy led by example (and) Lloyd had a passion for the game. If you didn’t play 100 per cent for them, you’d be sitting on the bench. I had a lot of people who showed me you had to do the right thing all the time.”
    In closing, Smokey said both he and his wife Isabelle are cancer survivors – reaffirming his faith in God.
    “For 21 days she was in a coma, but I had my faith. It was time to call on my confirmation and I wear a scapular all the time.”
    Lavallee thanked everyone for coming and said, “Without each other, we don’t have anything.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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