A Steinbach legend will be recognized for his contributions by The Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.
Thomas Goldwin “T.G.” Smith was instrumental in the organization of Little League Baseball in Steinbach back in the mid-1950s. He will be inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame on June 3rd, 2023. T.G. Smith passed away in 1982.
His son, Bob Smith, says they grew up being a ‘sports family,’ they were at games and tournaments seven days a week through summer and winter.
“There were only two sports back in the good old days,” Smith says.
His father wanted to ensure the success of sports in the Southeast. And his first step to accomplishing his goal was convincing the town to buy into it.
“He was relentless,” Smith says as he recalls his father’s venture. “It started because it needed to. There was nothing started on school yards. He convinced the city - well the town then - to give us a spot at the fairgrounds.”
A biography from the Hall of Fame states that T.G. Smith was "a constant advocate for youth recreation in a Mennonite community that was not convinced of the value of organized sports for youngsters. Smith himself had played sports until at age 21 he had to have one of his legs partially amputated. He organized the construction of a hockey facility, the T. G. Smith Arena, now incorporated into the Southeast Event Centre."
Bob Smith says they started out with a Little League diamond, and anyone who wanted to be a player had to come out and work hard - which kids were willing to do since they were not up to much else.
“It worked because there was nothing much to do for young lads eight to 12,” Smith says. “This was an activity. Everyone wanted to participate.”
It was also pretty special for these young athletes to have official uniforms to wear.
"They got uniforms... White Sox, Red Sox, Black Sox, Green Sox... we weren't too imaginative with respective team names,” he recalls.
Smith says it all started with simple beginnings, like finding coaches. But nobody had coached before... so what were they going to do?
They recruited some teenagers. “Initially, the coaches were people who had just missed the age, so we had 14 to 15-year-old young men.”
He says these young men were baseball boys: they were passionate about the sport. His dad managed to find these young men through his workplace, the Royal Bank in Steinbach.
"This is kind of amusing. When you became an employee of the Royal Bank, he would tell the young people coming there ‘you need to umpire, you need to coach. We work out on Tuesday and Thursday. We have games. You need to be there.’”
Smith goes on to say that he had an interesting conversation with his dad, and to this day, he wonders if his dad was serious or joking when he said this:
“They were looking at transferring people in and out of Steinbach. My dad would always phone head office and say ‘I want a young person who can skate because he's got to coach hockey and I need somebody who can throw and catch the ball 'cause he's got to coach baseball.’”
Smith says a lot of support came from the parents of the kids who played.
“They're young men, we're having fun, and they were learning more than just baseball,” Smith recalls. “They were learning to work on the diamond, they were part of fundraising that kids had to go and sell peanuts, everybody had a whole bunch of things to do.”
Smith says some of the parents who were wondering a little at the beginning what this was going to be about, bought in pretty quickly because their boys were loving it so much.
Many of T.G.'s Little League players were members of the Steinbach Millers of the late 1960s, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
The 25th Induction Banquet will be held June 3rd at the Access Event Centre in Morden, home of the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.
with files from Clayton Dreger