The wildfires in Fort McMurray may have put a stop to the start of the baseball season up north, but for two displaced players and their families, the sport itself is a saving grace.
“I thought the baseball season was going to be over,” midget baseball player Gage Bremont.
The Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Academy saved the season for Bremont and Quinn Tassie by welcoming them to the Dawgs team and school, while getting both families back on track with nearby accommodation at a time when routine means so much.
Tassie and Bremont’s friendship started over baseball in Grade 7 and has kept them together ever since, most recently playing for the Fort McMurray Oil Giants.
“We’ve been best friends forever,” Tassie said. “He’s probably like my brother.”
“He’s there for me when I need him,” Bremont said.
Sticking together through this tough time away from their home in Fort McMurray was the only option for both boys’ parents, no matter how long it would be for or where it would take them.
“We just knew that we had to keep them together, because they were best friends. The Tassie’s called the Dawgs (baseball club) right away to ask them about getting help and they responded right away,” Cherlyn Byrne said, Gage’s mom.
In no time, the two families settled in at the Lions Campground in Okotoks, thanks to a helping hand from the Dawgs Baseball Academy.
“They’re going to get to play baseball and go to school with a bunch of people that are so welcoming,” Byrne said.
“They (Okotoks Dawgs) geared up our kids with new gear because we have nothing, everything was left,” said Jaime Tassie, Quinn’s mom.
The two families both had offers to stay with family and friends in other places around Alberta, but decided to stay just minutes from the baseball diamond – and right next door to each other – so they could start practicing for the rest of the season.
Lou Pote, a former Major League Baseball player and now head coach at the Okotoks Dawgs Academy, used to coach in Fort McMurray and has maintained relationships with some of the players and their parents. He says there’s a special bond between baseball families.
“It goes a lot further than baseball,” said Pote. “It’s about life and people and making sure that they’re ok and kind of putting yourself in that situation where you have nothing.”
“I know a couple of other kids on my team for sure lost their homes,” Quinn Tassie said.
The two families plan to stay in Okotoks until at least the end of the school year and are very grateful to have some stability.
“Just to create a sense of normalcy for these kids, make it a little less stressful and difficult for them,” Jaime Tassie said.
It also means the two kids can continue pursuing their passion of baseball without skipping a beat on the diamond.
“We want the kids to not lose a summer of baseball, and to kind of get their minds off what’s going on back home. Moms and dads are going to be worrying about that enough,” Pote said.
Parents also get a much needed distraction during this hectic time that could last weeks, months and for some – years.
“If there’s one thing I’m excited about, it’s to watch our boys play baseball and it’s what’s going to keep them smiling,” Byrne said.