Aboriginal fastball teams from across Canada will converge in a small British Columbia community in early August to determine national bragging rights. But unfortunately the man who was instrumental in bringing the Canadian Native Fastball Championships to Cranbrook will not be there to enjoy the festivities.
Randy Martin, who was supposed to be the tournament chairman for the event, scheduled for Aug. 3-5, died this past May. He was 38. As a result Martin's father Dean has stepped up and taken over his son's tournament responsibilities.
"We contemplated cancelling the tournament or seeing if it could be organized elsewhere," Dean Martin said.
But the elder Martin said the decision was eventually made to go ahead with the tournament as planned in Cranbrook. The national championship has been staged annually since 1974. Martin said this year's event is being held in honor of his late son.
"It's all dedicated in his memory," he said. "Everything we're doing is for him."
Dean Martin said his son, who was a rather heavy set man, had various health problems including diabetes. He died suddenly in his sleep. The B.C. Arrows are the host team for the nationals. The Arrows are a men's masters (40 and over) club formed last year. The Arrows, who are based in Invermere, B.C., won their category at the 2011 nationals staged in Winnipeg.
The nucleus of the Arrows' roster, which includes Dean Martin, captured a total of six national championships during the 1980s and '90s when they competed in the men's category. Meanwhile, the Invermere A's captured the men's title at last year's nationals and will also be in Cranbrook defending their crown in August.
Besides Dean Martin, who is 58, the Arrows' roster includes two of his brothers, John and Gordie, as well as two of his uncles and three of his cousins. Martin is hoping both the Arrows and A's repeat as national champs.
"Our intentions are to win both titles for Randy and to keep that honor alive for Randy," he said.
Dean Martin added the Arrows and A's will have decals on their helmets with 44 on them, the number Randy Martin used to wear while competing.
"Even some of the other teams will be wearing them," Dean Martin said. "We'll have the decals available for any teams that want to wear them."
About 25 squads are expected to participate in the men's division. And the women's category is expected to attract about 20 entrants. A Saskatchewan-based team called AMI Pride won the women's title last year and will be in Cranbrook hoping to win another championship.
As for the masters' categories, Dean Martin is hoping the men's division will feature close to a dozen clubs and that eight squads enter the women's masters grouping. Teams will by vying for a share of the $55,000 up for grabs at the national tournament.
The winning squads in both the men's and women's divisions will each take home $10,000. Also, the championship team in the men's masters grouping will win $7,000. Martin added organizers are waiting to see how many clubs will enter the women's masters grouping before deciding the prize purse for this division.
Tony Alexis, an Alberta board member of the Canadian Native Fastball Association, said the elder Martin has performed his duties rather well since stepping up after his son's death.
"I know Dean has done an amazing job with the event, dedicating the event and this year to his son," Alexis said. "There is a fellowship of friends and family who are doing the same to support Dean."
And Alexis believes the 2012 edition of the tournament will be a special one.
"The Canadians looks like it will be a very successful event, one to remember including a special remembrance for our ball friend Randy Martin," he said.