Former CFL greats step up for great cause

There’s nothing better than spending a summer night down at Great Chief Park.

It’s even better when you’re watching a group of former Canadian Football League greats playing softball, goofing around, and raising money for prostate cancer research.

That was the scene Friday night as close to 175 people took in the Celebrity Slo-Pitch game, featuring the CFL Alumni All-Stars taking on the BIG105/106.7 The Drive Media All-Stars.

I had the honour of handling announcing duties for the game, which was probably for the best, since the last time I took part in a charity softball game, I had more whiffs than hits, and left the diamond with ice packs on both shoulders.

From my precarious perch atop the bleachers at Great Chief, I got to watch a CFL roster that included the likes of PeeWee Smith, Rocco Romano and Jackie Kellogg jump out to a 9-0 over the Media crew, eventually winning the nine inning game 16-4.

The crowd, which ranged in age from newborn to 90, loved every minute of it, and was especially entertained by the antics of former Edmonton Eskimo linebacker Willie Pless.

Early in the game, Claude Scott, the jester charged with distracting the players from hitting the ball, kept referring to Pless as PeeWee, obviously confusing him with the former Calgary Stampeder receiver.

Pless, bat in hand, turned to Scott and said “It’s Wil-leeeeee, not PeeWee. He’s the other black guy!”

The crowd howled, and the CFL Hall of Famer didn’t stop there.

After knocking one out of the park, Pless crossed home plate, turned to the crowd, and said through his mile wide smile, “You guys wanna see a replay?”

Of course they did!

So he ran backwards, in slow motion, from home plate to third base, then onto second before heading back to the dugout as the crowd cheered.

Another highlight of the game for me was the man who organized the entire event, Jimmy Mann.

For those who take in the annual Old Timers Hockey Challenge that happens at the Enmax Centrium every March, Mann should be a familiar face.

The former Winnipeg Jet was the “Team Manager” for the slo-pitch event, and sat beside me through the entire game.

At one point, as the teams were switching from offense to defense, Mann threw 106.7 The Drive over the loud speakers, and Freewill by Rush was the song that was playing.

Mann turned to me and said, “I love Styx. They are just so good. You might be too young to remember them, but they were great. Great song.”

Not knowing how to respond, I said “Uh, Jimmy, that’s not Styx. That’s Geddy Lee and Rush.”

He said that no, he was pretty sure it was Styx.

Now, my father was a rock radio DJ, and his 2,000 plus record collection was one that I listened to many times during my formative years.

I knew the song on the radio was Rush.

But when you’re arguing with someone who was known through out his NHL career as a fighter, you tend to air on the side of caution.

Remember, in Mann’s rookie season with the Jets, he lead the NHL in penalty minutes with 287, so in this instance, I let him win the argument, despite the fact I knew that he was wrong and I was right.

My jawbone thanked me after the game!

And even though the alumni put up 12 more runs than the media, at the end of the day, it wasn’t the score that mattered.

It was more about raising money and awareness for prostate cancer and the work that the Canadian Cancer Society does here in Red Deer.

Before the game, CCS rep Nancy Kumm was presented with a cheque for $2,500 from BIG105 Promotions Director Karmen Early, with that money coming from ticket and program sales.

All in all, it was a great event for a great cause, and showed me, once again, the generous spirit that calls Red Deer home.