Twenty years ago to the day, Greater Trail wrapped up arguably the most prestigious and memorable event in its sporting history – the Babe Ruth World Series. This is the last of a three-part series in which the Trail Times revisits the tournament that ran from Aug. 19-26, 1995; highlighting its evolution, its players, and those that made the event possible.
Trail’s build up and preparation for the Babe Ruth age 16-18 World Series was a massive effort, but when players finally hit the Butler Park diamond it was all business as the Trail Jays began their run at a World Series title.
Ten teams, including the first invitational team from Tsukui, Japan, competed in the World Series. Teams from Stamford, Conn., Delaware, PA., Newark, Ohio, Omaha, Neb., Nederland, Tex., Sarasota, Fla., San Luis Obispo, CA., and Vancouver, Wash., rounded out the field.
“At that age, you’re playing the best from each region, and it was really good baseball,” said D. J. Ashman, outfielder for the Trail Jays ‘95 squad. “We’d obviously played growing up in (age) 14-15 teams and then when we were 16, we played some tough teams in the Regionals, but the World Series are just that much better.”
Most of Trail’s ‘95 team had played ball together since they were kids. Many played on the Trail Little League team that won the nationals and went to the 1990 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The ‘95 Trail Eagles, as they were known then, played in the Washington State American Legion League and had just won their first district championship and finished third at State to qualify for the American Legion World Series.
“It was almost identical to the Little League World Series team . . . the good core was definitely still there from Little League and if you’re successful at one age, you end up kind of doing the same thing,” said Ashman, now a longtime coach of Trail Little League.
On the way to the District championship, the team suffered a crucial loss when a young Jason Bay injured his ankle and was lost for the World Series. Nevertheless, good news soon followed when Trail learned that Todd Thompson and Matt Mason would be available to play, and would return from Team Canada’s Youth team that lost at the World Youth Baseball championship in Massachusetts.
The transformation from the Trail Eagles to the Jays was complete when the Toronto Blue Jays helped outfit the team with new Trail Jays uniforms.
Then, after legendary Yankees third baseman and American League president Dr. Bobby Brown and B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt threw out the first pitch at the Opening Ceremony, the Jays were finally ready to “Play Ball!”
The team was led by coach and San Francisco Giant draft pick, Jim Wasem of Spokane, and assistants Jason Startup and David Colquhoun of Fruitvale. Wasem had coached the Eagles for the past two years and was all-too familiar with their winning tradition.
“It’s a good group of kids, they’ve come a long way from the Little League World Series that most of them went to,” Wasem told the Times. “These guys expect to win every game and they expect to win every championship.”
Winning is precisely how the Jays started the tournament, defeating the Japanese team 12-4 in their first match Saturday, and beating Nederland, Texas on Sunday 3-1.
The experience of playing in front of a more-than-packed house, was overwhelming for the players.
“Obviously none of us had played in front of 7,500 people before,” said Ashman. “I just remember it was almost like you weren’t playing baseball, because there were so many things going on, and the stands in right field went up 50 rows, and around the park they brought bleachers in on scaffolding that went all the way around the park except left field so it was like you were playing at a minor league baseball field.”
The Trail team’s luck would turn and in the next game the Jays would be knocked down to the loser’s bracket after a 5-3 loss to Sarasota, Fla. They would next face elimination in a game against Delaware in the double-knockout tournament format. In a classic pitcher’s duel, the score remained 0-0 until the seventh when David Caron’s walk off single would score Darrin McCarthy to give Trail a 1-0 victory in front of a frenzied crowd of 6,312 fans.
“Just having the fans behind you is just one of those feeling I’m probably never going to have in my life again, it was awesome,” said Ashman. “It was basically a once in a lifetime thing.”
San Luis Obispo meanwhile had defeated Nederland, Tex. in a wild 8-1 game highlighted by a bench clearing brawl in the fifth inning that saw the Nederland catcher get run over for a second time by a California player. The win would set up an elimination match up with Trail.
In that semi-final qualifying match, Ashman would send Trail’s hopes soaring when he launched a two-run homerun to give the Jays a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Yet, San Luis Obispo would battle back and win it 7-6 to eliminate Trail from the World Series.
The Vancouver, Wash. Team, meanwhile, rolled through the series going undefeated and beating San Luis Obispo 6-1 in the final to capture its second World Series title in four years.
Despite the Trail loss, the Babe Ruth World Series was not only a defining moment in Trail sporting history, but it helped local talent move onto bigger and better things.
“To put it in perspective,” said Ashman. “I think our whole starting nine ended up playing college baseball of some sort. If I went around the diamond, everybody played: Matt Mason, Mark Profili, me, Todd Thompson, Darren McCarthy, Dave Caron, Jeff Sell, Dave Profili, and (Jason) Bay was on the team but he was hurt.”
The ‘95 Babe Ruth World Series may have had its problems and still some detractors, but for a small town in southern B.C. to host a world class event, in world class style, and to have as its legacy, not just a state of the art baseball Park, but, more, the people who continue to give back to Trail sports and the community they love – well that’s just priceless.
“We seen the bleachers going up, it was just crazy seeing all that stuff going on,” added Ashman. “I don’t know how they pulled it off. It was one of those things that was just ridiculous, but you know what? I wish we could do it again to be honest.”