MONTREAL — They were all stand-up comics, these guys now in their 60s and 70s, zinging each other with wit, nostalgia and a deep and abiding affection at a recent, long-anticipated first reunion of the now defunct Cote Saint-Luc (CSL) Slo Pitch Association.
“I wasn’t strong enough to play in this league,” deadpanned baseball man Johnny Elias, the only one in the room who did try his hand at pro ball, to much laughter at the CSL Aquatic and Community Centre.
The event, co-chaired by league alumni Roy Salomon and Mish Granik with the help of an organizing committee, came together after the two chairs decided to go forward with it at the Snowdon Y, where both work out regularly.
The event drew about 60 former players and coaches, with the venue made available through the efforts of CSL sports and facilities manager Harold Cammy.
The former leaguers munched on snacks, sipped wine out of plastic glasses, ate a buffet supper on paper plates and revelled in nostalgia, mutual teasing and all-round bonhomie.
They reminisced about the glory days of a softball league that lasted more than 40 years starting in the mid-1950s (although the reunion was for those in the league up to 1972), where virtually every player was Jewish, and where competition and spirit were fierce but real and valued friendships took root and prevailed.
Committee member Lionel Segal handed out sticky paper badges with names on them – just in case some people failed to recognize each other, he explained with a laugh. Most of the former leaguers seemed as fit as ever, if greyer and paunchier, and one or two used a cane or walker.
“I joined the police team. It was called Cops and Rabbis,” joked shortstop Rabbi Sidney Shoham, rabbi emeritus at Beth Zion Congregation and, at one time, like many of the players, a real slugger.
For Salomon, a great all-round sportsman who batted .300 in the league and was also a great basketball player, the Slo Pitch Association, for a young American moving to the city not knowing anybody, was a place where he would find the athletic competition he loved, as well as companionship and camaraderie.
“We played very hard, very competitively, but we were all great friends,” Salomon told the crowd.
Certain teams in the six-team league – like the Internationals and Camp Hiawatha – seemed to dominate over the 21-games seasons. The league initially played at a park across from Beth Zion before moving on to Wentworth – now Kirwan – Park.
But the league was also a serious one. Granik ended up representing CSL at a world championship tournament in Toledo, Ohio, as did Salomon. Some of the teams – like Delly Boys – were named for the enterprises that sponsored them.
Granik, a batting champ and great fielder who competed for eight seasons and had a lifetime batting average of .400, told The CJN that the league was the oldest Slo Pitch League in North America.
Many in the league became prominent community and business figures in their own right. Sam Eltes owns one of the city’s most successful automobile dealership, Silver Star Mercedes. Salomon managed Cavendish Mall. For 36 years, Eddie Steinman operated the Montreal Expos scoreboard. Mark Merson owns Merson Tires. Amos Sochaczevski became a successful developer. The late Eric Helfield became a lawyer and CSL city councillor. And on and on.
The only really serious moment at the event was a silent pause for those who had died, among them Helfield, Peter Isenman and Larry Fredericks, a member of the slo pitch reunion committee who died in September.
Ultimately though, league alumnus Stanley Diamond may have said it best when summing up what the league meant to him: “You cherish those moments,” he said. “They’re part of you forever.”