Humble pitch in 1937 leads to city’s love affair with baseball
THE sport of baseball and the city of Lismore have enjoyed a long history together.
This is Far North Coast Baseball’s 80th year – a remarkable achievement stemming from humble beginnings in 1937 when two teams assembled on Saturday afternoons on what is now Blair Oval.
By the middle of the 1990s, the game had reached its peak with more than 100 teams competing in five senior and six junior age divisions.
Albert Park, the home of FNC Baseball, has grown to include four full-sized, fully enclosed diamonds (with senior level lighting on two of them) and earned the reputation as one of the finest tournament and training camp facilities in Australia.
Visiting teams – and there have been hundreds over the past three decades in particular – repeatedly express their envy of the facilities.
From local tournaments right up to international clashes, Albert Park has hosted more than 50 important events in the past 25 years.
The economic benefit to the local community cannot be ignored.
Visitors to the region have injected millions of dollars into Lismore and district businesses, and this trend looks likely to continue.
In 1924, Lismore High School principal Mr Harvey attempted to introduce baseball to Lismore.
His efforts were in vain, with little interest being shown.
It wasn’t until 1937, when an aspiring right-handed pitcher named Laurie Thew moved to Lismore from Sydney, that the game had its beginnings.
Laurie Thew was tireless in pushing young men to try the game and soon there were teams being organised in Lismore, Casino and Kyogle.
Games were played between two teams on Rec 3 (Blair Oval) and within 12 months challenges were issued to teams in Queensland and the first representative games were played.
Laurie Thew’s efforts in starting those early games earned him the title “Father of Baseball” on the Far North Coast.
The budding association was forced into recess by the advent of World War II but Thew called a meeting in1947 to revive the sport and, to begin with, 12 men began training.
They were Thew, Allan Smith, Reg Baxter, Les Mikkelson, Tom Redford, Tom Wallbank, Bob Hatt, Laurie Hatt, J Johnson, C Tracey, I Dunn and E Gay.
They were soon joined by others and a two-team Saturday afternoon competition resulted.
Games were hotly contested and soon a team was selected to meet a Queensland line-up in Brisbane.
The FNC team was confronted by a team comprised mainly of expatriate Americans who had settled in Brisbane after the war.
Queensland won all the games but, undeterred, Thew entered FNC in the NSW Baseball Country Week series.
Success again eluded the local team but the long and expensive travel involved did prompt FNC to plan to affiliate with Queensland.
While the Australian Baseball Federation was considering FNC’s application to join the state association to its north, pitcher Allan Smith became the first FNC player to be selected to represent Queensland in the Claxton Shield – the symbol of baseball supremacy among the states.
When Smith arrived in Adelaide to take his place in the Queensland team, he was told he was ineligible; that the federation would not consider FNC’s affiliation request until the Claxton Shield that year had been completed.
The following year (after FNC’s entry into Queensland Baseball had been approved), a young Reg Baxter joined Smith in the Claxton Shield team.
Some years later, FNC was able to boast six players being selected to represent the Maroons.
In 1947 the Norths Baseball Club was formed, the first club and one that remains active to this day.
Its guiding influence in those days was Lismore legend Reg Baxter.
Up until his death in recent years, Reg Baxter and Norths were as natural a combination as bat and ball.
His wife Pam, sons Geoff, Warren and Robert and daughter Kerry have been vital leaders and supporters of the club Reg helped form.
Cricketers from the Marist Brothers club gathered before the war to enjoy the game, leading to Brothers Baseball Club being established in 1948 and playing its first games in 1949.
One of the original teams from 1938, Cubs, later became Eastern Districts (now Easts Redbirds) in 1948 after the FNC association went to districts.
In 1963, Workers Club joined the association and, together, these four clubs have made up the core of FNC Baseball ever since – an unbroken sequence of 52 seasons.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, baseball was played by a slowly growing band of enthusiastic players who came from all the towns and villages of the area.
Junior teams from the then four high schools in Lismore (Lismore High, Marist Brothers, Richmond River and Woodlawn) and softball players from almost every primary school fed into the senior ranks as their age and ability allowed.
FNC visited Brisbane in alternate years to compete for the Cohen Cup and press coverage in the local area gave added exposure to the sport.
The winter season games were mostly played on Rec 2 (now Crozier Field) and Rec 3 (Blair Oval) but as the sport grew in popularity, the dual use of these fields (cricket grounds in summer) put pressure on FNC Baseball to find a dedicated facility.
In 1965, Lismore City Council offered the land now called Albert Park to the baseball association. But change is often difficult and, amid some strong debates, it was claimed that the fields would be “too far out of town”.
Fortunately, the leaders of the association pressed ahead and after humble beginnings developed Albert Park into a suitable field.