By Jennifer Thurbide
There was a time in our district’s history when fastball was played competitively by all ages, evening games would draw large crowds and Ron Buckler was seen on the mound with a rise-ball that could stump some of the best hitters in the business.
Later this spring, Buckler will be honoured for his contribution to the sport as a former member of the Manitoba Masters Fastball team by being inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Wife Diane says she was notified recently the organization would be holding a ceremony in Winnipeg this May to induct the team that husband Ron pitched for in 1984 and 1987.
“I am very, very proud of my husband. He deserves the recognition. He did so much for ball in this area alone. I am very proud of him. I wish he was here to celebrate it.”
Almost a dozen family members will make the trek to Winnipeg to celebrate the honour, says Diane who reports she will be travelling with a special item for the ceremony.
She still has in her possession a pair of cleats which were tailored to her famous husband. Diane says Ron would dig in for a pitch so hard he wore through the toe of a number of canvas shoes and the special pair was customized with a steel-plated toe to take the impact.
In the early 2000’s Buckler was nominated by friends and teammates for the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. At the time, letters of support were gathered including one from Ron Westcott who at the time was the Manitoba Masters Softball Manager.
“Ron was not only a great pitcher, he was a great team leader,” wrote Westcott in 2002 of Buckler. “He was a fierce competitor on the mound but on the bench, he inspired his teammates with his easy-going confident and ‘sportsmanship’ character. Ron was the ‘gentle giant’ of softball and was admired both by the players and the fans.”
The nomination was unsuccessful, which Michele Alderton says was “their loss”. Alderton, who spearheaded an initiative to recognize the accomplishments of local fastball players at the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre, says the recognition of one of our most famous ball player is long due.
“In 2009, when the Heritage Centre organized the exhibition honouring Ron’s contributions, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him and his former teammates,” said Alderton earlier this week. “What I learned during these interviews was that Ron left a very positive legacy of sportsmanship in Red Lake, one that continues to this day. I was absolutely delighted to learn that he will be inducted into the Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame. What an honour for his family and for Red Lake!”
Buckler told The Northern Sun News in 2008 he had fond memories of a time when the district was filled with ball players supporting teams in each community. Talented players were recruited to the area with the promise of jobs and cash prize tournaments offered significant financial payouts. At the time he said one of his top achievements had been pitching for the Winnipeg Molson Canadians in the 1968 Canadian Championship held in St. Catherines that year.
The Manitoba Men’s Masters, which featured a roster of Manitoba all-stars including Buckler, won two Gold, one Silver and one Bronze in four years of play at the Western Canadian Men’s Twi-Lite Fastball Championships. The Inductees announcement from mid-January called this an unusual accomplishment “in a tournament with such high levels of talent, skill and softball sense, where one or two runs usually determine the score, where team chemistry needs to jell quickly, strongly, supportively.”