Inner City Sluggers Slo-Pitch Tournament Team 2019. Rebecca Kaiser
A sharp metallic tink rattles off into the distance as one of our players hits the ball over the infield players’ heads. The reflector green slo-pitch ball drops between two outfielders, perfectly placed. Players in the pit, and fans in the stands, scream out orders of motivation at the surprised batter as she runs for first base.
The team is in Morinville for the annual slo-pitch tournament, wrapping up our season. We haven’t won a game yet, and we ate too much at lunch, but we’re laughing, covered in dirt, and enjoying ourselves. The Morinville Skyline Diamonds are a contrast to the usual backdrop of glass towers and lush greenery of Edmonton’s River Valley at Diamond Park, the team’s usual home. The Inner City Sluggers is a McCauley/Boyle Street area team made up of individuals who find themselves a part of the communities at centres like The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre, and Boyle Street Community Services. They come from all walks of life. Some are frequent travellers with life adventures worthy of novels. Some are recovering from trauma or addiction. Some have chronic injuries that keep them from work. Others have been displaced from their homes. Some team members were street-involved youth but are now parents, seeking outlets to stay on the straight and narrow, engage their families, and seize opportunities to grow. Some community members serve time, knowing that the team will be here waiting upon their release.
This is the team’s 11th season playing in the Edmonton Lutheran Mixed Slo-Pitch League, made up of a community of church groups who have stood with us during our most foul-mouthed melt-downs, supported us in times of loss, and celebrated with us in times of growth. Other teams in the league have acted as our rulebook, our fill-ins, our schedule reminders, our rivals, and our coaches, but this year a few of our own have stepped up to the plate to bring the I.C. Sluggers from a discombobulated inner city drop-in recreational team to a unified core of committed, supportive, loving, and cursing community – and we aren’t bad ball players either!
One of our players is a mom who brings her kids and husband to every practice and every game, making it a true family affair. She, along with a few knowledgeable players, share their expertise, coaching the team together with realism, sass, and a collaborative approach to leadership. Their authenticity has captivated a team facing barriers to inclusion in any other sporting atmosphere. Who better to run a team of inner city community members then someone who truly understands their experiences? These mentors haven’t just helped organize and motivate the team – their nurturing qualities have created a sense of wrap-around support that players know they can count on if they are struggling with challenges in their lives.
What happened with the I.C. Sluggers this past summer was a win for community-driven activities that promote physical and emotional health for all involved, and is a template for what we try to accomplish with the Inner City Recreation and Wellness Program year-round. As a community worker in Edmonton’s inner city, I have found that it’s never been about leading – it’s been about providing access to opportunities for others to realize their capacity to make a difference in their own community.
The team has never been a place to take out frustrations on others, but it has always been a place where we have people take the time to think, “Hey, maybe they are frustrated because they are going through something themselves?” We come together to provide a supportive environment where frontline staff and community members are sensitive to one another’s needs, pain, effort, and realness.
This team has come far in the last year. On the night of our last practice before our year-end tournament, we showed up to find that another team had scheduled a make-up game at the same diamond. Instead of letting this throw us off our game or causing them to cancel their makeup, we swiftly moved onto the next closest diamond. The team didn’t mind. They just breathed in flexibility and kindness. They really have come to shine like diamonds in the rough.
Rebecca Kaiser is a Program Coordinator with ICRWP.