Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future: Ladies of the Park an Integral Part of Baycats
BARRIE - When members and fans of other organizations ask how the Barrie Baycats have been so successful over the years, the correct answer, of course, is the players.
But off the field, the Baycats have been just as successful and that is because of their dedicated volunteer base that shows up to games hours before they start in order to maximize the fan experience.
Exhibit A? Viv Faulkner, Sandy Joy, and Catherine Kenwell.
The trio can be seen at Baycats home games selling programs, selling merchandise, and running the inning prize winners up to the Baycats press box with regularity.
And in the case of Faulkner, she has been doing it since day one.
She recalls how she became a part of the inaugural Baycats quite well.
"My husband [and Baycats volunteer] Dave and I are big baseball fans. The [Toronto] Blue Jays were the team to see but the cost of the games made it difficult to justify going.
"I saw a small ad in the newspaper -- I think it was the Barrie Advance -- and in it announced that Barrie was putting together a baseball team to play in the Intercounty League [IBL] and were looking for volunteers and sponsors.
"I answered the ad and a date was set to meet at the complex. [Baycats vice-president] Paul Marley was the person I spoke to initially over the phone and after the first meeting, we were sold. It was such an exciting time to be part of a new baseball team.
"I really wasn't sure what position I would be as a volunteer. In the next meeting, I was introduced to Bea Weekes. She was in charge of merchandise and I was asked by her if I would like to help with the merchandise."
Soon after, Joy joined the franchise.
"I became a volunteer after a couple of years of coming to watch the Baycats play," said Joy. "My daughter’s boyfriend --now husband -- at the time volunteered with the team by doing the music.
"In 2006, there had been an announcement about volunteering at one of the games, and my daughter and I signed up with Viv. We started working at the gate.
"My daughter stopped once she had her first baby, but I was deeply entrenched in the Baycat’s organization and family atmosphere by that time."
For Faulkner, it did not take long for her volunteer experience to become a memorable one.
She said for as great as the last six years have been, seeing the Baycats win their first championship in 2005 will always be her highlight.
"My favourite first memory was the first championship win," recalled Faulkner. "We had a celebration after the game at the Penalty Box Pub. The excitement as each player walked in was amazing."
Joy shared her memory of the 2005 championship win as well but said seeing the Baycats end their slump in 2014 is her highlight.
"While I loved seeing the Baycats win in 2005, the 2014 championship has to go down as the favourite memory because they had been to the championship series so many times -- especially against Brantford -- and they beat them moving to the final series against London.
"I am going to say though that the 2019 championship is also a top memory because 'we' tied Brantford for the IBL record of most consecutive championship wins in a row at six."
Off the field, though, is where their memories truly lay.
Faulker and Joy said they have been an incredible relationship over the years and it took off after Kenwell starting volunteering with the team in 2016.
Kenwell - the daughter of Jack, who has been a Baycats volunteer since day one -- recalled in a recent interview how she became a volunteer.
"My parents had volunteered with the Baycats from day one, so I was familiar with the organization.
"Although I lived in Toronto, I'd go to games when my husband and I would come up to visit and I also attended Baycats and [Toronto Maple] Leafs games at Christie Pits -- cheering for the 'Cats, of course.
"When my Mom passed away in early 2015, my Dad continued volunteering, but over the course of the year, he became quite ill. I was spending a lot of time with my Dad, and eventually, my husband suggested we move to Barrie to be closer to him which we did, in December 2015. I signed up to volunteer immediately.
"I didn't know what I'd be doing but I looked forward to both the games and the father and daughter time."
Known as the 'Ladies of the Park,' the Baycats trio never thought they would develop lifelong friendships from doing this.
Joy said she only started volunteering because she wanted to give back to her community.
"I have been a volunteer since I was 16 years old," recalled Joy. "I love volunteering because it is good for my soul. It fills my soul to give back. It is just a part of who I am and the person I want to be.
"I love baseball and the Baycats and it was and just a great opportunity.
" I love that the Baycats are a non-profit organization and give to our community. Volunteering with the organization is a way for me to give to my community too."
But lifelong friendships they did develop and the Ladies of the Park aren't complaining about it.
"My friendship with Viv and Catherine has grown exponentially," said Joy. We started out as co-volunteers which has grown to become friends and sisters. It is like coming home every time I go to the park.
"We get each other’s humour, we have special looks for each other that only sisters have, we support one another through life’s ups and downs, and we are strong for each other when needed.
"One very special memory happened last August. There was a game on my birthday and Viv surprised me with gluten-free treats at the merchandise booth. I was so touched.
"But later on that evening, she surprised me with a special cream cheesecake for one and sang happy birthday. While she didn’t know it, this was the first cake that I had had on my birthday in several years. My tears were from joy. My heart was touched more than she will ever know."
Faulkner concluded by saying she shares the exact same sentiment.
"Viv, Sandy, and I have a blast together. We keep in pretty close contact through the offseason, too, and we care and look out for each other. We're the fun 'Ladies of the Park' even when we're not 'in uniform'.
"In fact, I've been reflecting about the last time we got together for lunch, I think it was in early December. We were counting the days until Opening Day and thought we'd try to see each other again before the opener.
"But then COVID-19 hit, and now I really can't wait until we get to see each other again."
Up next week in our "Baycats 20/20 Vision: The Past, Present, and Future," former Baycat Paul Spoljaric reflects on his time with the Baycats.
To read and watch our entire series, click here.
For more information, follow the Baycats on Facebook and Twitter at @iblbaycats and on Instagram at @barriebaycats.
Photo: Brian Backland/Brian Backland Photography