PBL Profile: Neil Anderson
Posted April 1, 2020
“You have to get Neil Anderson to fill this out!” It was a response by a couple of players who had participated in our PBL Player Profiles previously becasue Neil would have some great stories, on and off the field. Neil did not disappoint in his PBL Player Profile.
Neil found himself joining the PBL in the middle of the 1990 rivalry between the Ryley Rebels and Tofield Lakers. It was one of the greatest rivalries that the PBL has seen in it’s eighty plus years, and Neil was smack dab in the middle of it. A trio of teams emerged in the 1990s that would create local rivalries and some of the most memorable PBL Playoff series between the Lakers, the Rebels and the Bardo Athletics.
I have read Neil’s story about three times now. The stories are fantastic and truly encompass what the PBL and rural baseball was and it is told through the eyes of someone who is passionate about the game of baseball and who embraced the rural culture of the league. Neil’s story also shows us that baseball is a game that means more than just the play between foul lines. Even at a level of baseball like the PBL, there is something special about being able to head out to a baseball field in the spring/summer with a group of ball players. The stories on the field and off the field are why many of us have played and continue to play in the PBL.
1994 Tofield Lakers (Bardo Sports Day)
What was your baseball background prior to playing in the PBL?
I grew up in the States (mostly Dallas, TX and Syracuse, NY area) playing intense little league with some success. I was an outfielder when the coach asked me to throw a couple from the mound, which I did. He said, “you’re now a pitcher”. At 14 I was voted to the leagues 16U all-star team. The next year we moved to Canada and I didn’t play ball again for 19 years.
When did you start playing the Powerline Baseball League?
I joined the Tofield Lakers in 1993 at age 33 after an invitation from Greg Litwin. I played for the Lakers for 10 years, then another 2 years with the Brewers, then moved to Belgium for work in 2006. In 2008 (or thereabouts), I joined the team at Kindersley for the weekend during a work break. For the past 2 years, I’ve played with the Battle River A’s tournament team.
What are the teams that you have played in the Powerline Baseball League during your career?
Tofield Lakers, the Brewers, and now the Battle River A’s tournament team.
Do you remember your first game in the Powerline Baseball League?
Yes, my first game was with the Lakers vs Viking in Viking. We arranged for about 6 of us to ride to Viking in Cy Smith’s van. They told me to bring a lawn chair – I didn’t know why – were there no dugouts in Viking? Turns out, Cy’s van was a cargo van with no windows and only 2 front bucket seats. We sat in the back on lawn chairs.
What was that first year of Powerline Baseball League baseball like for you?
1993 was very exciting – I had forgotten how much I loved baseball. From then on, my entire schedule wrapped around the PBL – I don’t recall missing a single game. The big surprise to me was the talent, we were in the middle of nowhere and here’s all these incredibly talented all-stars.
Meathead (aka Meat or Dave Carlson) asked me if I pitched, I told him I used to – about 20 years ago. He asked, “do you think you can find the strike zone again”, I thought, “why not?” Ha, I couldn’t; I became known for hitting batters. Once I hit the same guy 3 times in one game – he was not happy about the 3rd time. The last time I took the mound was for the Brewers, we were playing against Tofield. I took the ball after the throw-around to start the inning and looked at the plate – there was Kenny Parent up to bat dressed in full catcher’s gear. I’m pretty sure I hit him too but it wasn’t on purpose.
How did the Powerline Baseball League change during your years in the league?
The first year with the Lakers was crowded, we had a lot of young players, a lot of grizzled vets, and me – trying to find my way back into baseball. The young guys (Mike LeClair, Reed Hendrickson, Gary Yurkoski, Rob Berrecloth, and Jeff van Engelen, to name a few) didn’t play much but they never missed a practice and showed a very good attitude despite having to sit a lot. The next year they moved to Bardo to continue the baseball tradition out there. I seem to remember that baseball had been played in Bardo for 97 or 98 years, they wanted to get to 100. I always admired those kids for doing that. Eventually, and sooner than expected, they became the backbone of that franchise for many years and formed a very healthy rivalry with the Lakers (they wanted to beat us bad, and who could blame them). It was great to see them grow, it wasn’t long before they were beating the Lakers.
That first year I sort of stole Gerald’s job at second base (I can’t remember Gerald’s last name), and he was not happy (I wouldn’t have been either). The next year he and his buddy Terry became umpires. And, they were great umpires for many years. I hope they are still doing that.
The years changed the power hierarchy of the league amongst teams. During my early years, it was Tofield and Ryley (but mostly Ryley – how can you beat a team with Donny Oslund and Ray Lehman?), then Bardo became strong, then Armena, then Camrose. It was sad to see Holden, Lamont, Chipman, and Viking fold, but others stepped up to see the league continue – including a Holden reappearance.
The Battle River A's
Is there a specific game or games that come to mind as being memorable for you during your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
Every game, but especially those early games with Ryley. I remember one when a Laker (whose name shall remain silent) hit a homerun off Donny Oslund, then trotted slowly around the bases pumping his fist. The next time up Donny hit him right in the ribs with a fast ball. Wait, what? Donny was the nicest guy in the world, was it Ray Lehman that called it, but he was also the nicest guy in the world? There were some words coming out of our dugout at the time but there were also a few smirks we were trying to hide. I thought to myself “don’t ever do that”. Even though I always tried to respect the game it was good to get an occasional reminder.
Was there a pitcher in the Powerline Baseball League that you perhaps dreaded facing or just had your number for some reason?
No doubt here – Donny Oslund. Before facing him, I’d try to get to the batting cages in South Edmonton and get into the 100mph lane (I know it wasn’t 100, it just felt like it). That made it seem like Donny was hittable – but that never happened. At the same time, I never faced a pitcher where I was overly confident, so all I tried to do was make contact. I struck out infrequently, which was a sense of pride for me, but I rarely hit a homerun. A few times in my career though the team put me as clean-up because I made contact and drove some runs in. Hitting clean-up didn’t last too long but it was cool for a while.
Was there a particular hitter that you had a tough time getting out?
I didn’t pitch very often because of my control issues, but when I did Ray Lehman and Pat Kawlilak (RIP Pat) were very tough outs – they hit everything and anything.
How would you describe the difference between the regular season and those best of three series in the playoffs?
Playoffs were everything. I remember playing in the field thinking I’m going straight through that fence if a ball is hit over there. One time I took a bad hop to my head, it hit so hard that the baseball stitches were embedded into my forehead – it literally looked like I just had 7-8 medical stitches removed. By the end of the game my eye was swollen shut but I didn’t miss an at-bat – too important.
What was the most memorable playoff run like?
One Championship, with the Lakers, over the dreaded Ryley Rebels. I remember the final out – a ground ball to Allen Miskew (the best 3rd baseman in the league), over to me at second for the force (and final) out. I still remember the sound and the force of the ball – what a great memory. Of course, we went nuts eventually ending up at the Tofield Hotel where we celebrated until they kicked us out.
Was there a particular rivalry that you were involved in that was memorable and why was it so memorable?
Those damned Ryley Rebels. I think it was more intense for us because we were the underdogs – the champs don’t care.
Are there any stories that you have heard, seen yourself or know about that would be great to share with the community?
Milt Malik. I swear that man is made from a piece of leather. They gave him an award for playing at Kindersley for 25 years in a row. In his early career, he never wore shin pads or a chest protector, some of us suspected that he never wore a cup either. But, as with a lot of tough guys, Milt had a heart of gold. Him and Marie always let me stay in their camper in Kindersley, Marie’s percolated coffee was the best coffee ever.
What was your favourite baseball field to play on and what were some endearing features of that field that made it your favourite?
I loved the Small-Town Triangle of ball diamonds – Tofield, Bardo, and Ryley. Each one was maintained by the home team – there was a lot of pride shown in those diamonds and we saw each team lobby the town and local folk for support. What the kids did in Bardo was incredible – that diamond took shape under their care. And, hurray for Mike LeClaire for getting beer onto the grounds.
Were there any memorable moments that have stuck with you about those PBL tournaments?
I loved July 1 with the Lakers, especially the early years. We gave out quarters for foul balls, had an announcer’s booth for play-by-play (even read out paid advertisements), and a dance which we shared responsibility and profit with the Triggers. One year I drew the last shift as bartender, that was the year it snowed 4 inches after the Saturday games. Greg Litwin (he’s going to kill me for this story) had the shift earlier than mine and my car was at home. So, he gave me the keys to his truck and told me to drive it home. Which normally would have been a grand gesture, however, halfway home it ran out of gas. 3am at night, cold and snowing. I searched for a spare gas tank – nothing. After walking a few km’s, Reed Hendrickson and Gary Yurkoski drove up in a tiny pickup truck and asked if I needed a ride – I said sure and opened the door. Too bad for me, there were 2 girls in there too – so in the back I went. I still remember riding in the frozen night sitting on a wet spare tire in the back of that little truck until they dropped me off. Greg felt terrible but it was worth the memory.
If you ever spent time in Powerline Baseball League meetings or in the League Executive, could you tell us a little about that and what the experience was like?
I never did serve on the executive but I was always grateful for the people who did. The PBL would have fallen flat without the help of the executive and managers such as Rob Gillrie, Ken Parent, Meathead, Mike LeClair, Jason Buzzel, Milt Malik, Scot Peterson, to name a few. Shout out to the baseball families of the past as well – the Williams’, the Stauffer’s, the Rude’s, etc…
How has baseball remained a part of your life after your Powerline Baseball League playing days and what is in store for you in the future?
In 2009, I separated my throwing shoulder playing hockey in Belgium – I couldn’t throw a ball for 7 years. Then, by chance, I was invited to play a slow pitch game in 2016, and although it wasn’t 100% I was surprised that I could throw again. A few months after that though (Aug 2016) tragedy struck our family. My only son Brandon passed away in a fatal car accident while working in Fort McMurray. He was 25 years old and is still greatly missed – life has never been the same since – obviously. Baseball was an early part of our family as I coached Brandon’s little league ball team in Holden; he was a very good player.
Brandon - age 25
I was a mess for 2 years, I struggled to get myself back and forth to work and did little else. Then, out of the blue (and nobody can tell me this was anything but someone looking out for me), Ray Lehman called me. He said they were putting a tournament team together to go to Nationals in Prince Edward Island later that year – he wanted to know if I’d come. I didn’t tell Ray at the time what I had been going through, I only told him I’d love to be part of the team. I was rusty that year and the team went 0-4 in PEI (it wasn’t totally my fault) but it was a great experience with some incredible people (the Battle River A’s and all the support families). This year we went undefeated in the round robin and lost in the finals to Ontario – quite a turn around. Next year’s Championship is in Ontario and I’m looking forward to it already.
Jenna, Neil, Erin
Here’s a picture of me with 2 of my daughters after the final game (Jenna and Erin) this year in Airdrie. Yes, they are both single but you have to come through me first. Also, no lifelong baseball player exists without a supportive wife, mine is Carol. If you don’t have one of those then you need to trade up. One of my earliest Laker memories was Danielle (oldest daughter) and Brandon (4 and 3 years old) had their little fingers in the backstop yelling “go daddy!” and watching Carol run up to save their fingers.
Please feel free to share any other details or stories that you would like regarding your time playing in the Powerline Baseball League.
It’s baseball, a sport like no other – but it’s the players that make it great.
I am thankful to Greg Litwin for inviting me out to the Lakers in the first place, and it was always good to come up throwing to a sure handed 8-foot tall first baseman.
The early Lakers were a great bunch of guys – Allan Miskew, Donny Hendricks, Rob Gillrie, Greg Litwin, Dave Bouma, Ken Parent, Meathead, Danny Lyle, Cy Smith, Jack Kallal, Gerald, the Bardo Kids, Jimmy, Glenn, Dave Berrecloth, and likely a few others I can’t recall.
And now, I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys to play ball with than the Battle River A’s. Our trips to the Nationals (PEI, and Airdrie) have been incredibly memorable. It’s also been good to catch up with some players from yesteryear – the Banak brothers (Josh and Eldon), Ryan Stauffer, Rob Berrecloth, etc… – it is good to see others with baseball running in their blood.
Individual player memories include:
Kenny Parent would stand in the batters box and get hit on purpose. My sense of self-protection was too great for that. Kenny could do anything on the ball diamond, a complete natural. If he’s reading this – you need to come out of retirement.
Scott Peterson was also one of those natural all-stars – could do anything. He once struck me out on an outside curve ball that broke outside of the opposite batter’s box. It remains the most embarrassing strike out of my life.
While catching, Donny Hendricks would rarely block a ball in the dirt – he never had too. He had an incredible talent for using only his glove to catch the wildest of pitches. He was incredibly calm behind the plate.
Brian Lyons could throw right field to 3rd, and left field to home, on a rope – he was always in great shape, super-fast, and a great teammate.
Allan Miskew was my hero – toughest, hardest throwing, best fielder/pitcher we had. I remember he never wore batting gloves – he’d get up and just pound the ball. And, while pitching, if you ever squared around to bunt on a 3-0 count expect some inside heat!!
Watching the opposing team laugh when they saw Meathead warming-up – as if expecting batting practice. Then watching them screw themselves into the ground swinging at air.
Mike LeClaire – smoothest shortstop in the league, extremely accurate arm. If he came up throwing you were out.
Dave Bouma drove from Edmonton to play and was the rangiest short stop with a great glove.
Ray Lehman – the best athlete in the league. The plays he’d make were out of this world, the plays he still makes are out of this world.
Donny Oslund’s arm – do not steal when he’s catching and pray for your self-esteem when he was pitching.
Curtis Stensrud was another giant on the mound (RIP Curtis).
Kent Rude – even if I came up throwing he was safe – I couldn’t believe how fast he could run.
Speaking of speed, I came up with a grounder at deep second last year in the Tofield tournament and Rob Berrecloth beat it out – someone forgot to tell him that age is supposed to slow you down.
Rob Gillrie – best leadoff batter ever, he was always on base. However, this took some doing. I remember Rob telling me a story – he said he put the catching gear on and bent down to take some pitches at the start of one year and felt something between his legs – it was his stomach (this was his joke not mine, I didn’t consider him in bad shape at the time). However, that was incredulous for Rob - within a year he was running marathons, then an iron man, and has been in great shape ever since. I’ve heard he’s playing with our tournament team this year – that will be great!!!
Pride Benson (together with Ray Lehman) of the Battle River A’s is one of those organizers who takes zero credit but does a tremendous, sometimes thankless, job. Organizers like him make baseball possible for the rest of us.
In closing, baseball has provided me with memories and friendships that last a lifetime (and more). I’m blessed that I seem healthy enough to make more baseball memories, but if not, I’m good with the ones that I have. A huge thank-you to Kris Kushnerick for the work he has done on the website. This is not a light task and is very well done – and especially for taking the time to record some of these moments with friends, I have enjoyed reading every word of the player profiles written so far (Mike, Rob, Stephen, Corey, and Muzz – fun reads) and look forward to many more.
2001 Holden Tigers
Top Row: Bob Preston, Neil Anderson
Middle Row: Jeremiah Basuric, Landon Laube, Megan Laube, Lane Pipke, Anthony Spicer, Steven Semeniuk
Bottom Row: Lucas Gould, Bobby Preston, Brian Hrabec, Kolten Tkaczyk, Brandon Anderson
A big thank you to Neil for not only taking the time to answer some questions, but jumping at the opportunity to talk baseball. I feel like Neil has set the record for the fastest turnaround from the time he was asked to having everything ready to go.
You can expect to see Neil on a baseball field whenever we get to head back on to the field. For the last couple of seasons the Battle River A’s and their players have been setting up exhibition games with teams such as the Camrose Axemen and Tofield Braves for example, to get ready for their CNOBF run later in the summer. So if you see the Battle River A’s on a field, or are lucky to get to play against them, maybe grab a bucket and head over to their dugout (might need to bring beer with you). You might get to hear more baseball stories.