Diamond medal for work on the ball diamond

[attach]6118[/attach]Howard Birnie has hit a grand slam with Leaside baseball.

The long-time president of the Leaside Baseball Association is nearing a major milestone with the organization — 50 years.

Reflecting on his baseball days, Birnie remembers playing his first game in Riverdale Park as a kid, first getting involved in coaching in 1959. His most memorable experience: winning a best-of-three series in two games to nab the provincial title as coach of Richardsons, a Leaside-based team named for a now-defunct sporting goods store.

“We won the game in the last at-bat against a team from Windsor so that was exciting. And we knew if we won that, we didn’t have to go to Windsor,” he said, laughing. “There’s nothing wrong with Windsor, but it was just the travel.”

While that’s his most memorable experience in the win column, Birnie says when he looks back, what he really remembers isn’t the wins and losses.

“A lot of people come to mind,” he said, adding that he’s also been involved in baseball at both the provincial and national level as well. “It’s mostly people you think of, whether they’re players, administrators, umpires, whatever they might be, I’ve made a lot of friends.”

In honour of Birnie’s 50 years Birnie is to receive the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal on July 9, which also happens to be his 75th birthday.

This comes on the heels of what is perhaps one of his biggest victories: fighting the city along with many other sports leagues — and winning — to have proposed user fees on sports fields waived this year.

“The fight against this was very positive. It brought a lot of us across the city together to work together and along with the Toronto Sports Council we got results,” he said. “We got the attention of the councillors and they backed down. What was done was something that was incredibly poorly implemented and frankly unfocused. I think they got the message.”

The implementation of fees — something Birnie disagrees with for leagues of all ages — is a far cry from how things worked when Birnie started playing baseball as a youth.

“When I was a kid playing in the Toronto Playgrounds, the program was provided by the city,” he said. “There weren’t fees, the program was supplied by the city.”

Those days may be gone, but Birnie is still glad to be a part of it all.

“I’ve met a lot of good people and it’s always been fun to me whether you’re watching 11-year-olds playing or 25-year-olds playing,” he said. “You put work in, but there are a lot of satisfactions seeing that kids are there and enjoying it.”