When a group of people spends an extended amount of time together, a unique culture – complete with its own relics and rituals – can develop.
Such is the case with the Yard Dogs, an Abbotsford men's fastpitch team with a core membership that dates back almost two decades.
Six players on the squad – Brad Avery, Geoff Dodson, Eric Reisinger, Tim Folster, Josh Wiens and John Perlinger – have been teammates since peewee ball back when they were 12 years old. Bob Avery, Brad's dad, has been the coach almost the whole way along.
Over the years, the team has developed a few quirky traditions which seem to indicate a deep bond. But, as is often the case with boys, these protocols basically amount to an institutionalized form of chops-busting.
First, there's the dog bone – a three-foot-long piece of wood carved in the shape of Fido's favourite treat. It sits in the dugout during every Yard Dogs game, and after the last out is made, the players and coaching staff retreat to a local pub to assess fines accrued during the game. Each player's fine total is tracked on the dog bone, written in black marker.
Fines are earned for all manner of miscues, both athletic and social. Drop a fly ball, you owe a buck. Commit "Dog on Dog" violence – being overly abrasive towards a teammate – and it's another buck. Striking out three times in a game, known as a Golden Sombrero, will cost you five bucks.
"And rookies aren't allowed to touch the bone – that's also a fine," Folster said with a chuckle. "We'll set it up behind them and try to do stupid stuff to get them to touch it. Guys will try to push them into it, and as soon as he touches it, everyone goes crazy."
Also floating around the Yard Dogs dugout is a pink batting helmet and wristbands, given to the team's LVP after each game. And yes, that stands for Least Valuable Player. The "winner" must wear the cap to the ballpark for the next game and wear the wristbands for at least one inning.
It's all in good fun – the fines, for instance, fund a year-end party.
"More than anything, we just have a special culture," Brad Avery said. "We've been together for so long, it just becomes kind of easy to play together. It's really comfortable and everybody falls into their role, and we have a good dynamic that way. It's great."
Whether its because of, or in spite of, all their shenanigans, the Yard Dogs are an accomplished team. They've won the last three Fraser Valley Men's Fastball League titles, and they were victorious at B.C. provincials last month.
They're looking to add a Western Canadian Senior B Championship to that list, and they have a chance to do it at home this week. Exhibition Park's four ball diamonds will play host to the tournament Aug. 16-19, bringing together eight men's and eight women's teams from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.
"We've said from the beginning that we had three to win – the Fraser Valley, the provincials and Westerns," Folster noted. "We're two-for-two so far, and we're looking for one more."
Star pitcher Tyson Barkman is ineligible for Westerns because he's signed to play senior A ball in Ontario, but the Yard Dogs have picked up a pair of pitcher/catcher duos who happen to be twin brothers: Travis and Trent Kunz of Kelowna, and Shawn and Darren Koster of Victoria.
"They seem to know what the other is thinking," Bob Avery marveled. "They think on the same brain."
"We're really deep in throwing and we've always been a good hitting team, so our expectations are high," Brad Avery said. "Our goal is to go in and win it. It's going to be easier said than done, but with the lineup we have, I believe we can."
Each team plays a six-game modified round robin, culminating with the men's and women's finals at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Yard Dogs, the lone local squad on either side of the draw, play their round robin games at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Thursday; at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday; and at 12 p.m. on Saturday.
For a full schedule, visit www.2012westerns.theinsidecurve.com.