It's been a few years in the making, but the 1991 Portage Athletics U-18 baseball team is finally in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in Morden.
The induction was supposed to happen in 2020, but due to the pandemic, the event didn't happen. It was the same scenario in 2021. Finally, at a gala event this past Saturday, the team was recognized for its achievements many years ago.
The 91 Portage Midgets won the National Midget Championship held in Saskatoon that year, a feat no Manitoba U-18 team had ever achieved before. On the flip side, no Manitoba team has been able to accomplish it since.
After defeating Brandon for the provincial title, they were forced to pick up several Westman and Winnipeg area players due to a shortage of local players able to participate. They managed only one practice with the combined players and were heavy underdogs for the Nationals. However, in the round-robin pool, they soundly defeated Saskatchewan and Ontario before dropping a 3-0 decision to B.C. They then eliminated the Atlantic region in the semi-final and trounced B.C. 11-3, in the final. Overall the Athletics scored 28 runs and surrendered only nine while displaying strong hitting, outstanding pitching, and sound defense throughout the tournament.
Ryan Matthews was a local player on that team and says the night was a good one.
"Anytime you're recognized 31 years later for an accomplishment, it is really special. It's awesome to get some teammates together that you haven't seen for a long time and reminisce and share stories. So, yeah, very special."
Matthews spoke about the team.
"Like many championship winners, it was team first. Our coaches were team-first people. They made sure that we gelled. The group bought in. We were all team guys. We knew we could get there and win as we had won events before. That meant a lot. We had a lot of confidence going in and we were successful at the nationals. It was a terrific experience for all of us."
The team's manager, Ron Reilkoff outlines how the team came together.
"When we won the Provincials I picked up an extra coach, Neil Andrews from Brandon," says Reilkoff. "Then I started looking for extra players, we got four guys from Brandon and about three guys from Winnipeg. The team came together."
While they did have some additions from elsewhere, nearly half the team still consisted of Portagers. Those players are Jason Pilkington, Kelly Funk, Ron Reilkoff Jr, Ryan Matthews, Cliff McCartney, Jeff White, Drew Mcrae, and Shane Calder. Other Portage members of the team that were unable to compete at Nationals include Dean Calder, Adam Calder, Ryan Pilkington, and Trent Shwaluk.
Reilkoff talks about the roster and the talent they possessed.
"These guys, the year previous, won the Western Canada Summer Games," says Reilkoff. "They've been on many Provincial teams. Not only were they good baseball players, but they also were just good athletes. They played many sports. To name a few (standout players), well, I could name the whole team. It's not fair to just pick one or two out when every one of them contributed."
The Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame is in Morden.