Stephen Tickner jumped over the right field fence at the Mackin Yard 32 years ago to help a friend who was coaching a team for Coquitlam Little League.
He never left.
Tickner’s been volunteering for the baseball organization ever since. His service was recently recognized with a special trophy from Little League Canada.
Over the years, Tickner has filled pretty much every role. He’s been Coquitlam Little League’s president three times, he managed the concession stand, he was the equipment manager, he coached for 10 years, he helped run the Blastball program that introduces baseball to its youngest players.
Curiously, Tickner’s own two sons favoured lacrosse. In fact, his involvement with Little League predated his eldest son’s arrival by two years.
Tickner said his association with Coquitlam Little League began serendipitously.
He and his wife, Anne, were newlyweds when they moved into their new home just off Brunette Avenue and right next to Mackin Park. He was out for a walk exploring the neighbourhood when he stumbled upon his buddy’s game.
A passionate fan of baseball, Tickner said he loves the “idea” of Little League and the way it brings young people together.
“You spend a lot of time with your teammates,” he said.
The sport also builds character, he added.
“Not everybody is a star,” Tickner said, “But if you have a good coach or manager, you can get the best out of that player.”
Tickner takes pride in running a tight ship out of the little office he carved himself in the cinderblock storage structure attached to the batting cage at Mackin Park. During baseball season, he usually gets to the park at 6:30 a.m. after walking his dog, putters around sorting uniforms, filling requests from coaches for equipment like balls, bats and tees and tending to the diamond.
“There’s always something to do,” he said.
Tickner admits sometimes he and the city don’t see eye-to-eye on the way the facility should be operated. But at the end of the day, it’s the kids and cultivating a love and appreciation for baseball that matters most.
Tickner said it was his idea to christen the large diamond at Mackin Park as the “Yard,” named after the Camden Yards ballpark in Baltimore, where Major League Baseball’s Orioles play. He also pushed for the roof to be added to the batting cage, so it could be used in all weather.
Tickner’s also a bit of Coquitlam Little League’s resident archivist. He’s hung uniforms from every era from the ceiling of his office and the walls are adorned with photos and newspaper clippings of teams gone by and their achievements. He said one of his fondest memories was the victory of the Junior team over arch rival Whalley in the 1999 Canadian championships.
“What a thrill for the kids,” he said of that triumph that occurred in Coquitlam, adding when the hubbub had died down, everyone had gone home and the lights were turned off at the ballpark, he sat on the roof of the dugout and shed a few tears of joy.
Ticker said as sons of kids who were playing when he began volunteering now join the league, nothing much has changed.
“They just want to be with their friends,” he said. “They just want to play.”
But the parents have changed,
With so much on their plate, most don’t have the time for a simple game of catch, running the bases or shagging fly balls with their kids anymore. Teaching them the fundamental skills of the sport is all up to the coaches.
They’re missing out, Tickner said.
“It’s important for parents to play with their kids, to help them get better.”
As the calendar turns on his 67th year, Tickner said the end to his tenure is in sight. But first he’ll have to find and groom a successor. Even then, he won’t be far away.
When he and Anne were looking to downsize from their matrimonial home recently, a friend pointed them to the trailer park just across King Edward Street from Mackin Park. It’s there he’ll be able to sit on his porch until the sun shines again, heralding the start of another baseball season.