SPORTS TALK: Floyd Daniels was a friend to softball and a friend to me

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The glare.

That was my first encounter with Floyd Daniels.

It was at the 2008 NWT Men’s Fastpitch Championship in Hay River. I had just been installed as the umpire-in-chief for NWT Softball the month prior to the start of the tournament and I didn’t know the entire board of directors yet. Floyd was on the board as the vice-president in charge of minor ball, a role he held for several years.

If memory serves me right (and correct me if I’m wrong) Terence Courtoreille was catching that first game I had the pleasure of umpiring Floyd as a member of the Hay River Heat. The first pitch was a good one: cut fastball which came in just below the knees. I called it a ball. Terence framed it for an extra second and Floyd stood there. He got the ball back and glared.

“What was wrong with that one?”, asked Terence.

“Bit too low,” I replied. “Bring it up one ball width.”

Terence brought the glove up and Floyd nailed it with the next fastball. Strike. Floyd got the ball back and glared. Next pitch was on the outside corner this time, belt high. Strike. Floyd nodded his head and turned around.

That entire exercise was what he did many times with umpires. He would pitch around the plate as often as he could to see just how much he was going to get on the corners that game.

After the game, Floyd came over and introduced himself. I told him he did well. He responded with how those friggin’ Ontario umpires don’t understand that home plate is wider than 18 inches. I told him it was only 17 inches wide at the front and as a pitcher, he should know that. He laughed and said in Hay River, the plate is always 18 inches.

“Remember, the ball’s bigger in fastball,” said Floyd.

Of course it is.

Floyd Daniels died on Aug. 18 and it was a punch to the gut. Roger Vail told me via text message and I didn’t want to believe him. It sucked because Floyd was one of those guys who you wanted to be around because of who he was: affable, welcoming, competitive. Every time I went to Hay River for my annual track and field excursion, we would always meet up for either breakfast or lunch, depending on my mode of transportation, on the first day.

2013 was one year which sticks out in my mind because that was the year Yellowknife hosted the Softball Canada annual general meeting for the first time. The annual general meeting was also when the Softball Canada Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony. As president of NWT Softball at that time, I put it to the board as to who we should nominate for induction. We came to the agreement that Paul Gard and Floyd would be chosen. Paul was inducted no problem. Floyd? Not so much but here’s why:

When Floyd and I met for lunch in 2013, he told me he found out that we were looking to get him inducted. I replied in the affirmative. He told me he didn’t want it and that there were other people more deserving. Who in the hell could be more deserving than someone who spent almost his entire life playing, coaching and helping to build the grassroots of the sport in the NWT? Floyd fit the bill for the builders category to a T. But he wouldn’t do it.

Floyd Daniels, left, accepts the Volunteer of the Year Award from Lynda Turton of Softball Canada's board of directors during the 2013 Softball Canada Hall of Fame banquet in Yellowknife. NNSL file photo
Floyd Daniels, left, accepts the Volunteer of the Year Award from Lynda Turton of Softball Canada’s board of directors during the 2013 Softball Canada Hall of Fame banquet in Yellowknife.
NNSL file photo

We did, however, manage to make him the Softball Canada Volunteer of the Year that year at the meeting and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer from Floyd on that one. I was asked by the folks at Softball Canada if I knew of anyone who would make a good winner. Did I? I found Floyd and told him he was getting the award and one of two things would happen: he would either accept the award in person or he would have the award mailed to his house in Hay River.

“Guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”, he said on the evening he accepted.

He accepted the award in person and in his speech, he thanked his wife, Janice. In fact, that was a hallmark of every single speech Floyd ever made when thanking people or accepting something. He always made sure to thank Janice because, in his words, she was the one who allowed him to go and do what he loved.

If we are to remember any one thing about Floyd, it should be his commitment to youth sports. Everything he did in softball – and hockey, where he coached with the Team NWT/Team North program at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships – had youth in mind. He wanted the next generation to get interested in sports and if that meant he had to spend hours and hours at the diamond or the rink, so be it.

His annual wish was to try and get a Team NWT squad to either a Western Canadian Softball Championship or some sort of regional tournament. He wanted youth to experience what he got to do as a young person growing up because he felt that was how you got youth excited. Give them something to play for. Where have I heard that before?

The sport of softball is poorer with Floyd’s passing and I hope something is done to honour his legacy. Softball lost a tireless cheerleader and many of us, myself included, lost a dear friend.

Sleep well, Floyd, and keep on telling us the plate is 18 inches wide.

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