History of High Park Baseball

Baseball has been a vibrant part of High Park history since the park first opened to the public in 1876.  The game was already popular in Toronto by the end of the 1850s, when the Globe first wrote about a local team practicing every Monday afternoon on the University of Toronto grounds.

Over the next century children and adults played on countless local teams in numerous leagues across the city — Christie Pits, Riverdale Park and High Park — some professionally, some just for fun, some with their co-workers from offices and factories — and in countless pick-up games in the city’s parks, streets, empty lots and backyards.

High Park Little League was officially established in 1957, when the club first sent a rep team to the Ontario provincial championship. But the club’s roots extend back to the early 50s when Little League rules were first being adopted by Canadian teams. According to the LL Canada website, Little League Baseball has been played in Canada since 1951, with the location of the first leagues chartered outside of the United States in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Vancouver, BC.

Little League Baseball came to Ontario in 1952 and the Parkdale Lions Little League in Toronto’s West End was one of the original Ontario leagues. In 1953 the Parkdale Lions Club moved its funding from a very successful softball program at the C.N.E. grounds, to the sponsorship of four little league teams playing doubleheaders every evening and Saturdays in High Park from early May to mid-September. A fifth team was added the following year and the High Park Baseball Association was founded with an initial operating budget of $2985, including uniforms and umpire fees.

From that humble beginning, the High Park program quickly blossomed, with High Park Little League officially gaining its international charter when it fielded its first All Star team in 1957 to win is first provincial title against the Brockville Lions.

“Ontario’s first two districts were formed as leagues were chartered throughout the 1950s in the Toronto/Hamilton and Ottawa areas. The champions of these two districts faced each other in a one-game playoff for the provincial championship in the mid-to late 1950s. Until the Canadian Region was formed in 1958, the Ontario champion faced teams from Eastern U.S. states in post-provincial competition leading up to the Little League World Series. Later, Ontario’s champion met the champion of Eastern Canada (Quebec/Maritime Provinces) for the right to advance to the Little League World Series.”

Success and its unique location in Toronto’s largest park fed the dreams of many aspiring ball players, fueling the rapid expansion of the High Park baseball program. The U12 rep team won its first Canadian Championship in 1960 and a Bantam program was added in 1962. The High Park T-Ball Association began in the summer of 1966, and after a few slow years, blossomed during the early 1970s as baseball’s popularity in Canada exploded, culminating with the first MLB team outside of the US – the Toronto Blue Jays – who played their first game following a snow squall in April 7, 1977.

Over the next 50 years High Park Little League rep teams have won countless district and provincial titles, proudly representing Canada four times at the ultimate championship – the Little League World Series – held each August where it all began in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

High Park, 1933 (Toronto Archives)
High Park, 1922 (Toronto Archives)
Women playing baseball at U of T circa 1924 (Toronto Archives)

Little League® Baseball began in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1938, when Carl Edwin Stotz, an oil clerk, agreed to a game of catch with his nephews:– Jimmy and Harold “Major” Gehron – who were too young to play organized baseball. Acting on a promise to find a way for children to play baseball like the Major Leaguers of the day, Mr. Stotz created a three-team league that would play on a field that was two-thirds the size of a standard baseball field. After being turned down by 56 local businesses, Mr. Stotz convinced a lumber company, a dairy, and a pretzel maker to sponsor the teams for $30 each. On June 6, 1939, the first Little League game was played at Park Point in Williamsport.