A Kentville sports aficionado and author who has been collecting newspaper clippings and memorabilia for more than 70 years says it’s become a way of life.
Burton Russell admits that he has quite a collection, which has become invaluable to researching his writing projects. His latest book, Seven Decades of Nova Scotia Baseball 1946-2016, will be available in bookstores within a couple of weeks. It’s Russell’s 12th book.
Russell worked as a schoolteacher for 35 years, coached interscholastic sports teams and began writing sports books in 1972. A self-publisher, his latest offering was printed by etc. Press Ltd. of Halifax. Russell is very pleased with how a chapter at the end of the book devoted to colour photos turned out.
“The last three I’ve been able to do on the computer, so that’s been good,” Russell said. “You don’t make money, that’s for sure, but it’s fun doing it.”
He used to do all his writing by hand but finds that using a computer is much more efficient and helps reduce costs.
Russell said it took him about seven months to write Seven Decades of Nova Scotia Baseball but it could have easily taken seven years without his personal archives.
Russell, now 82, started clipping newspaper articles and photos for his scrapbook in 1946 when he was 11 years old. This is something he still does everyday. He said it’s become a big part of his life.
“I can’t imagine my life without having that daily routine,” he said.
He focused mainly on baseball and hockey but later expanded to other sports. Russell said baseball is his favourite, although he’s a big fan of hockey and Nova Scotia’s superstar player, Sidney Crosby.
Russell said he has been blessed with good health and has always maintained an interest in sports, which he believes is key to his longevity. He has served as statistician for the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League for 29 years and hopes to make it 30.
The first chapter in the new book focuses on the Halifax and District or H&D League. He said many of the players were American college students, along with a few semi-pros and a handful of Nova Scotian players.
“That was right after the war and I often call it the golden age of spectator sports,” Russell said.
He recalls that the first senior baseball game he saw was a playoff game in Kentville between the Wildcats and Truro Bearcats in late August 1946. Truro won 14-0.
“A lot of those Truro players became my big heroes,” Russell said. “There was a guy from Westville, Johnny Clark, he was my all-time hero.”
Russell was inducted into the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in 2015, which he said was a tremendous thrill. He said another thrill was getting to sit next to fellow inductee Philip “Skit” Ferguson for the induction ceremony. Ferguson won 18 games and lost one as a pitcher during the first year of the H&D League and he was the batting champion at the same time.
“I sort of got to know personally people who had played from 1929 or 1930 right up to the present time, so I pretty much have a spectrum of the history of the game,” Russell said.
He said an H&D league playoff game would draw between 4,000 and 5,000 fans. The league ran from 1946 to 1959. Approximately 30 players ended up going to the major leagues. Russell said about half a dozen had good professional careers while the others were there for “a cup of coffee” but “at least they made it.”
Russell said fans of the day were blessed to see future major leaguers playing in small town Nova Scotia. He used to receive Christmas cards and other greetings from some of the old H&D league players, which meant a lot to him.
Russell has always appreciated the speed of those players who could run and steal bases over homerun hitters.
“I love a game that is 3 to 2 where there’s great fielding, good pitching and great plays in the outfield,” he said.
Russell said there’s been a great evolution in baseball and other sports. He’s been asked to name all-time all-star teams in the past. It’s difficult to directly compare players from different eras. There used to be fewer leagues, divisions and teams and today’s schedules tend to be busier.
He said skill levels are unbelievable today with kids being coached from a young age and today’s pros make much more money.
Did you know?
Other sports books authored by Burton Russell include:
- Looking Back: An Historical Review of Nova Scotia Senior Baseball (1946-1972)
- Nova Scotia Hockey Memories
- Nova Scotia Sports Personalities (co-authored with Stan Cameron)
- Great Memories in Nova Scotia Sports
- K.C.A.: A Hockey Dynasty
- Hurrah Acadia
- Nova Scotia Baseball Heroics
- A Century of Hockey Heroics
- Baseball Memories: Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League: 1977-1992
- Nova Scotia Golf Facts and Heroics
- Acadia’s Hockey Axemen