The Edmonton Express, a Senior ‘A’ Men’s fastball club established in 1998 began to piece together a roster of players using a small core from the extinct Mundare Playboy team and added some former Grande Prairie Pride players: Derek Joudrey, Kenny Long and the inspiring Peter Macleod. A blend of youth and experience and the Express had a roster that would be the beginning of something special.
The Express had growing pains in their inaugural season losing more than they won and with the 1998 Provincial Qualifier on the horizon against the perennial power house, the Grande Prairie Pride, it was quickly obvious the Express would head to St. Croix, Nova Scotia and the 1998 Canadian Senior ‘A’ Championships as Alberta Team 2. Their 0-7 record would prove to be a lesson they would never forget. As the wise Mr. Wilbert Callihoo would say, “You need to learn how to lose before you know how to win.”
The winter of 1998 proved to be the turning point with the Edmonton Express backed by strong sponsorship by Mr. Callihoo and twenty- five other local sponsors the Express would turn their attention to signing Dean Holoien (Team Canada member) who was one of fastball’s most sought after pitchers on the circuit. The Express didn’t finish there, acquiring three young prospects in catcher Darren Box, power hitting fielder Justin Severs and pitcher Darrell Tilley. The Express roster would be considerably different than the year before and finally the Express were getting some attention as their second year was about to begin.
The Edmonton Express had an opportunity to play a number of countries in preparation for the 1999 Pan Am Games and defeating Team Denmark, Team Canada and the highly favoured Team USA in a thrilling 2-0 victory in Salt Lake City. The Express were making a statement as the Canadian Championship was fast approaching.
As the 1999 Provincial Championship loomed closer the Express would enter into the best of five series once again as under dogs against their arch-rivals the Grande Prairie Pride. The Express did eventually bow out to the Pride but not before sending the series to a nail-biting finish and once more sending the Express into the 1999 Canadian Championship as Alberta Team 2.
In August 1999, the Express headed to St. Thomas for the National Canadian Championships as they embarked on what would be their defining moment as a fastball team. Sunday, August 29th and first on the round robin schedule was a date with Team Manitoba and future Team Canada pitcher Gerald Muizelaar. This would prove to be one of their biggest tests as the Express countered with surprise starter Derek Joudrey relegating Dean Holoien to Express bench and number one cheerleader. The move was both brave and bold as the Nova Scotia native would “spin” a complete game 6-1 victory and the Express were chugging down the track on route to their ultimate goal.
The Express picked up their second victory in game two against Team B.C. before going off the tracks and dropping game three by a score of 3-1 to the legendary Owen Sound Selects (Team Ontario). With a 2-1 record in hand the Express would reel off four consecutive victories over Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, PEI and Newfoundland finishing the round robin with a 6-1 record, good enough for first place in their pool and a berth into Friday’s double life playoff game.
Dean Holoien pitched for the Edmonton Express as they took on the second place team from the red pool, Stittsville, Ontario. Holoien, the qualifying round’s MVP, was very effective holding Stittsville to just four hits and notching 10 strikeouts in a 6-2 win. The victory would advance the Express into Saturday night’s semi-final against the home-town Fingel Disbrowe 99’ers.
After finishing 13th in 1998 in Halifax, it was a new season, a new attitude and a new pitcher. Dean Holoien not only brought hope to the Express but he instilled belief this team could win. Holoien again displayed pin-point control allowing 5-hits and no walks, while fanning 13 in a thrilling 4-3 semi-final victory over the host team. Timely hitting by Express batters Fred Sirett and Richie MacLeod would lead Edmonton to Sunday’s Gold Medal final and assure the Express no worse than a silver medal.
It was Gold Medal Game Sunday and the Edmonton Express coaches announced after many hours of deliberation Derek Joudrey as the starter which meant the Selects would counter with Frank Cox in back-to-back games. Sunday afternoon it was game eleven in the playoff program; but the Selects wrote their lineup card ‘Last Game’ and the Express wrote up theirs; ‘Gold Medal Game’.
It would be a fresh Dean Holoien for the Express against a very tired Frank Cox. It was the match up of the tournament; in front of 2,000 spectators at the Doug Tarry Sports Complex and they would witness a classic final. The game tied at 1-1 in the 6th inning with two outs and Darren Box standing at second base. Kelly Spence sent a soft roller to shortstop Keith Mackintosh who couldn’t come up with the grounder and then finding the handle on the ball his throw was late as Darren Box ran right through a Guy Greenwall stop sign and went second to home sliding under catcher Tim Cox’s tag with the go ahead run. Bottom of the 7th inning, bases “juiced”, two outs and Owen Sound right fielder Mike Taylor sends a towering shot to the warning track in right centre but Justin Severs tracked it down and Edmonton Express win Alberta’s first Canadian Senior Men’s Fastpitch Championship since 1988.
Perseverance, hard work and dedication to the game of softball culminated in producing a magical year for the Edmonton Express with the ultimate award of being proclaimed the 1999 Canadian Senior Men’s Fastpitch Champions. The team made Softball Alberta proud and currently is the last Senior Men’s Fastpitch team from Alberta to have the distinction of being Canadian Senior Men’s Fastpitch Champions.