EXETER – For the fourth time in the last seven years, the Exeter Express senior men’s baseball team are senior AA champions.
The Express became champs at the OBA finals, held in Vaughan Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, after beating Kincardine 2-1 in the finals.
“Things went well that weekend,” said Express manager Doug Fairbairn, who is retiring from day-to-day duties after 44 years in local senior baseball (although he will remain as team general manager and still have some responsibilities with the league, including serving as an advisor to the commissioner).
The Express had an 8-10 record in the regular season and were not favourites going into the OBA finals, Fairbairn said.
In game one of the tournament, the Express were up 12-3 over New Lowell in the second inning with Derek Masse on the mound. Despite the early lopsided score, New Lowell would fight back and make the game more interesting than the Express were hoping.
In the top of the seventh, the Express were up 12-7 with two out. New Lowell then scored six runs and took a 13-12 lead before the Express were able tie it in the bottom of the seventh before eventually winning after Willie Del Campos hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the eighth for the 14-13 victory.
In game two, the Express beat Kincardine 18-2 in a game Fairbairn said pitcher Dan Masse threw his best game of the year.
It was a different story in game three, however, as the Express lost 13-1 to Bolton before bouncing back to beat host team Vaughan 10-2 in game four. The team was boosted by pitcher Chris Gosnell, who wasn’t available earlier in the tournament, but arrived for the third inning of game four and pitched the rest of the game without allowing any runs. Gosnell’s appearance allowed the Express to keep Masse fresh for the finals.
After four games, the three remaining teams were Exeter, Kincardine and Bolton. A draw was held to determine which team would win a bye into the final game. Exeter won the bye, while Kincardine beat Bolton. In the finals, the Express beat Kincardine 2-1 in a tightly-contested match to win the final.
Masse was on the mound for the Express in the winning game.
“He was dominating,” Fairbairn said.
Looking back on the tournament, Fairbairn said different players came up huge in every game.
“Everybody was good for us,” he said, adding that Adam Leppington was voted team MVP after moving from centerfield to play second base during Gosnell’s absence.
The championship was an appropriate send-off for longtime Express manager Fairbairn who won nine championships in senior baseball – two as a player and seven as a coach. While he will remain as Express general manager, Exeter’s Dave Reid will take over the day-to-day duties as manager, and Fairbairn is optimistic about the team’s chances next season. He said the core of the team will remain while Reid has a few new players coming in.
“It will be an impressive team,” Fairbairn said of the Express.
Looking back, Fairbairn said he’ll miss the camaraderie with the players.
During his long career, Fairbairn was with Dashwood for seven years before that team folded in 1982. The next year, a committee of four people, including Fairbairn, Dave Atthill, Gar Penhale and Glenn Thurman, established the Express. Fairbairn played with the Express until 1990 when he hurt his back, then began coaching. The team won Senior D championships in 1986 and 1988. The Express have also won the championship four of the last seven years competing at the AA level – 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019.
Fairbairn, who started the Southwestern Senior Baseball League in 1996, served as commissioner for 19 years and said he made a lot of great friends along the way.
“I dwell on the good memories,” he said.
He was quick to thank his wife Debbie and their daughter Letisha for their continued support.
And while Fairbairn and his wife will be travelling next summer, he will still be involved with the team and is excited for the future.
“The team is definitely in good hands,” he said.