Game over

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

This weekend, Sun sports writer Randy Sportak has been strolling through the graveyard of dead local sports franchises. Yesterday, he focused on the city's defunct hockey teams. Today, he remembers the Cannons and 88's -- and a whole bunch of failed soccer squads.

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The pain subsides over time. Enough to be tolerable. Still, reminders make the ache return.

Which is why Russ Parker does his best to avoid driving by the old ballpark.

Whether you call the stadium Foothills or Burns, the man who brought the triple-A Cannons to town only to say goodbye with the rest of us in September 2002 does his best to avoid driving by it while on Crowchild Trail.

"I try and go another way," Parker says, with a chuckle you can tell hurts.

Calgarians feel his pain.

Almost 60% of Sun readers said in an online poll the Cannons are the defunct local franchise they miss the most (see left).

"If I do go by there," Parker continues, "I have to gawk over my shoulder. Yeah, the stadium was aging and needed upgrades and all that but there's so much nostalgia and memories I can't go by without looking over to see what it looks like.

"It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I really miss the games. It was a great product and, unfortunately, I don't think enough people in Calgary realized how good it was."

When Parker brought the Pacific Coast League club to the Stampede City for the 1985 season, it was an instant love affair.

Danny Tartabull was the first true superstar with his 43 homers and 109 RBI while Johnny Moses patrolled the outfield and batted .320 during that inaugural season.

The crowds filled what was then Foothills Stadium, christened by Moses' first homer in club history, and learned the ups and downs of triple-A ball.

There were highs -- who could forget Kevin Roberson's ninth-inning, two-out homer to win the 1998 Northern Division title? -- and lows.

Aside from the day Parker sold the club to hasten its departure for Albuquerque, N.M., no low was worse than the fateful recall of Dave Fleming by the parent team in Seattle in 1991.

The Mariners, well out of the playoff race, stuck a knife in the Cannons' collective hearts by summoning Fleming, although he was pencilled to start the clinching game of the PCL final. Fleming sat on the bench the whole time he was with the M's and the Cannons lost.

"They said they had to have him because it meant a lot to the organization to have their first .500 season," recalls a rueful Parker.

"Of course, he didn't pitch."

But the 17 years Parker owned the Guns -- the final year was under new owners who renamed the team the Isotopes upon its relocation -- weren't all bad memories.

Sure, snow affected games in April, May, June, July, August and September but there were plenty of good times and good people.

"Edgar Martinez," says Parker, who hopes the longtime Mariners DH will receive a Hall of Fame nod some day.

"He's right up there at the top of my list. We had him parts of four or five years, he was up and down for a while before he stayed and he was one of those quality individuals. He never complained about being sent back down, no sulking, just go back to work. He was special."

That's just the beginning.

The likes of Harold Reynolds, Tino Martinez, Bret Boone, Alex Rodriguez, Dave Brundage, Dale Sveum, Jeff Nelson, Jim Abbott and Omar Vizquel thrilled the faithful who came for the food, fun, sun and seventh-inning stretch.

Those are some friends Parker made over the years, which reminds him why he suffered through games with rain, sleet and snow.

"No regrets," he said. "We met some wonderful people, saw some great baseball. It gave us lots of thrills and excitement. I felt blessed to be a part of it."

The topper, of course, was Roberson's moment.

Hard to top a two-out, two-strike homer that means a trip to the post-season.

"It was fan-appreciation night, the ballpark was jammed, there was a great atmosphere, it was a gorgeous night," says Parker.

"I've never heard a Calgary crowd ever at a baseball stadium react like the way it did that night. It was deafening ... That was a memorable night."

Sadly, there won't be others.

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R.I.P.

* CANNONS

BASEBALL -- 1985-2002

LEAGUE -- Pacific Coast League.

HOME -- Foothills Stadium.

ALUMNI -- Edgar Martinez, third baseman finished his major league career with 2,247 hits, 309 home runs and 1,261 RBI; Danny Tartabull, 262 homers in the bigs; Alex Rodriguez, only played 32 games with Calgary but has more than 1,700 hits, 381 homers and nearly 1,100 RBI in the majors; Tino Martinez, four World Series rings; shortstop Omar Vizquel.

SUCCESS -- Won division titles in 1985, '87, '89, '91 and '98. The 1987 squad posted a 84-57 record.

WHAT HAPPENED -- Sold and moved to Albuquerque, N.M., for 2003 season.

* BOOMERS

SOCCER -- 1981

LEAGUE -- North American Soccer League.

HOME -- McMahon Stadium.

ALUMNI -- Franz Gerber, played previously with Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich; Jorgen Kristensen, Danish forward with 19 caps also starred with Detroit, Chicago and Tulsa; Juergen Roeber, West German midfielder played Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Nottingham Forest and Bayer Leverkusen; Gerd Zimmermann, a.k.a. Thunderfoot.

SUCCESS -- Had the most successful season in franchise history -- following three years in Memphis -- with 17 wins.

WHAT HAPPENED -- Team folded.

* KICKERS

SOCCER -- 1987-88

LEAGUE -- Canadian Soccer League.

HOME -- Mewata Stadium.

ALUMNI -- Star midfielder Lindsay Henderson, striker Nick Gilbert, scoring champ in 1987 and MVP; John Catliff, second all-time in goals for Canada in international soccer; Burk Kaiser, league's top defender in 1987.

SUCCESS -- Won the CSL championship in 1987, having posted a 11-5-4 record before beating Edmonton, Vancouver and Hamilton in the playoffs.

WHAT HAPPENED -- League took over the Kickers, renaming them for the 1989 season.

* STRIKERS

SOCCER -- 1989

LEAGUE -- Canadian Soccer League.

HOME -- Mewata Stadium.

ALUMNI -- Maurice Morgan, who scored seven goals for the lowly squad; Nick Gilbert, who had some stints with the national team; striker Andy Smith.

SUCCESS -- Made the playoffs by beating Winnipeg in the regular-season finale but that was it for pro soccer in Calgary for more than a decade.

WHAT HAPPENED -- Team folded.The entire league folded following the 1992 season.

* OUTLAWS

BASEBALL -- 2003

HOME -- Foothills Stadium.

LEAGUE -- Canadian Baseball League.

ALUMNI -- Jesus Matos, the league's top hurler; Shad Williams, who would go on to sign a minor-league deal with the Chicago Cubs; Galindo Gomez, third-baseman was league MVP.

SUCCESS -- Averaged more than 1,000 fans per game and claimed team wasn't losing money. Had the loop's best record and declared league champs.

WHAT HAPPENED -- Squad folded with the rest of the league midway through the inaugural season.

* OUTLAWS

BASKETBALL -- 1994

HOME -- Jack Simpson Gymnasium at the U of C.

LEAGUE -- National Basketball League.

ALUMNI -- No one particularly notable or memorable. Really, the team's most enduring legacy was their logo on the floor at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium, which couldn't be erased.

SUCCESS -- With a 13-11 record, at least they were a winning team.

WHAT HAPPENED -- The Outlaws only played 24 games before the league folded. If you don't remember them, you're not alone.


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