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Canales Family Generations Unite for Special Moment at La Festa Baseball Exchange
By Stephen Dravis, Sports
09:48AM / Sunday, July 24, 2022
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Brayden Canales waits on deck for his turn at bat in Saturday's La Festa Baseball Exchange opener.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – After more than three decades organizing the La Festa Baseball exchange, George Canales knows the event as well as anyone.
But he did not see this moment coming.
“They kept it a surprise on me,” Canales said. “I didn’t know about it.”
It was the moment during Saturday’s pregame ceremonies at Joe Wolfe Field when Canales was called onto the field to throw out one of the ceremonial first pitches to his grandson Brayden, the starting third baseman on the North Adams team.
Saturday marked the 31st time that a team of North County ballplayers has taken the field against a squad from Boston’s North End.
George Canales and his friends in North End collaborate to make the games possible. They bring city youngsters west for a taste of rural Massachusetts and, usually a couple of weeks later, North Berkshire youths east, many to get their first experience in Boston.
This year’s emotional highlight almost did not happen – not because George was not prepared to handle the pitching duties but because Brayden almost did not wear the host team’s uniform.
“He didn’t want to play in it because he felt, ‘Grandpa, you run it. I shouldn’t be playing,’ “ George recalled. “This year, I talked him into playing.”
After going 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and a pair of stolen bases in an 11-5 North Adams loss, Brayden explained that he hesitated to take a roster spot on the North County team because he had so many other opportunities to be part of the event over the years.
“I play for the Berkshire Americans summer ball, and we play a lot,” the Drury High School freshman said. “I didn’t think it was going to be the same experience for me as a kid who is new because I’ve gone on the trip [to Boston] 10 or 11 times. But finally playing in it was really a different experience.”
The 14-year-old has made nearly a dozen trips to Boston, but he has been in attendance at Joe Wolfe for every La Festa game since the day he was born.
It is different being on the field in a uniform, Brayden said.
“This is special,” he said. “I mean, you get to play kids from across the state. These kids make friendships. Some of the these kids on my team I didn’t even know before this, but I’m going to leave in two weeks with connections that I’ll never lose.”
It is those friendships that always are a highlight for Brayden’s grandpa.
“To see the way these kids interacted at [Saturday afternoon’s] cookout, you’d be amazed,” George said. “When they sat down, there were three Boston kids with three North Adams kids, and they talked to each other. We had it up at the State Forest, and it was amazing the way they talked to each other.
“I think two of the kids are going to write to each other. That’s what it’s about.”
It also is about the volunteers who make the exchange possible. Saturday’s pregame festivities included recognition for the event’s longtime athletic trainer David Burdick and the three umpires who gave their time to officiate the contest: Jeff Meehan, Dylan Toomey and George Beckwith.
Before the national anthem, the crowd held a moment of silence to recognize another official, Rich Pothier, who gave his time for the La Festa Exchange for many years before his death in March.
Williamstown American Legion Post 152 presented the nation’s colors, and Lenox Memorial junior Lillian Colvin sang the Star-Spangled Banner.
George Canales’ longtime collaborator on the La Festa Exchange, John Romano presented his friend with a citation from the Hon. Michelle Wu, who Romano noted was his city’s “first woman mayor,” moments after Mayor Jennifer Macksey, the first female in North Adams’ corner office, threw out one of the first pitches.
The “second” first pitch belonged to the Canales family.
“I had tears in my eyes, I really did,” George said.
“That meant a lot to me,” Brayden said. “Because he does so much for everyone around here. And for me to finally get to do this and do it with him, it’s just something that I’m proud I get to do it. I’m glad. And I know it was a really special moment for him, too.”
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