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Sports Series: Former elite Indigenous fastball pitcher continues to enjoy the sport

December 29, 2020

Garden River, ON - -  Sports Series: Former elite Indigenous fastball pitcher continues to enjoy the sport



Darren Zack showcases some of the hardware he earned during his illustrious fastpitch career. – Photo courtesy of Darren Zack

 

ORIGINAL STORY by Sam Laskaris

By Sam Laskaris

GARDEN RIVER FIRST NATION – Though he turned 60 in August, Darren Zack has no plans to retire from the sport he once dominated.

Zack, a member of Garden River First Nation in northern Ontario, was one of the world’s top fastball pitchers from the late 1980s and into the early parts of this century.

His accomplishments include being a part of four world championship squads at International Softball Congress (ISC) tournaments and also helping Canada win the gold medal at three Pan-American Games.

His resume includes playing for professional squads in the states of Massachusetts, Iowa and Florida. He also spent two years toiling for a club in New Zealand. He also had pro success with a pair of Canadian franchises, the Vancouver Magicians and Toronto Gators.

Zack continues to add to his lengthy impressive resume.

Last summer, he led an Ohsweken team to victory in the men’s Old-timers division, for those 35 and over, at the All-Ontario Native Fastball Championships.

Though he faces some players more than 20 years younger than him, Zack is still dominant.

“I pitched the last game on the last day of the tournament,” said Zack, adding he believes he has won seven or eight provincial titles in the Old-timers category.

Zack was also hoping to have some more success in this event in 2020. In fact, since he is now working in the recreation department as a programmer for his First Nation, Zack played a key role in having Garden River earn hosting rights for this year’s provincial tournament.

“I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Zack said, adding it was ideal his programming job allowed him to secure the hosting rights for the provincials after he found out organizers were looking for a site to play the tournament this year.

But due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, that event was not staged this past summer. Even if the tournament was to proceed, Zack is unsure of whether he would have been healthy to play this year.

Zack said that after he acquired a mysterious germ this past February, an inside rupture near his groin area caused his body to go septic. He lost more than 50 pounds and was released in late March following a five-week stay in hospital.

“It was weird,” he said. “I came out of the hospital and I weighed 196 pounds. I didn’t know what had happened to me.”

Zack has been on a long road to recovery, but he plans to return to the mound as soon as possible.

“I still love the game,” he said. “I’ve done it all my life. What else is there to do every weekend in the summer?”

Though Garden River First Nation did not host the provincial Indigenous tournament this year, Zack is hoping the event will be staged in his community at some point in the future.

“That would be great, to host the all-Ontario’s at home,” said Zack, who joined Garden River’s recreation department in 2019 after spending about five years working for his First Nation’s   animal control department.

Depending on how many entrants there are in various age groupings, Zack said if Garden River does indeed secure the provincial tournament again games would not only be held on the First Nation but in all likelihood on diamonds in neighbouring Sault Ste. Marie as well.

This story is part of an Anishinabek News series, written by Sam Laskaris, profiling former athletes with Anishinabek ties.


 

Other Background:

2009 - Softball Canada Hall of Fame

 

2010 ISC Hall of Fame

Bio for ISC HoF

 

2011 ISF Hall of Fame in Owen Sound

 

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