Three straight years they were a dominant team that pummeled provincial competition on their way to nationals, winning BC titles in two of three years.
But three straight years, their season ended in disappointment on the biggest stage. They traveled to St. Catharines (Ontario), Prince George and St. John’s (Newfoundland), only to come home medal-less.
Forever an empty space on the trophy shelf.
“We knew we had a strong team, but fastball’s a small-ball game sometimes where a lot of things have to go right,” said shortstop Bob Armstrong. “We went away each time knowing we were on par with the other teams. Same pitching. Definitely had the bats. But an error or a strikeout would always prove costly in the end.”
Where the National Football League’s Bills lost four straight Super Bowls and never made it back, Turbo had one last run to make in the summer of 1997.
The young men, guided by coach Jim Beck, made their last stand in Oshawa, Ontario. Eight Chilliwack players formed the nucleus of the team — Bob Armstrong, Noel Sharman, Clayton Beck, Drew Saunders, Chris Fitzsimmons, Brandon Tournier, Chad Martz and Jeff Derksen. Rod Spitzig and Don Claassen were assistant coaches.
Turbo rolled through the round-robin with a 7-1 record, then beat New Brunswick in a tie-breaker to see who would get ‘double-life.’
That win provided a margin for error for Turbo as they headed into the elimination round. With double life, they could afford one loss.
“In a tournament like that, double life meant all the world,” said Sharman, one of three younger players (along with Tournier and Derksen), who bolstered the older group on their final run. “If you got that one game where things didn’t click, you had another game to work with.”
Turns out they didn’t need it.
Immediately after beating New Brunswick, Turbo dispatched Napanee (Ontario) in dramatic fashion.
Turbo trailed by two runs heading into the top of the seventh.
“It’s not how many hits you get, but when you get them, and fate was on our side,” Sharman said. “They (Napanee) threw a couple balls away, and our bats came through at a key moment. It was touch-and-go getting past Napanee, but that night I felt a sense of relief. We’d done it, and everything was going to be OK.”
The championship game wasn’t nearly so tense, with Abbotsford’s Harv Wiens pitching Turbo to a no-doubter 4-1 win. Jason Ellefson drove in two with a liner to center field and Evan Potskin hit a home run.
“Seventeen years later, I remember the final out more than any specifics of the game,” said Armstrong. “It was a weak dribbler to second base and a throw on to first. Then a big dog-pile somewhere in the middle.”
“Knowing you’d sealed the deal, the whole thing was surreal,” Sharman added. “You never know it’s over until it’s over, and once that final out happened, there was a second or two where I thought to myself, ‘we actually did it.’ Then, running over to jump on the dog-pile. What an incredible feeling.”
It was the end of the line for most of that Turbo team, with the 23 year olds aging out of junior fastball. Several went on to play men’s fastball together and many of them have remained close friends.
“When you’re that age, you really don’t think much of the whole last-time-together thing,” Armstrong mused. “We were just thinking about the victory and celebration to follow. Only years later, revisiting the old photos and pulling out the championship ring — all that time and effort, the practices and tournaments, it finally paid off. What an incredibly rewarding year it was, to finally become the best team in all of Canada.”