Stan Eksal Senior was born on December 17, 1935, in New Waterford. He didn't have the greatest luck on his side starting out in life, as his mother died two weeks after giving birth to him, of a blood clot, and his father died six months later of pneumonia. He was brought up by his maternal grandparents, Felix and Henrietta Burke of Lingan, who, although they were raising thirteen children of their own, they provided a home for their baby grandson as well.
Young Stan grew quickly, and his lanky frame, soaring well above six feet, was often seen pedaling his bike from one sporting event or another in Lingan. He attended school there, and loved to play any and all sports that he could after school. He excelled at ALL of them! He didn't have the advantage of the "town boys" to play organized school sports in Lingan, so we can only imagine how he might have dominated those sports as well, given the chance!
Early on, Stan became involved in the sport of bowling. He first bowled with the Green Ball Hawks, a team from Lingan that won the Cape Breton Championship. He played in Sydney and Glace Bay at first, until the first bowling alley opened in New Waterford, at the French Club.
Stan also played in a town dart league. He was very young when he first started, around 16 years old, and as most matches were held in the taverns in town, he was always made aware that he was too young to be served liquor. He always loved playing darts, and his competitive nature made him a natural fit for this game of finesse. By all accounts, Stan was a very competent and keenly competitive dart shooter throughout the years.
Stan also played hockey throughout his life span, playing in the more competitive leagues earlier on, starting in local leagues in the area. He played for the New Victoria Eagles, then played for a suburban league in Point Edward, before moving on to the gentleman's hockey in New Waterford in later years. Although his frame was always tall and thin, none of his opponents would ever underestimate his strength, especially after getting knocked into the boards by Big Stan!
Stan started working in the coal mines in 1952, at 16 years of age. He worked almost 20 years in the pit, and while there he started establishing himself in commercial fishing. He quit the coal mines for good when he was able to support himself with fishing. He was an avid outdoorsman; he loved to fish and hunt in his "spare time". I can only imagine how suffocating it must have been for someone who loved the outdoors that much, to be confined in a job underground! In 1958, Stan married Elaine Corbett and they had two children, Stan Junior and Helen. Together they made their home in Lingan, in a lovely house overlooking the ocean, where Stan still resides today. At 81 years of age, Stan could still be seen at Lingan wharf, or off the shores of New Waterford every morning, plying his fishing boat through the harbour, and checking his lobster traps. To try and catch him for an interview could be tricky, as he goes to bed early most evenings and still rises around 3am to start his fishing day! I must therefore gratefully acknowledge the assistance I received from my friend and Stan's sister-in-law Alana MacDonald in helping with this interview.
Although Stan professes to love every sport he ever played, it is undeniable that baseball was his niche. He started playing at an early age, in various leagues around town, and the many sports he played often caused him to have a crazy schedule. Throw work and family into that mix, and you had one very busy man! He started playing junior ball around 16 years of age, and in 1956-57, he played for the New Waterford Cubs in the Cape Breton Junior baseball league, a team that won the Nova Scotia finals that year, due in no small part to Stan Eksal. It was here that Stan honed his skills as a pitcher, as well as playing right field and first base. But it was his powerful batting skills that earned young Stan the respect and admiration from team mates, rivals, and fans.
This was evident in reviewing many scrap books from this era, where many of the headlines of the day read like this:
"Stan Eksal beats Sydney"
"Eksal winner on 6-hitter"
"Stan Eksal leads way in victory" "Eksal hurls 7-hitter"
"Eksal's Booming Bat leads Giants to title"
"New Waterford whips Sydney Mines Ramblers 12-2 behind Stan Eksal"
.....you get the gist. In 1958, Stan stepped up to Senior baseball, and that year they lost out to Sydney Mines Ramblers, in a fiercely contested series. It was supposed to be the best of seven series, but it actually went to nine games, due in no small part to the stellar pitching, fielding, and batting of Big Stan Eksal. If you think that loss dampened the New Waterford team's spirits, quite the contrary - they came back the next year with renewed determination - they were hungry for a title in 1959, and were not to be denied!
Stan batted a most respectable.306 in 1958, and was the top hitter of triples that year, and had a total of 28 RBI's. His prowess in the batter's box was legendary, but it was well known throughout the league that Stan was NOT a good runner. He sheepishly said "I always had to hit the ball really hard and really far, in order to just get on base". It might be argued that those team mates who followed him in the batting order had to do the same, in order to bring him home! The brutal fans were often heard telling him " get the stove off your back, Stan!" Leave it to New Waterford fans to give the gears to one of their best players!
The 1959 edition of the New Waterford Giants was undoubtedly a team hungry for a title, and their unfailing march to the Maritime title that year was made all the sweeter by the fact that they won it in New Waterford, before thousands of adoring fans, using only local players. Unquestionably, that was a team of destiny, with each player contributing hugely to the final outcome, and none more so than Stan Eksal. The air was magical throughout each tournament, and when the dust settled, the Giants had completed 21 playoff games, winning 17, tying 3 and losing only one, on their relentless march to the Maritime Senior
Baseball title! Here's what the Cape Breton Post had to say about Stan after their first win, against the Sydney Mines Ramblers on September 2, 1959: "f the Sydney Mines Ramblers see Big Stan Eksal in the next few days, it'll be too soon. Last night at the Sydney Mines field, the big New Waterford Giants hurler put on a one-man show! For 8 innings, he held the Ramblers bats to 6 hits. At the plate, he drove in 5 of the 6 New Waterford runs, for the 6-1 victory. One of his three blasts was an over-the-fence homer with two men on, and that hit clinched the ball game". In that series alone, Stan actually won three games on the mound, belted in two homers, knocked in 20 RBI's, and led all hitters with a .510 average.
As they won the Nova Scotia title that year, yet another Post article stated: "Bolstered by the strong pitching and batting arm of Big Stan Eksal, the Giants rapped out a total of 17 base hits off 3 Canning pitchers, while Eksal and Spike MacKinnon limited Canning to 8 hits. Eksal, the hero of the game for the Giants, came through with three big hits, which drove in 5 runs, and he came in to relieve MacKinnon in the 5th, holding Canning to two runs on four hits to post up the victory and keep his record intact for the season, not having lost a game this year".
Throughout the Nova Scotia and Maritime championships that year, the Cape Breton Post was swamped with articles of Big Stan Eksal pitching and batting New Waterford Giants to victory after victory. This so-called "Cinderella team" of 1959 was made up entirely of New Waterford players, and Stan Eksal was certainly a lynchpin in the win that year! You might think that that year would be the crown jewel in any player's career, but Stan continued playing for sheer love of the game, and went on to lead the way for a second Maritime championship for New Waterford in 1965, one of only three local players to claim both titles. Stan has already been inducted into our Hall of Fame twice before, as a member of those two legendary ball teams. All told, he played competitive baseball for more than 15 years!
When asked what his favourite sport was, Stan replied, "honestly, I don't know what to pick; I loved playing every one of them". Quite simply, he played for the love of the game, and that is why he was so successful at all of them. As they say today, he was in it to win it!