August 28th is the 50th anniversary of my near association with glory. I caught a perfect game for the Hearst Lumberkings. The game launched the Lumberkings on a magic season that led to the all-Ontario finals, a unique feat for a small Northern Ontario town.
It was also my first experience at being seen.
The star of course was the pitcher Ray Lafleur who struck out 24 of 27 batters. Ray’s riser would hurtle towards the plate looking plump and tempting. The batter could see his destiny written on the ball. A perfect “out of the park” pitch. But then it rose, almost straight up, an unseen hand removing it from sight. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It was my job to catch those darn things.
I was a high school kid and diamond rat (the baseball equivalent of a rink rat) hanging around while the legendary Lumberkings practiced. Pumping my glove, waiting to chase a stray ball and the chance to prove my arm was as powerful as the adults on the field.
Eventually, they let me catch batting practice and before you know it I was in the lineup as a summer replacement for the real catcher. I wanted that summer to last forever.
And it did.
Just before the playoffs began, the coach let me know that Ray wanted me to be his catcher. The other guy would play first base. Even if you could have wiped the smile off my face you couldn’t have plugged the deep well it gushed from. Ray Lafleur had confidence in me. Ray Lafleur trusted me. Ray Lafleur saw me.
Here’s my reason for indulging in nostalgia with you. The great gift I caught that glorious Saturday evening April 28th, 1965 was being noticed and appreciated. That was the unseen destiny written on Ray’s pitches. A destiny I now know is more precious than ability or achievement. One that costs nothing to bestow. And that lasts a lifetime.
Ray and I spoke by phone recently. He remembers every pitch from that game, as well he should. It ranks at the top of any amateur sports achievement. All I remember is his kindness, which is still more powerful than his right arm.
“Les Lumberkings sont la.”
“Hardly anybody recognizes the most significant moments of their life at the time they happen.”
–W.P. Kinsella author of Shoeless Joe
I’ve been all over
I’ve seen too much
I no longer feel the need to rush
– from 463 by Buck 65. Listen here. Buy here.
(463 is the scorecard notation for a double play from the second base player to the shortstop on to first. )
Here is a bonus track for all the Blue Jays fans
Put me in coach I’m ready to play…
from Centrefield by John Fogerty
Without a Vision People Perish; Without a Vehicle Vision Languishes
Play the Field with Concepts but Stay Faithful to Your Ethics
Whole Systems Change is not a Rubik’s Cube
I was a 10 year old kid but I will never forget you catching the last pitch. I was sitting in the stands along the 1st base line. You were standing straight up and your catching arm was fully extended. Ray’s upshoot was unbelievable that night. So were you.
Rick Lafleur (Ray’s younger brother)
thank you Rick – you’ve made a precious memory even more precious
Also glad to read the word ‘upshoot’ again. Folks out here call it a ‘riser’ so I chose that word. Ray will always be associated with ‘upshoot’ so I retired the word in his honour.
I remember being at that game and those many other play-off series that graced our ball field almost each and every late September and October during the 1960s. In those good old days weather seemed to factor into many of those games and with the full cooperation of the town, town graders and other forms of equipment needed to be used in order to get the field in playable shape….it was rain, sleet, and snow, but nothing could deter from playing the game or the series. I even remember spraying the field with oil and burning it for drying purposes……not sure how effective it really was. Again, the good old days.
Al, I remember you quite well from High School and going to catch for Ray, and at the time, and I couldn’t remember why you went in to catch, but for one with little experience you did a darn good job. Who was the regular catcher at the time…was it Barry Fraser (the same Barry Fraser who did time with the Edmonton Oilers mangement team) or Roger Comeau. And yes, Ray was the best through his assortment of pitches and his record speaks for itself……….