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
(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