Batter! Batter! Batter!

 

Editor’s Note – (I give up.

Been trying to add pictures and media all day to no avail We will have to be satisfied with Peter’s words and story. My apologies).

In a recent column, I mentioned that I could not play minor hockey because I didn’t want to burden my parents with needing to keep buying me new equipment as I grew into the incredibly studly man whom I eventually became a). I accepted that as the price of being in a large family. Let me reiterate that growing up, I got everything that I needed and a lot of what I wanted. Anyway, back to sports. There was an alternative available to me, however. I had a baseball glove and running shoes, I could enrol in the Legion Minor Baseball Program. They would even provide a uniform!

 

Yeah, How’s That Goin’ For You …?

Here’s some background about the Legion. After “The War To End All Wars” ended, servicemen’s groups formed worldwide. They originally served as social clubs where you could meet up with others who had survived the horrors of trench warfare and understood exactly what you were talking about when you mentioned “Ypres”. There were a number of branches across the country, and Orillia’s was designated Branch 34. The national organization was divided up into regional commands and reunions and conventions were frequently held.

As time went on, the aims of the Legion evolved. For example, social supports were established, such as “The Last Post Fund”, which enabled homeless and friendless veterans to at least have a decent and dignified burial when they passed. The Legion also began fundraising for hospitals and seniors’ residences, as they strove to try to build a better world. To get back on track, the Legion also began to sponsor athletic programs for youth, including track and field championships at the national level. More immediately relevant and germane to my immediate story, they also set up minor baseball programs b).

The team names were all “old school”. Dodgers, Giants, Phillies, Pirates, Tigers c) etc,( but interestingly, no “Yankees”). I was assigned to the Dodgers, and was excited when I got my uniform. It was grey with black trim, consisting of a top, pants and black stirrup socks. “Legion Dodgers” was splayed across the front, and a sponsor name was on the back. I close my eyes and I can still see them. “West Ward”, “Waggs Laundry”, “John Frame and Co.” and even “Branch 34”, inter alia d). Now think about that for a minute, think about the implications. When you’re a kid, you generally just enjoy whatever opportunity is thrust your way without question. In fact, you are generally too oblivious (and yes, I’m guilty!) to realize that a lot of other people have contributed their time, their effort, their money, their expertise and so much more to provide you with the opportunity which is flying by you. Pretty much everything that makes it “tick” has been provided by the efforts of others. Coaches and umpires have been recruited, a lot of work has gone into setting rosters and scheduling and getting fields of play. This was an all volunteer effort. You may ask why people would do all this. They did it because they were investing in their people, in their community.

I think of my coach, Mr Givens, a remarkable man, wheelchair bound, but tireless and a great influence on the whole team. Our coaching staff also included Mr Sargeant and his sister (Louise? e) ). Again, I can see their faces, Messrs Bennett, Burton, Russell, Udell and so many more, all freely donating their time and their expertise. Thank you, each and every one of you. You had a huge impact on so many.

So I went to the first tryouts. I figured that I would pitch, because “pitcher” and “Peter” share many of the same letters. Alas, that was the limit of my qualifications. There are many fine books on pitching, I had prepared for my tryout by reading the excellent biography “Sandy Koufax” by Ed Linn. As the British would say “A cracking read!” (Woefully short on pitching tips, however.) Koufax had retired the previous autumn and I should have too. My first offering hit the backstop about 5 feet wide  of the plate and 10 feet off the ground. My second effort was a crafty sinker, which sank so much that it hit the ground halfway to the plate and rolled for a few more feet. I could read the catcher’s expression in spite of his mask.

So I trudged over to practice with the outfielders at the behest of the coach, my dreams of marrying a Playboy model on hold, at least temporarily f). Studies have shown that most baseballs which are hit to the outfield are hit to left or centre fields. For this reason, it was decided to install Mrs Montreuil’s little boy in right field, “where the action isn’t” g).

So we started the season. I felt like a god in my uniform and probably made my parents heartily sick of the whole thing. I would play all day, come in, eat dinner, “don my armour”, jump on Matilda and ride across town to play ball, retracing my steps after the game. There were two diamonds we used, one by the Amphitheatre and McKinnell Square, which was a double field. Hmm, never seen that before. It should be noted that there was a diamond about 500 metres from my house, which had been used for some time, but no longer was. As a result, I had to cross town to play baseball, on Matilda when she was serviceable, on foot when she wasn’t. (It boggles my mind. I am feeling tired just thinking about all that walking!) We grew up without a car, and the bus service was ummm…restricted, at least in 1967.

I really enjoyed my teammates. Some are even Facebook friends ™. We all got along well and learned about expanding our horizons. It was funny though, looking across the diamond and seeing a friend of classmate wearing the uniform of the opposition. I should add that I valued my time in team sports, it taught me a lot of lessons which served me well not only at work, but in daily life. For example, while it’s nice to have “stars”, success comes most frequently to the group which plays together and supports each other and values the “hewers of wood and carriers of water.”.

A few memories, you might enjoy them.

-Going to the “Dairy Queen” after the game and getting a “Mister Misty”. Shaved ice and “toxic food colouring”. Nectar of the gods. A simple pleasure, a real treat. I liked “grape” the best. Once I remember getting bumped and spilling my drink down the  inside of my glove. The drink had been “cherry”, so I didn’t mind too much.

-Standing in right field with a power hitter up. A voice in my head told me to move 10 steps to my right. I did so, he hammered the ball…and I caught it waist high! All I had to do was raise my glove. I looked and saw runners “tagging up” to advance. I reared and fired the ball homewards. That was when the real adventure began. “Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene” h)

-On another occasion, a boy hit a ground ball to me in short right field. I threw him out at first, to my surprise..

-Looking up once and seeing my Dad and my older brother. They had surprised me by walking across Orillia to see me play, from Franklin Street to McKinnell Square. They would do the same journey in reverse when the game was over.

-Looking up once and seeing my teacher parked in his car. I was waving so frantically trying to get him to notice me that Mr Givens had to tersely remind me that we had a ball game to play, and would I be kind enough to take my glove and go to my assigned position?

-I got “beaned”, i.e. hit by a pitch, a few times i).Once I was lying there in the batter’s box looking like Beetle Bailey after Sarge was through with him. I heard the umpire tell the pitcher that if he hit one more batter, he was out of the game. Through my pain I suddenly thought of my dad’s favourite expression when Disaster beckoned! I heard him say “Well that’s a fine how do you do!” I started to laugh in spite of myself. j)

-One evening the opposition, the Giants, were one player short. They asked if we would loan them a player. Winning was never the primary purpose of the league, so our coaches agreed. Now, there was a limit to their largesse, however. They cast eyes about for a suitable candidate. They couldn’t find me, so they chose a lad, let’s call him “Tim”. “Tim” and I made sure that the bench never blew away. The situation was so relaxed that “Tim” wore even wore his Dodger uniform. Well, he may have been “Tim”, but he played like Willie Mays that game. The situation became Kafkaesque when a Dodger pitcher made a pitch and a Dodger batter ripped it into right field for a double and 3 runs driven in. He pretty much singlehandedly beat us, getting several hits, scoring runs, driving runs in and making some outstanding defensive plays. Of course, the next game “Tim” was inserted into the Dodger batting order as they were eager to unleash their “:sleeping giant” on the rest of the league. Willie Mays he may have played like in the previous game, but unfortunately “Tim” showed up for this game, and we got manhandled for the second game in a row. Only difference was that this time, “Tim” was on our bench, where he stayed for a game or two further.

-And just so you don’t think that I never messed up, two more painful memories. First, I hit a ball to the shortstop. I raced to first as the shortstop threw. The first baseman caught the ball and I collided with him. He fell to the ground. I was standing on first, but stepped off to help my fallen foe up, apologizing to him as I did so. (My parents bred polite children.) He showed his gratitude by tagging me out. Mr Givens was not pleased with my untimely display of manners, and I spent the rest of the inning trying to look inconspicuous at the far end of the bench.

-For a while I had some success bunting. One evening I laid a beautiful bunt down, worthy of Maury Wills. I scampered up to first base and turned to survey my achievement and receive my accolades. The one flaw in my action was the fact that the bases had been loaded, and my poor teammate on third was out at home by 15 feet! I never ever ever bunted with the bases loaded again, taking what Mr Givens had said through clenched teeth to heart.

I don’t know my statistics for that season. I probably got about 12 hits, all singles k). I scored some runs, drove a few in, made some good plays, made some bad plays. Most of all, I learned something about myself and the world around me. I still think of those days fondly. Although we didn’t win the championship, we grew as people and started to think that maybe Life wasn’t always going to be tough, and that friends could come from anywhere.

So once again, let me thank all those unsung volunteers, both in front of and behind the scenes, who chose to invest in people and did what they could to make the world a better place. We are in your debt. As an aside, when I “speak ” to my old teammates, we still speak fondly of Messers Givens and Sargeant.

Before I go, I always hear people say “Gee Peter, there’s no good contemporary music!” Sure there is, but don’t take my word for it. Check out yet another in an apparently endless string of great GTA indie bands, Weigh The Anchor. This song, “This Time Next Year” has got everything a great song needs. Great music, meaty guitar, good bass line and excellent lyrics! I came across it while scrolling through a promoter’s page and the first time I heard it, I jumped off my couch, disturbing the cat. l)

See you soon.

  1. a) Not exactly as illustrated.
  2. b) One of the smartest things to do when writing is to write about that which you have knowledge of. My column will therefore refer to the Orillia Legion Minor Pee-Wee Baseball program of 1967.
  3. c) Happy, Neil?
  4. d) Latin “among others”.
  5. e) Confession time. I was smitten with her, I thought she was beautiful, so beautiful in fact, that I was a tongue tied schoolboy around her, which is actually pretty normal, when you consider things. IIRC, she once asked me to get her something from her car. I floated for a week afterwards. Anyway, back to baseball.
  6. f) Bo Belinsky was my hero at the time
  7. g) Indeed, I played,( when I played), almost exclusively in right field except for a memorable part inning at shortstop and a bit of time in left field. I was used to this “meritocratic bias” and this, as well as the efforts of my numerous enemies in “the deep state” go a long way towards explaining why there was never a “Peter Montreuil” action figure released.
  8. h) Thanks again, Mark Twain. When I made a long throw, you could hear glass shatter over the neighbourhood, or so I’m told.
  9. i) Don Drysdale was once told to intentionally walk a batter. Drysdale reared back and plonked the guy in the ribs with the first pitch, thereby putting the batter on first. Drysdale was asked why he done that and replied “Why waste three pitches?”
  10. j) I can still hear him say that.
  11. k) If you are on an online site and you see “a ball hit for a home run on June 25th, 1967,  autographed by the batter, Peter Montreuil” advertised two things will warn you that it’s fake. Firstly, if you can read my signature, it’s phony. Secondly, I never hit a home run playing Legion baseball.
  12. l) This is pretty much how I described it the first time I wrote about it. Can I plagiarize myself 😉 ?
=PJM=

2 Responses to “Batter! Batter! Batter!”

  1. Neil Reid Says:

    3, c) Yip, happy Pete! That was a good read!

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