I hope you enjoy this column that evokes both the spirit of winter (hockey) and a longing for summer (baseball). Originally published in the Kings County Record on February 2nd, 1988, and slightly edited here for clarity.
There’s no connection a man can figure out
Between his just desserts and what he gets.
~ Robert Frost, in “The Death of the Hired Man.”
Actually, when I was younger, I was pretty certain there was a clear connection. There was more than a Ford in my future. The waiting world was hushed in anticipation of the great deeds I was going to do. All that was required of me, was to put my shoulder to the wheel, or my hand to the tiller, or pen to paper, or – whatever to which. The blanks tended to be filled in differently from day to day, as the enthusiasm of the moment dictated.
I don't think my younger self was any more – or less – egotistical than any of the younger selves that were around me then; or that crowd the wings in that stage of life, waiting for the moment to make their grand entrance, now. Manifest destiny is the rallying cry of youth.
The city closest to us – Pittsburgh, PA – had a baseball team for the summer (The Pirates) and a hockey team for the winter (The Hornets). Everybody cared passionately about the fortunes of the hometown teams. If the baseball team suddenly won two in a row – a feat almost unheard of – you could bet the bleachers would be crammed to the rafters to cheer them on in a glorious, but doomed, effort to extend the winning streak to three.
The hockey team – a farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs – was a different matter. They won frequently, and persistently, and were usually close to the top of their division, and often in the playoffs for the Calder Cup. Winter was a time to regain some of your confidence – about God being in his heaven and all being right with the world – lost as the baseball season unfolded. And yes, the Pirates had indeed clinched last place in the National League for yet another year.
Most of the baseball season – and the hockey season too for that matter – the game of the day was carried on the local radio, announced by men whose staunch faith in the abilities of the local teams was undimmed by any trifling matter such as a seven-straight losing streak or being three goals down with five minutes to play in the third period. It was remarkable when I think about it, but it seemed as normal as 98.6 degrees F at the time – you could not tell, by listening to the radio account, that the home team was losing. Even the score, mentioned in a quick aside, almost as an after-thought – seven runs, twelve hits and no errors for the Dodgers, no runs, no hits, five errors for the Pirates, batting in the bottom of the eighth, two out and nobody on – even that was only a minor cloud in the serene sky of an otherwise amazing game of ball. Ralph Kiner was about to come to the plate, and what a difference he would make! It didn’t really matter that, even if he got hold of a bad pitch and lifted it right out of the park, the score going into the ninth would only be seven to one.
It was perfectly possible to believe in manifest destiny and just desserts listening to Rosey Rowswell calling the ball game; or his counterpart calling the hockey game. And did we ever listen! When Cleveland came down the ice in a close game and we had a man in the penalty box, you held your breath and willed the puck away from the net. If, for some inexplicable reason, our team lost, you thought guiltily that you hadn’t been paying close enough attention or they would have won for sure.
I remember the point in my career when certainty about the way things were going to be took a bad slide. I had just gotten my driver’s license and was mad keen about anything with four wheels and an engine. That summer, tickets on a draw for some local charity were being sold and the prize was a breathtakingly beautiful convertible with leather upholstery, idiot-lights on the dash, and all the flim-flammery Detroit had to offer in the early fifties. I knew I was destined to win that car. There was no doubt about it. Oh, somewhere deep down, I had to admit that there was a lingering doubt, but, like Rosey Rowswell and his colleagues, I wasn't going to let tiresome things like probabilities, or statistics get in the way of what was going to be.
The draw was held on Labour Day and without exactly hanging around the telephone – that would indicate a lack of faith – I made sure I wasn’t too far away either. Somehow, I never did hear who won that car, but it wasn't me.
Funny, how things turn out, isn’t it? Take the opening of the new Co-op store now. They were giving away a color TV as part of the festivities and I told the store manager that my wife had told me to win it. I think the draw was last Friday and they haven’t got in touch with me yet.
I wonder if I might have made a mistake in putting down my phone number?
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.