The season after my season with the West Fort Garry Little League Colts, our Major League namesake team decided that Colts wasn’t such a good name after all, and thus were born the Houston Astros. They even moved to a new ballpark, presumably to escape the memory of Colthood. I took the blame for this at the time, but perhaps I was being a bit hard on myself.
I was after all a far better player than Charlie Brown, Lucy van Pelt, and the rest of the Peanuts team except for maybe Schroeder and the dog. Which is not to say I didn’t have my Charlie Brown moments, the worst of which is still, truly, too painful to relate, other than to say it was a fly ball to right field while I was thinking I’d rather be in left and out of the direct blaze of the setting sun. It was a game-losing miss, the game was a big one, and I credit myself only with my refusal to be consoled by our kindly coach, Murdo Morrison. “You lost it in the sun…” was no help at all. There are ways not to lose a ball in the sun, and I should not have forgotten them as I did that day.
I liked to catch for my friend the speed-merchant Clyde Merritt when he practised his pitching, and although I used one of those old-fashioned catcher’s mitts that looked and smelt like a cow-pie, catching still smarted when he really let rip.
Clyde Merritt was a name made for baseball. Curtis Small and Larry Lagimodière were names made for baseball. Larry Lagimodière! Good player, nice kid, perfect name.
Billy Noble: not such a perfect baseball name, but I did pretty much pull my weight—all 65 pounds of it—by way of my near-perfect on-base percentage. What with the tiniest strike zone in the league, and a two-sizes-too-big uniform, it was as hard for the ump to call a strike on me as it was for any pitcher—even Clyde Merritt— to throw one. Coach Morrison would say, “He’s gonna walk you, Billy Boy, so for chrissake leave the bat on your shoulder.”
And so I did, mostly. Very occasionally I’d get a rush of blood to the head and take a swing, and more occasionally still I’d actually make contact. It wouldn’t be until I played in a post-Summer of Love team out west that I finally came into my own as a hitter and fairly bewitching pitcher, but I have to be honest here and admit that the opposition in—I kid you not— The Kozmik League was ipso facto non compos mentis, often as not.
Back in Winnipegland now for my other Charlie Brown baseball moment, which was actually off-field, after a double-header on an empty stomach in the August heat. I blacked out on my bike and rear-ended a parked ’59 Cadillac, narrowly missing impalement on one of its glorious fins. As I lay semi-conscious on the road I heard familiar voices approaching: a couple of girls from school. Help, I thought to myself. One of them asked, “Isn’t that Billy Noble?” and the other answered, “Um, yeah, I think so.”