Years before the Blue Jays played their first game at the old Exhibition Stadium back in 1977, the best baseball around could be found on the big diamond at Talbot Park, just down the street from our house. We spent many summer nights watching the big boys play under the lights. Because we lived so close and were there all the time, Howard Birnie and the other bigwigs in the Leaside Baseball Association often let us help out a bit during the games. We fetched the foul balls that occasionally landed behind the fence. Once in a while we’d help out in the snack bar, serving up hot dogs and the now nearly forgotten Lolas – massive and irregularly shaped chunks of fruit-flavoured ice that were inexplicably popular. Even more rarely, we were permitted to assist the announcer who sat up in the scoreboard where we switched on the lights for Balls, Strikes, and Outs.
But the most fun was serving as batboy for the senior Leaside teams playing the night games. We’d sit in the dugout with the players and fetch the bats from around home plate when a player made it on base on a hit or a walk. My chest would swell with pride as I hoisted the heavy bat onto my shoulder and trotted back to the dugout. But one night, my brother and I were complicit in a stunt that would shake the foundations of Leaside baseball for generations. Okay, that might a slight exaggeration, but it felt like a big deal at the time.
I forget what Leaside team was playing. It was probably either Richardson’s for Sports or Rumble Pontiac. Tim was batboy that night having beaten me to the dugout, but I was hanging around the park to watch. Late in the game, the visiting team was clobbering Leaside. It was a very lopsided score – in the 10-0 vicinity if memory serves – and a ninth inning home team comeback was implausible at best. With the bad guys at the plate with a couple of runners already on base, Tim hollered at me and waved me over to the dugout. When I got there, the manager asked me to run to the top of the hill and knock on the door of the first house at the foot of Donegall, where Leaside’s catcher lived. I was to ask his mother for a peeled potato and then run it back to the dugout without anyone seeing it. I had no idea why I was doing this, but I was a very obedient 12 year old at the time and did as I was told. The catcher’s mother was equally in the dark about my odd request, but I was persuasive and had the naked spud in my paws within a minute or two.
The other team was still piling up the runs when I surreptitiously passed the peeled potato to my brother in the dugout. By this time, the visitors had a man on third with two outs. The manager called time and walked to the pitcher’s mound summoning the catcher. After the conference, the catcher resumed his position behind the plate with the peeled potato secreted behind his chest protector. The runner on third base was taking a hefty leadoff so after the next pitch the catcher appeared to hurl the ball over the head of the third baseman and into left field in a futile attempt to catch the runner napping. Naturally, with the left fielder still chasing the ball, the guy on third trotted home certain he was about to score another run. But when he got there the Leaside catcher tagged him out with the ball that he somehow still had in his glove.
Still with me? The catcher threw the peeled potato into left field tricking everyone in the park, including the base-runner. When the umpire discovered he’d been duped by the old peeled potato trick, he immediately called the game and exchanged some choice words with Leaside’s manager. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. I know it sounds far-fetched, but I was there. And it happened in Leaside.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning writer of six national bestsellers, including his most recent, One Brother Shy, all published by McClelland & Stewart.