Re-reviving old friendships
About the time the baseball season opened - we'd already heard some grapefruit-league games on the radio - I was in Shaw's market and propitiously encountered a man who looked like a Bouchard. He was reading the labels on the diet fruits. ''I humbly beg your pardon,'' I said, ''but if you aren't a Bouchard you certainly fooled me.'' He shifted his focus from a label to my face , broke into a great grin, and we danced about shaking each other's hand in the manner of old friends who haven't met in years. He was indeed Cabot Bouchard, and in the late 1920s and early 1930s he played second base for the Cabot Tigers. As the local journalist, I scored the games, and Cabot made one of the most spectacular plays in the entire history of baseball, as I hope to relate.
In the early days of New England industrialization, the Cabot family of (where else?) Boston invested in what was then known as a ''privilege'' - the right to generate hydropower for manufacturing purposes. This was on the Androscoggin River at Brunswick, and until New England textiles waned in the thirties and forties the Cabot Mill was an important Maine company. Like almost all New England cotton mills, the Cabot sent agents up into Quebec to recruit workers, and by the middle 1800s every cotton town had its millhouses and tenements with settled French-Canadian labor that was admittedly ''cheap.'' These people held aloof from the Yankee communities, and it wasn't altogether the fault of the Yankees. They brought their church, and their church kept their schools and insisted on using French. And while they were apart from the English-speaking folks and unquestionably exploited, these people were glad for jobs and in terms of Quebec hardships considered themselves prosperous. When the Bouchards came down from Kamouraska or Beauce, they were sentimental about the Cabot Mill and named their boy Cabot. By the time Cabot came to play baseball, things had eased off and it was all right for cotton weavers to move to a better part of town, to stand for public office, and even to enter their children in colleges.
Cabot, as I encountered him in the market, carries some weight and was not looking at the diet foods for fun. He doesn't stand much over five feet, and when he played baseball was right around 140 pounds. Small and light for an athlete, but he was quicker'n a pussycat, and it wasn't often a ball went through him. I commented that he'd need to trim down for the season, and he laughed and patted his avoirdupois. He's retired from a state job, so I guess his spread is honest enough. We stood there and visited while customers pushed their carts around us. Most pleasant meeting.
I have complete recall about the spectacular play Cabot made, but he doesn't remember it at all. The Cabot Mill nine was taking on the Worumbo Lemons at home , and while the Cabots' roster was wholly local, the Worumbos liked to hike in some ringers from big-league teams. These fellows would come on an off-day and play for a day's pay and expenses under names like Smith and Jones. Such might not have been truly honest, but it was acceptable for other teams to do the same - if they had the price and needed talent. One of the Smiths, that day, was a power hitter and in the top of the fourth he connected with a fastball.
The thing left the bat with the velocity to send it into the river, except that it went through the pitcher's box about ten inches off the ground. The pitcher had no time to react, and never saw the ball. He heard it scream as it went by, and smelled the brimstone from the streak it made. But Cabot Bouchard, positioned instinctively, nimbly moved to make the play, and the ball came at him direct center. Down came his glove, and the ball took a crazy hop to hit Cabot ker-smack-o on the forehead just above the bridge of his nose. Cabot, suddenly limp, fell to the ground as if poleaxed, out like a light, and it took some twenty minutes to bring him around. The runner, legging for first, watched this happen and lowered his stride.
When the baseball hit Cabot, there was a kind of bong noise like somebody hitting an empty pail with a rock, and the ball bounced toward first base. The first baseman (seems to me he was one of the Paiement boys) caught the ball and made the putout. As scorekeeper, I was obliged to give Cabot Bouchard an assist, after which I joined the umpire and players in trying to revive him.