Last Thoughts About The Boys of Summer

ON Sunday morning, the 24th of October, 1993, we had an unexpected telephone call from dear friends in South Hatley, Province of Quebec, Canada. This was a most pleasant surprise, as we hadn't heard from them since something like last February, and after preliminary remarks they came right to the point and answered our curiosity. ``Tomorrow is our Canadian election day, and we decided to call while we still had something to cheer about! How'd you like that game last night?''

Their presumption that we would be Phillies fans was a mite off target. Years ago I would have been, as Jack Coombs was my boyhood idol. John Wesley Coombs was born in my hometown, and we boys not only had heard of his prowess on the mound, but now and then in his old age, he would come to a high school game to see us get trounced. He always dropped $5 in the hat. Jack pitched, in his own day, for our high school nine, and Ruel Hanscomb, who caught him, toughened his left hand between innings in a pail of salt water. Jack struck out 24 batters in a nine-inning game and got attention from a scout from Colby College. Colby was kind to baseball players in those days, so Jack left our high school in January of his senior year and had a scholarship to Maine Central Institute, which had a paid coach and all. The next fall he entered Colby, and Colby was always very happy about that. Jack's nickname was ``Colby Jack Coombs.''

On graduation day, Jack pitched a shutout for Colby, and marched in the commencement procession to receive his degree in business science, or whatever it was - Colby had never awarded that degree before. He then boarded the afternoon train for Philadelphia and pitched for Connie Mack's National League team the next day. I believe he stayed with the Phillies his entire big-league career. That fall, I think you'll find, he pitched two world-series games and won both.

So, my fetchin'-up in mind, 'twas reasonable to suppose I'd be a Phillies rooter against Toronto in 1993. Instead, I leaned toward Toronto. Well, back along when two Canadian baseball teams appeared, another of my Canadian friends and I entered into a solemn pact that when the Montreal Expos played the Toronto Blue Jays for the world championship, we'd drop all else and attend every game. At the time, any supposition that either team would ever be in the series, let alone both of them, was too absurd to consider, and for quite a few years our families made jest about just who would have the octogenarian honor of pushing Henri and me up the handicap ramp. There was no SkyDome then, and I think some of the Expos lacked uniforms. I remember I wittily remarked that I certainly looked forward to hearing ``O Canada'' sung in French at Toronto - a small jest perhaps over the head of any baseball fan in Philadelphia.

Thus this year, we were twitted by our Canadian friends about losing the series - twice in a row yet! We had congratulated them and ended the conversation when Lo! - our telephone rang again and it was another Canadian call asking what we thought of that baseball game. When we asked about the next day's election, they kept saying something about a home run in the ninth.

There are at least two things about baseball that I wish the Canadian fans would consider and maybe lend their influence to remedy. One is the need to go back to some day games. Baseball is no longer the most popular American sport - and Canada is just as much America as are the Boston States.

We old fussbudgets who might interest our heirs in the sport are not likely to exude enthusiasm for something that isn't scheduled until 8:30 and doesn't start until some windbag exhausts himself going-on-nine. Television may generate profits, but what is it doing for baseball if Grampy sits there with grandson on his gentle knee, and they're both asleep by the top of the third inning?

I might also make comment about the high pay, but my second suggestion has to do with the uncouth subject of expectoration. All the baseball commissioner has to do is impose an automatic no-appeal fine of $1,000 on any player who spits while on camera. There is no need of it, and anybody earning today's baseball salaries is in a financial bracket to buy some genteel tips from a charm school, or simply to start acting grown-up. This should have been taken care of when the TV was a tot, and if you look it up you'll find I said so then.

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