Although I have been a baseball fan for more than 20 years, missing, I think, nothing of significance from Little League to big league during this time, the memory that remains the strongest and the fondest is of an event that took place back near the very beginning of my fandom, and, strangely enough, it took place after the baseball season was over.
It was the late '40s in Grand Falls, N.B. The season had been a good one; for the first time since the war we had a home-town team. It was entirely comprised of returned veterans, and the citizenry, including my fellow 11-year-olds and me, had responded by turning out for their Sunday games in numbers that seemed to exceed the population. We had, in fact, become a baseball-mad community.
But now it was early October, and in northern New Brunswick that means the end of the baseball season, because the air carries a palpable chill and snow may be as close as the next cloud. So the team had retired for the year and, our area being without football, the rest of us had settled in for a winter of hockey and vicarious baseball.
Then suddenly a rumor that had been circulating since mid-September took tangible form. There was a bloom of posters in store windows along the main street announcing in shouting bold print the nearly unbelievable news that Birdie Tebbetts' major league All-Stars were coming to play an exhibition.
Now, if you grew up in a small town, were nuts on baseball and at age 11 had not seen even one professional ballplayer in person, much less an entire team, you will have to agree that here was the singular event of our lives. The signs had listed some of the players coming—George (Snuffy) Stirnweiss, Joe Coleman, Eddie Pellagrini, Frank Shea, Ray Scarborough, Earl Torgeson, Tony Lupien, Vern Stephens—and after stopping to reread the list at practically every store on the way from school each day we would spend hours envisioning their presence in our ball park. The anticipation was delicious.
It was, however, diluted a little by worry about the weather. Gray-lined snow clouds were overhead each day, and we knew only a drop in temperature would be required to open them up like burst pillows. All we could do was pray.
Our civic pride, meanwhile, was running undeterred, fed by all of us, 11-year-olds to adults. Small-towners are never hard put to find pride in their town anyway, but a visit by big-league ballplayers—well, that was something you could really talk big about. So we constantly bragged to each other, subtly, of course. For example:
"S'pose there'll be lots down from Edmundston for the big game."
"Yeah, I imagine. And I hear four busloads are comin' up from Fredericton."
The implication was clear. The larger towns in the St. John Valley were being bypassed. Our little town, population about 3,000, was a chosen place.