MIKE MASON AT THE BAT
The bases are loaded. There are two out. It’s the bottom of the final inning. We’re three runs down. My father steps into the batter’s box. I’m six years old, too young and too inexperienced in the game of fast pitch softball to know how absolutely classic the setting is.
The players in the Kahan Automotive Parts dugout stand in anticipation, noses to the metal fence. I stand right there with them, gripping the cold metal, shivering with excitement in my Kahan Auto shirt with BATBOY printed on the back. I’m swimming in that shirt. It’s way too big for me.
“Keep your eye on the ball, Geddy,” my father’s teammates say. “Your Old Man is going to send the pill for a ride. Hell, he’s Toronto’s answer to Babe Ruth.”
Dad taps his cleats with his bat as he steps into the batter’s box. He fixes his eyes on the pitcher. We can hear the catcher’s chatter.
“Hey, Mike. How ya doin’?”
“Pretty fair. Yourself?”
“Okay, Mike. Okay.”
The catcher stands up, steps in front of the plate and waves his arms to his outfielders, moving them out, deeper, nearer the fences.
“What if I drop a blooper into shallow center field?” Dad needles the catcher, still staring down the pitcher.
“Right, Mike. Who ya kiddin’? You only know one way to hit.”
It was May 1953. My father was 37. Back in the early 1930’s, in his teen years, he’d gained a reputation for hitting towering home runs in the Toronto sandlot leagues. Twenty years later, Dad was still a feared power hitter among baseball and softball players in and around Toronto.
And now, even now, more than six decades later, I can still see him in the batter’s box.
I can still see every minute detail of the way he set himself at the plate.
He spreads his feet apart, a bit wider than the width of his body. He bends his knees. He toes the front chalk mark, his left foot about six inches closer to the long line separating him from the plate than his right foot.
He angles his upper body back toward the catcher as he cocks his bat. He never looks away from the pitcher. His gaze is both a glare and a smirk.
“Geddy, are you paying attention?” the man on my left says.
“Uh-huh,” I say.
Everyone in our dugout is shouting.
“Clear the bases!”
I don’t remember what the count was when Dad hit the ball over the fence.
It could easily have been three balls and two strikes, considering how utterly classic the setting was—I already mentioned that, didn’t I? But what does it matter? I was there.
I see the ball sail over the two-storey-high center field fence.
The ballpark is in a downtown neighborhood and I wonder if the home run ball breaks someone’s window.
I am there.
I see my father trot triumphantly around the bases.
I see his teammates mob him at home plate, pounding him on the back, shaking his hand, hugging him.
I see Dad smiling, full of joy, full of life.
Dear Reader, do you understand?
This is not a story about the shattering of illusions.
This is not a story about a son learning the bitter lessons of life.
This is a story about a father who is still his young son’s hero, who despite all the slings and arrows life has already cast his way, still hits home runs.
So what about reality and disillusionment?
Not to worry.
There would be plenty of time for them in the years to come.