One of the earliest memories I can recall takes place in Grand Falls-Windsor.
I am seven or eight years old and I’ve just hopped out of the motorhome I am staying in with my grandparents for the weekend.
Darting across the parking lot of the old Shawndaithit Centennial Field on Cromer Avenue in the community, I make a beeline for the dugout on the first base side of the field.
My grandfather was in town for the then-annual old timers baseball tournament as it was Grand Falls-Windsor's turn to host the summer classic. It was a fun tournament consisting of teams made up of former players from St. John’s, Grand Falls-Windsor, Port au Port, Stephenville and Corner Brook.
Each summer, they’d get together and play games against each other. Scores were taken, but they didn’t matter much.
It was more about having a good time with some old friends than anything competitive.
Whenever I think about this time in particular, I don’t remember anything else from the weekend other than this.
I remember getting to the dugout after my sprint from vehicle to the ballfield and breathlessly saying “Hi” to a burly gentleman sitting on the bench.
It was Mike Buist and he greeted me with an exuberant ‘Hi pal!’ as a smile spread across his face. It was the same greeting he used many years later when baseball deemed it fit for our paths to cross again.
Mike was sat on the bench with his left leg folded over the other. He was wearing high socks, shorts — I don’t believe I ever seen him play in baseball pants — and his St. John’s Old Timers pinstriped jersey.
In his hands was a pen and a folded newspaper; he was doing the crossword puzzle.
He was one of a number of guys — along with Gordon Breen, Ron Butler, Joe Kenney, Junior Rumsey and others — who I’d probably consider my early baseball heroes.
A former minor leaguer with the New York Mets, Mike was always larger than life to me when I was a kid. He had a large laugh and vicious uppercut of a swing.
To the eight-year-old me, he might as well have been Babe Ruth.
When my grandfather stopped playing in the tournament, I lost touch with Mike.
Such is life.
Remember when I said baseball saw it fit to connect us again?
That happened a couple of years ago at the Baseball NL meetings that take place every fall. There he was with the same big smile, that same greeting from years ago and a strong handshake,
I was older and a bit heavier, but I was still awestruck by the man.
I told him who I was and we talked about that crossword puzzle.
He asked me for help that one time. I could barely spell, but he still asked even though it was painfully obvious I wasn’t going to be able to answer the question.
Looking back, I always appreciated that minor detail.
It made me feel like one of the guys. Made me feel like I wasn’t just a kid hanging out with his grandfather, which I was.
I’m sure that quality is what made Mike a standout leader of minor baseball in the province.
There isn’t any baseball being played at Centennial Field anymore. The game has been moved to other fields in Grand Falls-Windsor.
I drive by it often.
Every time I do, I take a glance at the backstop that serves as a remnant of an earlier time.
It always reminds me of the likes of Mike, Junior Rumsey, Gordon Breen, Billy Malone and others.