DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Me and Baseball

This year I have renewed my interest in baseball. Over the years, I have found myself interesting in this wonderful American pastime, which also has also had a long and nation wide history within Canada.

I can still remember my first visit to the Maple Leaf Baseball park in Toronto. It was 1954. I was particularly impressed with Elston Howard who went on to to play for the New York Yankees as the first Black player on that team, some 8 years after Jackie Robinson, integrated professional baseball in the US, after having spent a year in Montreal playing for the Montreal Royal in preparation for joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Canada for years had welcomed Black and Latin players to play alongside white players in the many minor professional leagues across the country.

The Maple Leaf baseball team had a long history in Toronto going back to 1896. It was the second effort at forming a professional club which was first founded in 1885. They were part of the International league which had teams on both sides of the border. They often had a working relationship with teams in the US such as the one with the Yankees which had Elston Howard assigned to them so that he could learn to play the catcher position, which the Yankees had in mind for him. He was the MVP player that years in the International League. He could not be denied. The Yankees were reluctant to allow black players to wear the pin strips but the were shamed into it in 1956. One of the owners just a couple of years earlier was quoted as saying “Boxholders from Westchester don't want them. They would be offended to have to sit with niggers" This was not unusual. Many owners were deeply racist such as Coney Mack and the Griffith Family. Casey Stengel, who was no racist although a man of his time remarked about Howard, "“When I finally get a nigger, I get the only one that can't run.” . These first black players were expected to take without response the racial insults and the segregation in the US. As a young Canadian, I was unaware of all the social and political ramifications of the integration of baseball in the US. I was there that day watching a lovely baseball game and being impressed by the greatest player on the field Elston Howard.

This is the Maple Leaf Baseball Clubs stadium at the foot of Bathurst Street on the lake shore. Across the western gap is one of the Toronto Islands where the Billy Bishop Airport is today and where there once was an earlier ball park at Harlan's Point.

Professional Baseball disappeared for a few years when the Maple Leaf Club folded in 1967. The Toronto Blue Jays were founded in Toronto in 1977 as an expansion team in the American League. The National League had expanded earlier into Montreal with the Montreal Expos club. (mismanaged which saw it finally moved to Washington DC as the Washington Nationals. (They would have like the name Senators except the Griffith Family held the rights to that name).

In those early years, I, like so many in Toronto, followed the Blue Jays, first when they played at Exhibition Stadium in all kinds of weather and then when they played indoors at the iconic Skydome with it retractable roof. The high point in those years was when the Blue Jays won back to back World Series. 1992-93. I still remember and feel the emotion of jumping into the air along with Joe Carter as he hit a home run to win the '93 World Series. Those were heady days for baseball in Toronto.

One Christmas, Parker gave me as a present the boxed set of Baseball, the film by Ken Burns on the history of the game. For two days the two of us watch all 10 videos (22 hours in all) and relished in the many aspect of the history of the game, I was particularly interested in the video on the Negro League for I had lived 10 years in two different black communities in the US and had become very interested in the black community, it's history and modern problems. The history of women's baseball was interesting for many of those players came from Canada. I guess we all remember the film "A Game of their Own" I have since viewed the whole collection a second time and revisited a couple of videos more than once. I recently gave this collection to one of my grandchildren in the hope he will watch it. There is now an eleventh video which covers the history of the last 20 years. There are birthdays coming so . . maybe someone might like this as a gift and I will be able to view it myself.

Ken Burns PBS film on Baseball

When I lived in the US I showed little interest in baseball. It seems I was too busy trying to transform the World. Lynne keeps saying she cannot believe that I lived in Boston and never went to Fenway Park. I used to see it regularly, as I drove by. Looking up the Street from Boston University I could see the entrance to the ball park. Perhaps worst still for a Canadian I never went to see the Boston Bruins play hockey at North Station. I never did get to see Bobby Orr play hockey. My wife even had a school mate, Ken Hodge, from her high school that played on the team so we might have gotten some special treatment.
Lynne has recently suggested we might go to Boston this Fall, a city she has never visited and I know well.
Perhaps taking in a game at Fenway might be in order.

When I lived in New Haven, a friend of mine who worked at the local mental health center introduced me to her co-worker, Rachel Robinson, who was the widow of Jackie Robinson. I wish I had not been so star struck that I did not arrange an opportunity to talk with her a little about her husband and particularly their year in Montreal. Ironically, I had carried around in my head and heart the name of Rachel for a daughter I might some day have. Here I was actually meeting a Rachel Robinson.

Over the years, I have enjoy a lot of baseball on the radio, which I think is the best way to listen to the game. Announcers of baseball are legendary, many ball club have had iconic announcers, closely identified with the game and team. I can still hear the distinctive voice of Joe, Joe Chrysdale who announce the Maple Leaf Baseball games. The wonderful Blue Jays play by play announcer was Tom Cheek, who announced uninterrupted home and away games of the Blue Jays, from day one, for 27 years, 4,306 games. I remember him with his side kick colour commentator .Jerry Howarth. Their knowledge of the game and players enriched the game broadcast and kept one interested and focused during the slower parts of the game.When Tom Cheek retired due to ill health, Jerry Howarth continued on seamlessly. He now has Alan Ashby as his partner and colour commentator. Ashby had played as a catcher with the Blue Jays. I am listening almost every day these days to the Blue Jays games. It is addictive.

Years ago, I remember my mother, who had showed no interest in baseball decided she would follow the World Series one year. By the time it was over she knew all about the players and could quote their stats. Oh, how she was addicted and enjoyed it all. But the next year she was again no longer following baseball. It was short lived but thrilling for her that one post season series of games.

While listening recently to baseball I found on my book shelf the book about the The Homestead Grays, a Negro League team in Washington. "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators" by Brad Snyder.

I don't know where or when I acquired this book. It may have been a gift or I bought it on an impulse. I long ago had a professor who said if I saw a book I fancied I should buy it even if I could not read it at the moment. If I did not have it handy I might never read it. I had a better chance to read it if it was on my shelf. I am not sure in the age of the Internet this is still the best advice. I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Between baseball games on the radio I can get my baseball fix by reading it's history. In this case, my interest in the history of the American Black community, was also being fed.

This book is a exposition of the time before and during the last of segregation of Washington and the integration of baseball. It is the story of the all white Senators and the black Homestead Grays.
The Senators were owned by the Griffith family and the Grays were the local black team in the Negro League. These two teams like the black and white communities of Washington interacted with each other in the prescribed ways of the segregated city. While the Griffiths would not have dared have a black player on their team and didn't understand why "niggers wanted to play the white man's game", they were not adverse to renting Griffith Stadium to the Grays at high rates while the Senators were out of town. The blacks of Washington loyally went to the ball park to watch the Senators, often to the neglect of the Grays, sitting in the seats everyone know they could use without the necessity of the signage for such designation found in more southern communities. The Washington Black community was centered adjacent to Griffith Stadium. This community which included all classes of black citizens had a rich social and cultural life in those years. Howard University was intellectually at it's best, preparing the black elite for an ivy league education and positions in the federal bureaucracy. At the time, the local black high school, Dunbar, was an excellent private school, I imagine comparable to Boston Latin School in Boston. All up and down seventh avenue there were clubs and bars an other venue which enriched the community. It was the peak of the cultural life of black Washington. Desegregation, like the integration of baseball would weaken and dilute the quality of life in black Washington. The middle class and elites moved out of the community and the central social institution of the black baseball teams disappeared. In many ways the black community paid the price for integration and yet it was a price that had to be paid for the country as a whole and future generations. I enjoyed this analysis of the black community and the changes which happened very interesting while it put into context the central story of baseball in Washington.

The book focuses on the Senators and its owners, the Griffith Family and the struggles of the Homestead Grays. The Grays were an excellent team with several stars who were equal to or better than those on the white Senators. Over the years, there were efforts for the Grays to play the Senators but it never happened. The Griffith Family had too much to lose to allow such a game and losing. They also for years dragged their heels on integrating the team. The were finacially benefiting from segregated baseball.It was 8 years, after Jackie Robinson has integrated baseball before a black player played for the Senators, by this time the Griffiths had moved their team to Minnasota to play were there were "good hard working white people" and only a few blacks. The Griffiths were not the only racist owner of baseball, most were. It would be 12 years before the Boston Red Sox team found a black player good enough to play in that racist city (it was still racist when I lived there)

The story is told with a focus on the life and career of two residents of the Washington black community., Buck Leonard, a star for the Grays and Sam Lacy, a local boy who went on to become a sports writer who spent his career arguing for the integration of baseball. They both are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Leonard was considered the "Lou Gehrig" of black baseball who many considered was a better player than Jackie Robinson. He never got to play on an integrated team. He felt he was too old when a belated invite was offered. Leonard loved baseball but he was most devoted to his family. He became the breadwinner when he father died when he was a teenager. For all his accomplishment in baseball he was most proud that he made it possible for his brothers and sisters to get a good education.

This book is a rich treasure house of stories and personalities during this period of American social history and the integration of baseball. Baseball and the United States continue to have their histories intertwined. Both will always be fascinating to me.

These day, Black baseball players are numerous in baseball. These days I take delight in learning about the Canadians who play in the big leagues. It is a disappointment that professional baseball has not expanded to more cities in Canada and the Blue Jays have not located some of their farm teams in Canada. They are in Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Dunedin, Lansing as well as a few other rookie player leagues in Appalachian, Gulf Coast the Pacific North West. I hope Canada has a long history and expanded history in Canada, yet.

Time to cook some hot dogs, make some popcorn and pour a coke in preparation for listening to tonights game on the radio. Play ball!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

War of 1812, Fort Michilimachinac

It was July 17, 1812  the first battle of the war was fought at the far  reach of the North West Frontier, at Fort Michilimachinac on Machinac Island.  This fort had been built by the French and come into the possession of the English. It was a fort to protect the fur trade route through the Great Lakes.  The British several years later earlier had turned it over the the Americans as part of the settlement of the War of Independence. The British built another fort 50 miles away of St Joseph Island in the mouth of the St. Mary River.  As it turned out the Americans had not heard that the war had begun (we must remind ourselves that it would take several weeks for a messenger to reach this frontier post from Washington.) The British had gotten the word to Fort St Joseph first and left it up to the local commander whether or not to attack the American fort.  They did. With the small group of British soldiers, local Métis residence and several hundred Indians the voyage across the lake was made and the fort was taken.

There are many understanding as to the significance of the War of 1812. One that is put forward is that the British North Americans decided, consciously or unconsciously, that they wanted a different way forward.
In simpler terms, they knew they did not want to be part of the American experiment.  The American's thought that the Canada's would be easy picking. Why not, three out of five residents of Upper Canada (Ontario) we recent immigrants from the United States, United Empire Loyalists.  This was a miscalculation for this group has already  suffered and sacrificed to not be a part of the United States. There were also loyal British subjects,  Indians (First Nation's people ) who had know a long history of abuse by Americans and there were fugitive slaves who feared they may be sent back to their former masters if the Americans won. And, there were French who may have dislike the English for many reason but who distrusted the Americans even more.  The assemblage of French, English and First Nations people were to fight alongside each other to turn the Americans back at the border. Perhaps the different vision of what was to become Canada was there in its nascent form. 

One aspect that interests me is the different relationship British North American and the United States had with the First Nations.  In the Northern part of the continent the European, French and English has a 250 year history of living with, learning from and sharing in the fur trade with the First Nations. It was the First Nations that taught them how to live and survive in the harsh territory with the use of their technology: the canoe, snowshoes, toboggan.  There was a respect between the First Nations and the Europeans as they gained from each other and shared in the basic industry, the fur trade.  The ultimate cooperation  resulted in the emergence of the Métis Nation (recognized in Canada's Constitution as one of the First Nation of Canada.  Metaphorically , Canada has been called a Métis nation.

It was not always a perfect harmonious relationship but it was far better that the continuous war against the Indians by the Americans up until the end of the 19th Century. We now recognize that Canada's values were shaped by the values of First Nations people as well as the British and French.  It has been written that we are a Métis nation. We learned more than how to survive in the wild . We learned how to live with one another.  There are Canadian value today such as sharing  with each other "eating from a common bowl" and accepting others into the community. ( First Nations People often made foreigner, even former enemies, part of their tribe.)  This happened to a Kentuckian militia man during the War of 1812 near Detroit. He was captured after a fierce battle and taken capture by a tribe of Pottawatomie Indians. He was then accepted as  a member of their tribe and shared their sometimes meager food. When he decided he had to leave they sadly saw him go and surrender to the British at Detroit.  This is part of the story of William Atherton. He wrote an interesting journal you can read in the Internet Archive  I recommend it. He was treated more harshly by the British. He walked from Detroit to Montreal where he was imprisoned, fed on food sold the the British by American farmers over the border.  When he was released he walked the 1000 miles home through American territory in Upper New York State that had many Tory (pro-British) residence that he could not count on for help.

 On the American side of the border, the treatment of Indians,  was a  350 year genocidal war  from the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee to the slaughter of the buffalo to deprive the plains Indians of their food and way of life.  The land was not be be shared,  the Removal Act was to have the Indians vacate so that American settlers could move in.

In the North West frontier  this different relationship between the Europeans and the Indians was already being lived out. The British were on good terms with the Indians, thought their fur trade dealings. They had held out the hope the the Indian would eventually have a territory of their own in the North West Frontier.
There was talk of moving the Indians out of the area of the United States to the Indian territory west of the Mississippi.  Most of the Indians sided with the British.  The Great Chief Tecumseh, who had been trying to united the tribes saw the best hope for the tribe was with the British.  Sadly, as it turned out, it was just a hope.  When the war treaty was negotiated they did not have a place at the table and the British did to negotiate and territory in the North West Frontier for the Indians.  As a Canadian, looking back on the negotiations between the British and the American, the British too easily gave in to the Americans. The result of the end of the War of 1812 was that a commission was formed to settle the actual border between British North America and the United States.  You only have to locate all the communities along the Border, particularly between the New England state and BNA and see how the border divided communities that were one before there was a border.  One can only dream how different our two countries would be if a large part of Northern New England, Upper New York State and all of the Great Lakes were north of the border.  Not to mention if what is now Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin had become a home for First Nations People.

Sadly, the First Nations people were the big losers in the War of 1812.  Some settled in Canada, where there are several tribes on the Six Nations reserve, including some Delaware Indians from further south. The Indians of the Three Fire Confederacy: Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie, resettled Manitoulin Island, which they had been driven from by the Iroquois.  Canada continues to this day to try to make things right for the First Nations People.  Progress is slow ,but occasionally dramatic, in settling disputes, honouring treaties and making large financial and territorial claims.  These are obligations of the crown and not any particular government in power at the time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Best Laid Plans. . . .!

I just had a email from my brother, Richard saying he and Carol were ending  their hike of the Mountain to Sea Trail in North Carolina.  Ever since they started it has rained in the mountains and Carol's continuous wet feet has been a problem.  Due to her cancer therapy her feet and hands were left sensitive and the wetness  made the problem worse.  They began the hike knowing that this could be a problem.

If this was the only problem, I suspect they might have rested until the weather cleared and continued but they learned that their daughter, Heather, was also having a crisis in her life. Here beloved Rottweiler dog has been diagnosed as having bone cancer. They must have learned this when the contacted her to give her information to post about their hike. Richard and Carol wanted to be with Heather at this time.

Heather's dog is not only a much love companion and pet it is a trained "therapy dog" which Heather could take into schools, hospitals and nursing homes as therapy for clients.

I can only imagine how badly Heather must feel. If the three Robinson girls I have always considered Heather the sensitive one.  Laura, is the serious one, (the fate of all first born children) and Andrea is the  silly one, as the youngest to be free to be funny and playful.  Heather I am sure would appreciate the support of her parents. She is trying to do the final polishing of her doctoral dissertation  in the field of counselling and therapy. 

I suspect the time will come when Richard and Carol will return to finish the hike from the  mountains to the sea.

Heather and her wonderful dog.

The Canadian Geese when they finished the Appalachian Trail in 2010

Note:  Several people seemed interested in following along with Richard and Carol, as I was. If you would like to read a little about their AT  trek and view the many photo you can find them both here.
I enjoy looking at the photos. If you drop down the dated list fo photos there is a brief description of each.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Another Hike

Today my brother, Richard ,and his wife, Carol, are beginning another hike.  Some may remember that a couple of years ago they did a through hike of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, all 2200 miles of it.  This time they are going to hike across North Carolina on the Mountain to Sea Trail. It is 950 miles.  It is a relatively new trail not fully developed yet. It begins at Clingmans Dome (The highest point on the Appalachian Trail ) , a wonderful lookout spot  in the Great Smokey Mountains and ending at Jockey's Ridge State Park  in Nags Head on the Atlantic Coast. It is roughly a diagonal crossing of the state from Southwest to Northeast.  I wish them well, while  this is less than half the distance of the Appalachian Trail and not over as challenging a terrain, for them it has additional  personal challenges they did not face doing the AT.

There is a story here.  Richard is two years younger than I am and Carol is older, about my age I think, so long distant hiking is a physical test I admire and only wish I was up to such an effort.  In their past, they have both been marathon runners but have had to condition themselves to begin long distant hiking in their retirement. The hiking  of the length of the Appalachian trail was a once in a life time achievement.

Upon finishing the AT  adventure Carol found out she had breast cancer. In the last couple of years she has been fighting this condition. At one point  she thought she had defeated the cancer and the two of them went on a recreational hike and vacation in Florida.  They returned to learn that there we cancer cells in Carol lymphatic system.  The battle against cancer was to be fought once again.

Recently, Carol was told she is cancer free. This hike, which they had been hoping to do was now going  ahead.

My brother, a few weeks ago had a new knee joint installed. I think he wore the last one out on the Appalachian Train.

So you see this hike has some personal challenges and it will bring some special rewards whether of not they are able to ultimately finish all 950 miles.  They earned the designation of the "Canadian Geese" while on the Appalachian Trail, so now we can say the Canadian Geese are taking flight once again.

PS: I don't have to tell you that the weather has been very hot. They are hoping for fewer 100 F degree days.

I will be following their Trail Journal where they will post entries and picture of their progress. from time to time.  I look forward to sharing in another great adventure.