Pictou Advocate sports

He shone in Twilight debut at just 15

Sports

The Halifax and District Baseball League provided me with the best years I ever experienced in the sport. It’s where I fell in love with the game as a youngster. It’s where, later, I got my baptism in the media business.

I’ve never forgotten the awful emotions when, after nine years of watching semi-pro ball in the 1950s, our Stellarton Albions withdrew from the import-laden circuit before the 1959 season.

Fortunately, for all of us, the Twilight Senior Baseball League, with its home-grown players, was quickly organized to fill the void.

Through the 1960s, the Twilight loop gave us plenty of things to enjoy, plenty of action to keep the summertime game alive.

I loved that league for several reasons, one of which was the large number of good local athletes who kept the sport in the spotlight, and kept reporters like myself with lots of stories to tell.

One such story unfolded on a Saturday early in the 1960 season.

It turned out to be the biggest day in Ducky Macdonald’s baseball career — and he never forgot how it happened.

He was just 15 years old and, that morning, he was pitching for a New Glasgow team against Trenton in the local midget league.

Whether he noticed it during the game or not, two men standing behind the backstop that day were paying very close attention to the teenager’s every pitch. They were Big Archie MacDonald and Rannie MacDonald, the twosome that ran the North End Cardinals in the Twilight league.

A long time later — almost 40 years later — Ducky still enjoyed recalling the details when we chatted about it.

After the midget game, he remembered, the two men came up to him and said, “Ducky, you’re going to pitch tonight.” He responded, “I am? Where am I going to pitch?” They said over at the west side, that he was going to pitch for the North End against the New Glasgow Bombers.

A few hours later, he reported to the Cardinals.

For him, it was more than a one-game experience in the senior league. It was much more.

He recalled it clearly. “I went out that night, in my very first start and struck out 12 players and had a three-hitter. I couldn’t believe it.”

No wonder. He was 15 and pitching against players mostly twice his age.

New Glasgow, he said, “had a great lineup and I had a little Mickey Mouse curve ball, an old roundhouse, and I was a little wild, too. (But) I had success. That’s how I started with the Cardinals. No question, that game was my biggest thrill.”

After four decades, Ducky still whipped off the names of teammates — guys like Jim and Butch MacNeil, Joe MacGillivray, Jack Rehill, Bobby MacLean, Chink MacInnis, Stan Guthro and Jim Crowdis.

The young Macdonald would become a familiar face on Twilight league mounds for years. Yet that debut remained his biggest memory.

Like Ducky himself, I remembered that evening almost as clearly when we chatted. I had covered that particular contest for The Evening News, part of a summer job I had just before beginning my career with The Chronicle Herald.

I saw him pitch many times in the seasons that followed, but it was that initial outing that was truly memorable.

He wasn’t only a baseball pitcher. He played hockey, too, and in his fourth year at St. Francis Xavier University, he was with the X-Men when the Antigonish club played for the national championship in 1965-66.

After St. FX, Ducky, a life-long New Glasgow north-ender, taught school in Trenton for 30 years, retiring in 1996.

Though I haven’t seen Ducky in 20 years, I remember him well for good reason. We had a lot in common.

During our school days, we were both heavily supported by school athletic director John (Brother) MacDonald. For Ducky, there seemed to be MacDonalds influencing him at every turn, even though he spelled his name with a lower-case D.

For he and I, the big bond was our lifetime affection for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just mentioning Ducky’s name gets that subject flowing.

Though he’s six years younger than me — he’s now 75 — we became Leafs fans in similar ways. He became a Leaf in 1954 when he was 10. I had done so in 1947 when I was nine.

Prior to that, we both had two NHL teams on our radar — the Leafs and — heaven forbid — the Montreal Canadiens.

We both collected newspaper photos of the two clubs, carefully gluing them into scrapbooks. We both especially cherished coloured player photos from the Star Weekly and the Standard.

We made identical decisions before becoming teenagers — cheer for the Leafs and to heck with the Canadiens.

In columns I wrote about Ducky, I mentioned how people always referred to him as “a walking encyclopedia” about the Leafs. The same tag has often been attached to me.

Blue and white fascinations increased at St. FX, where I was sports editor of the student newspaper, where he had his hockey experience with the Xaverians.

As for “our Leafs” winning Stanley Cups — yes, they did — I got my adolescent excitement when Toronto won consecutive titles in the late 1940s, and again in 1951. Those years meant listening to games on radio, not TV. Ducky’s first thrills came when the Leafs won three cups in 1962-64. He watched those in residence at X, I covered them in person.

I once quoted Macdonald saying: “Every time I think of that era, it gets my adrenaline flowing again.” It might as well have been me making the comment.

Ducky’s biggest disappointment cheering for the Leafs? When Frank Mahovlich was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. “He’ll always be a Leaf to me” was his reaction. I’ve often made the same comment.

Yes, I remember Ducky well.