There’s an old saying that first impressions are lasting impressions, particularly in situations like meeting someone for the first time.
I wasn’t very old — probably early in elementary school — the first time my mother gave that valuable advice about living in this world. Whatever the timing, I’ve carried her useful lesson with me ever since. Through the years and decades, it has certainly proven to be true in my long newspaper career.
I was thinking of that parental guidance last week when I got the news that New Glasgow’s Stan Gouthro had passed away at the age of 86.
I was thinking about the first time I met him. It was exactly 60 years ago. I was a rookie running a new Pictou County bureau for The Chronicle Herald.
There was something else new in the county — a franchise in the Twilight Senior Baseball League called the North End Cardinals. I met with them the first evening they played a game on their field next to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church.
Initially they were called the North End Saints, but by the time the league opened that spring, they were the Cardinals.
I was secretary-treasurer of the league that year, another reason I was at the North End field for the club’s debut.
I wanted to acquaint myself with the key people behind the club, Rannie MacMillan, Archie MacDonald and Johnny Campbell.
I already knew some of the players from my association with the Evening News during my high school and university years — guys like Ralph Cameron, Jimmy and Butch MacNeil, Bobby MacLean, Welton Fraser, Jack Rehill, John Ryan, Joe MacGillivray and Roddie MacDonald.
That night I met Stan Gouthro. He impressed me from our first handshake.
Six decades later, I clearly understand two compliments paid to him in his obituary — “he was a kind and giving man” with “a heart of gold.” That was truly Stan.
I talked to him many times. Included was a day in the year 2000 when he and I spent an afternoon at his home on Brookside Avenue. I was compiling his thoughts on his baseball career for a column I was doing for another paper.
That career — in which he was best known as a strong-armed pitcher — had a uniqueness attached. He pitched in the Twilight league in its opening summer in 1959, he pitched in the league in its final campaign a decade later, and he pitched every season in between.
He was proud of that achievement.
When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing somewhere in the infield, usually at second or third base. He was a workhorse on the mound and he never wanted to be on the bench when he wasn’t pitching.
As a hurler, he almost always finished what he started. And he had a simple explanation about that: “Oh God, yes, I always pitched the whole game. You had to. There wouldn’t be anybody else.”
One playoff series against the Westville Miners, he reminded me, went nine games even though it was a best-of-seven. That’s because two contests were called for darkness. The teams played nine times in a row and Stan pitched 56 innings over those nine days.
Stan gave me this description of all the work: “By the end of the games, (catcher) Jim MacNeil was throwing the ball back to the mound harder than I was throwing it. Oh man, my arm got tired at times. But you didn’t fall asleep with Jimmy behind the plate.”
He had an explanation, too, why he pitched so much: “You just liked the game so much, I guess that’s what it was. We all liked it. We loved playing ball. We lived to play it. When I got out there, I didn’t want to stop.”
Stan always loved the sport.
When he was a kid growing up in Sydney Mines, he was so good that he was named most valuable player twice – when he was seven and eight years old.
Something else happened early. He quit school when he was 17, and moved to Pictou County to find a job.
For a time, he was a bellhop at the Norfolk Hotel in New Glasgow. Not satisfied, he attended cooking school, becoming a chef, the occupation he had until retirement. He was the man behind the food at the Norfolk, Heather Motel, the Peter Pan and Smitty’s.
The day I went to his home for that interview, I was wearing a Toronto Blue Jays golf shirt. He had on a Blue Jays hat. You can be sure the Jays took up the first part of our conversation.
Then senior baseball was on his mind.
“We enjoyed every minute of it,” he explained. “And then, after the games, we’d sit down with a few beers and go all over it again.”
It was 2000 and he expressed disappointment that senior baseball was all but dead in Pictou County. He pointed out how, in the Twilight league days, there were always four teams in the county and there were always enough players to go around.
“We loved it enough to do all the work, as well. We cleaned our own field, picking the rocks up, putting down the lines, getting it ready for the games.”
A Stan Gouthro trait I never forgot was his unmistakable passion for baseball.
With the demise of the North End team and the Twilight league, his pitching was over. He never played oldtimers, knowing his arm was gone because he had pitched so much.
I recall asking him about his favourite memories.
“Oh, the friendships, no question. They’re people I never forget. They were all such great guys. They were good players, but they never bragged about their abilities. They just loved to play the game, just like I did.”
With his passing, another good guy has left the field.