“Can’t Hit Nothing”

This is the second story that didn’t quite make the cut for a research project I’ve been working on, but I thought I would turn it into a quick read for you just the same.   It’s based on a short article I came across from the Barrie Examiner from August, 1934.  I hope you enjoy it.

Philteam (1)



Phil Marchildon tapped his toes and watched the clock as he waited for his father Oliver, a plumber, to come from work with the family 1927 Ford Model T pickup, a vehicle which served both as dad’s service truck, and conveyor of a family of seven after business hours.

Phil was born and raised in the tiny town of Penetanguishene, Ontario, about 90 minutes north of Toronto by today’s transportation.  Nestled at the end of a long fjord off of southern Georgian Bay,  “Penetang,” as outsiders shortened it, became a jumping off point in the summer in the early 1900s for tourists headed for cottages among the Bay’s 30 000 islands.  Oliver Marchildon made his living by performing plumbing and odd jobs for those cottagers, some of whom refused to pay him for services rendered once complete, while others dragged their payments out over years.

Phil was the star Pitcher for the local ball team, the Spencer Foundry Rangers.  At 20, he was already considered one of the best amateur Pitchers in the province.  He could be wild, dramatic, and more than a little bit stubborn, but his fastball, a moving, darting pitch thrown from just above a sidearm slot, was all but unhittable.

He was anxious to drive over to nearby Midland, Penetanguishene’s closest neighbour and bitterest rival.  Penetang was older than Midland, tracing its origins back to a long-shuttered naval base at the entrance of the harbour that was built in the aftermath of the War of 1812.  Midland’s harbour was more suited to ships full of prairie grain that came down from Thunder Bay, at the top of Lake Superior.  Until the completion of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959, those ships could not make the journey to Montreal or ports along the eastern seaboard.  Along with the ships came in the arrival of the Midland Railway to the sleepy village of Mundy’s Bay, which changed its name with the coming of the trains in the 1870s.  Midland quickly grew and prospered, leaving its neighbour Penetang in the dust.  Even during the Depression, funds were available to build a brand new arena, featuring the only artificial ice plant between Toronto and Winnipeg at the time.

His father arrived just a few minutes before five, and Phil raced to Midland to catch a playoff game between Midland and Barrie, the winner of which would take on Penetang in the North Simcoe League final.  Barrie was looking for its fifth consecutive championship, although they had only been able to beat the upstart Rangers and their young ace once during the regular season.

Midland’s ball diamond and arena sat in Little Lake Park, a thousand acre gem of a playground in the middle of town.  Midland politicians had wisely set aside this property some years earlier;  generations of Ontarians would eventually enjoy camping and swimming in the park.  The ball diamond/arena complex itself was nestled in and amongst a stand of tall mature maple and beech trees, providing hitters with a forest backdrop beyond centerfield.  Just off the main street, the park was easily accessible by most townspeople, many of whom had gathered for the game.  Barrie had taken the opener of the best of three affair, and Midland faced elimination on their home field.

Phil pulled the Model T up behind home plate, just behind a series of park benches the town had placed there for spectators.  Summer was waning, with August half over and September waiting in the wings.  He wasn’t long for Penetanguishene – Phil had been offered a scholarship by St Michael’s College in Toronto, a Catholic private school for boys with a great reputation for athletics.  As much as he starred on the ball diamond, Phil was an even better football player, and the priests had offered him a full ride after Penetang High School’s team played a couple of exhibition games against St Mike’s.

As he turned the truck off, Phil ran a hand through his wavy, jet-black hair.  Blessed with movie star looks, he wore his hair in a style that made him look like a young Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (Phil’s best friend, Andy Vaillancourt, was a barber).  The game already having started, Phil took out a small notebook and a pencil, and began to take notes on the Barrie hitters.  He was doing his own advance scouting.

As he watched and jotted down notes, Phil opened his back of British Consols cigarettes.  The most popular brand in the country (outside of Quebec, where the ‘British’ was dropped), they were of the non-filtered variety.  From time to time, smokers would inhale small shreds of tobacco with the smoke, which would get trapped in their teeth.  Non-filtered smokers often would pause between puffs to spit out those shreds.  Made by the Macdonald Tobacco Company, the cigarettes were widely marketed; they sponsored both Midland’s baseball and hockey teams

Phil was unimpressed with either team as the game progressed.   He grew anxious waiting for it to end.  With television a distant dream and radios not available to every home in the tight times of the Depression, Phil had played in far more games than he had seen as a fan. A nervous, fidgety type by his own admission, Phil was very unused to being a spectator at a ball game.  Having caught the game in the early innings, he diligently recorded his impressions of the first several hitters in both lineups, but as the game wore on, he became increasingly less impressed with either offence.  He knew most of the 18 hitters that stepped up to the plate would be little or no match for his fastball, or the curve he had been practising with his buddy Andy in the alley behind his shop between haircuts.

Midland won the game to stave off elimination, but Barrie ultimately won the series.  Phil’s notebook reflected his view that he could dominate either side.  “Can’t hit nothing,” was the entry for most of the hitters.  His words were prophetic.  In the first game of the Barrie-Penetang final, he struck out 17 and gave up but one hit, a 3rd inning blooper over the infield as the Rangers took the first game, as well as the second to capture the league championship.




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