To the people of the Town of Ancaster,
I failed as a human today. Do better than I did.
The man appeared beside me while I was hanging over the fence at the end of the third-base dugout watching the 12-year-old semi-final baseball game between an Alberta and a Québec team in the Canadian National Little League 2019 Championships. He made his disappointment known whenever the Québec kids made a good play or reached base safely.
Guess he’s from Calgary, I thought. Wonder which one is his kid.
I considered turning to him in friendly conversation to ask, but instinct made me wait. I was there to quietly enjoy watching some little league ball while visiting my hometown on the very diamond I played on some 34 years earlier.
The man’s frustration grew with each tiny success Québec saw, and out the corner of my eye, I noticed his white moustache and one-piece rounded chest-cum-gut stretching his golf-shirt.
Maybe a grandpa?
Not that, either.
“C’mon guys! Beat them French,” he called.
“Oh,” I finally said without taking my eyes from the field. “You’re not so much for the Calgary team as you are against the Québec team, eh?”
I’d given him the opening he sought. His comments turned from plays the kids made to little league politics. “Them French are a bunch of cheaters, dammit. Two-team league. Two-team league. Picked the best from both. All th’other teams out there in Québec refused to play ‘em.”
I ignored him, but he found another audience, someone who seemed to take polite interest in the man’s position. Then, his diatribe ended with, “Frenchmen are a bunch of bullshit cheaters anyways. What’d you expect.”
Let me get this straight. In about five sentences, he went from being unhappy about 12-year-old kids doing well at baseball to disagreeing with the way a team had been formed to, uh, xenophobia?
But I said nothing.
You could argue my silence was forgivable. I had a few hours left before heading to the airport to go home to Calgary, and all I wanted was to peacefully watch the semi-final games. I’d been up late the night before. It was the last day of a short vacation. I had no energy for drama. I had no fight. Please, just a calm, peaceful afternoon of kids’ ball.
Here’s the problem, though. A few months ago, I wrote a story that was part letter to my dad (and kids, when it’s time) and part mini-memoir about my complicated relationship with the game; how I grew up playing and loving it, how it had left my life through adulthood, and how it has gloriously re-entered with my own children now playing.
In the story, I illuminated some incidences of racism I faced growing up on the very ball diamond I stood at today. Some of the other kids had said things like, “You sweat like a Jew,” or, “You run like a Jew,” or, “You smell like a Jew.” What do those even mean?
I’d also written about my recently deceased great-uncle Kermit “Kit” Kitman, who had faced far more severe persecution playing minor league ball for the Montreal Royals in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system in the 1940s. He always roomed with Jackie Robinson when they travelled because, well, none of the other players should have a black or a Jew in their room, right?
And in the story, I had fantasized about this day—being back in Ancaster, watching this tournament, thinking maybe I’d see some of my old team- and school-mates. Maybe, while we shot the breeze about old times, I’d have a chance to bring up the racism I had faced and make sure they knew that I knew that it wasn’t cool.
Even though I didn’t see those specific people from my past, one had appeared in a different form right beside me. A man in his 70s at a kid’s baseball tournament cursing about 12-year-olds, complaining about league structure, and hate-criming an entire origin of our own countrypeople.
And I said nothing.
At the time, I hadn’t connected the situation with my story. I didn’t see that I’d been sent the very opportunity I’d wondered about. I didn’t want confrontation that day. And I wasn’t going to change the mind of a crusty old man.
And that’s not good enough. I failed.
Since this morning, I’ve used the benefit of hindsight to consider what I would have said had I had the chutzpa. At first, I thought maybe it would’ve been something like, “Sir, please keep your opinions to yourself about the people of Québec. No one wants to hear hate. Let the kids play ball and let us enjoy watching them.”
But that’s not my style. I think what I’d have said is, “Sir, you seem very angry. I’m sorry for your anger. It must be hard to live with that hate. What are you really, actually, angry about? What happened to you? What do you need help with?”
But I missed my chance. I didn’t speak. And he did. He got his audience.
I hope the people of Ancaster read this, and I hope some people know which man I’m talking about. Maybe someone who was at the game or someone on the grounds crew heard him, too. If you did, please either find a way to let him know that his hate shouldn’t be welcome and that Québecois are welcome whether you agree with the little league politics or not. And while you’re at it, let him know that Jews, and Afro-Americans, and First Nations, and Muslims, and Chinese—wait a second: what I mean is people—can all play baseball. Maybe someone can even help him with his anger at his advanced age and he can find some peace before his time is up.
And if you don’t get those messages to him, put him in touch with me. I’ll be happy to.
I mean, it’s just a bunch of 12-year-old kids playing baseball.