The Old Man and the Baseball Cap

My wife and I would see them from time to time when stopping in at a local family restaurant.  A couple in their fifties, they would play cards while waiting for their food, obviously enjoying their own company. They caught my eye because he usually came in wearing a Vancouver Mounties baseball cap, setting it on the table, not putting it back on till they left.

I wouldn’t normally approach strangers in a restaurant but curiosity impels action. I introduced myself and asked about the cap. The Mounties were a triple A team, based in Vancouver for a few seasons in the late 1950s and again in the late 1960s. How did he come to have this old cap, I asked, can’t be too many people with one of these, was he a fan back in the day?

“Not really,” he said. He paused a moment, then said, “No, it’s just something I picked up when I was a kid. It struck me at the time as a good luck charm and I guess I have a habit of packing it around. It’s a dumb thing.”  He seemed polite, but distant, not encouraging more conversation. So I left it at that. As I said, we would see them from time to time. We’d nod to them, they would nod to us. Slight acquaintances, nothing more.

Years passed and just recently we came in for dinner and I saw her sitting alone, the cap on the table. At first I thought he might have been in the washroom, but after a few minutes…well, I started to wonder. I came over and said hello and the question was in my eyes. She smiled, a sad little smile and told me that, yes, Al had passed away a few weeks ago.

I began to express my sympathies and then she surprised me by asking us to sit with her. We spoke about this and that and then she said, “I hope you don’t mind…I don’t think Al would really mind…but I want to tell you about this beat up old baseball cap.”

And she said:

“When Al was a little boy, about 9 or 10 years old, he played minor baseball. The Vancouver Mounties and the minor baseball association arranged for a special day, bussing in teams from all over the local area, all these kids coming in to see a game.

Al told me about this. I remember him saying it was kind of a dull game, he just wanted to see home runs being hit, but there weren’t any. All the kids were given little tickets that allowed them to get a hot dog and a pop from the concessions. So that’s all he had to eat, he had no money on him for anything extra. And as I said, he was sort of bored by the game and he wandered around the stands a lot.

When the game ended…well, I guess the coaches must have told them to stick together but if they did Al didn’t hear them. He never was real good at listening. Anyway, he wanted to get to their bus first, you know how little kids are. So he ran on ahead, and here’s where he got into trouble.

Outside the stadium there were all of these buses. In his memory, Al said it looked like about 50 of them. He couldn’t remember the number of his bus, and there were people milling all over the place, adults and kids. He tried to find a familiar face, but he couldn’t. I think he was embarrassed, didn’t want to admit he couldn’t figure it out. He tried a few buses, but couldn’t see anyone he knew. And he didn’t ask questions, just like a man, didn’t like to ask questions.

So he began to get scared. You know, what if the bus left without him? What would he do? Could he walk home? In the dark? He knew it took at least an hour or two by bus, how long would it take on foot? He was starting to panic and then a man walked up to him and said, “Hey, son, are you having a hard time finding your bus?” He admitted it, and the man said, “Hey, relax, we’ll find your bus.”

He asked him what town he came from, what team he was on, and they walked from bus to bus, and he would poke his head in the door and ask some questions and soon enough, sure enough, he got Al safely on board.

The man was wearing a cap – this cap right here on the table, now – and he handed it to Al, wished him well and walked away.

Al told me he couldn’t even remember thanking the guy. He walked down the aisle of the bus to get a seat, all choked up, not wanting to cry in front of everyone, which he just barely managed. But you know, years later he got choked up just telling me about it.

So that’s the story of Al and the Mounties baseball cap. I guess it meant a lot to him, so I guess it means something to me too.”

Someone once said that their most vivid memories never actually happened. But I’m pretty sure this one really did happen to Al, or someone. That memory is still alive with his wife, and with me and anybody else who it is shared with.

I’m a couple of steps into the dream world now. I’m finding things in there that are true even if they aren’t real. So now, with apologies to Edgar Rice Burroughs, you have this story from one who had no business to tell it to you, or to any other. But no one was able to stop me, after all.

Gary Fletcher

May 15 2016