One of the great blessings of my Leaside childhood was growing up in a home less than a block from Howard Talbot Park. While it seems less common among young parents today, our wonderful mother was not what you would call overprotective. She would not have been accused, in today’s parlance, of being a helicopter parent, hovering over us 24-7. In the dog days of summer, she’d push my twin brother, Tim, and me out the door in the morning with the directive to be back home when the streetlights came on. She didn’t want us spending our days watching cartoons on TV, though Tim and I were certainly early advocates of animated storytelling on the old Electrohome in our family room.
We’d spend most of those endless hazy days in the park just down the street. Named after a former Leaside mayor and early developer, Howard Talbot Park became our universe. A sprawling piece of real estate east of Bayview and south of Eglinton, there were two ball diamonds, a high school, tobogganing hills (of limited value in August), a football field, tennis courts, a hockey and pleasure skating rink in the winter, a lawn bowling club, and a small playground, known as the “parkette,” complete with a city-run wading pool and a great set of swings. We had many adventures and witnessed many extraordinary events in that park over the years.
We played a lot of baseball in that park. I was obsessed with the game for a while and fancied myself quite the budding pitcher. Regrettably, I seemed to be the only who saw my major league potential. Tim and I spent hours pitching the hardball to one another, practising our curve ball, sinker, fastball and other “junk.”
We also honed our then fledgling golf skills in defiance of signs posted throughout the park prohibiting the sport. We would set up a four or five-hole course that traversed the park and play for hours dragging our golf bags with us. Usually we had a hole on both pitchers’ mounds, and both goal posts on the football field. I think we even used the very pole that hosted the “Golfing Prohibited” sign as one of our holes. Perhaps not one of our brighter moves, but we lived to tell the tale.
Occasionally, an errant shot would find its way onto Eglinton Avenue. In short, Tim justifiably earned the nickname “Shank,” over and over again. Losing a ball in the traffic often meant heading home as we seldom had more than one ball each. I’m pleased to report that over the intervening 40 or more years of playing the game, our “then fledgling golf skills” have vastly improved to “just slightly better than fledgling golf skills,” and we owe it all the lush fairways and billiard table greens at the Howard Talbot Golf and Country Club.
In the evening, the park remained our haunt, but our focus shifted to watching baseball. Most nights there was a game on one or both diamonds. Living so close to the park, Tim and I were regulars at the ball games. As recounted in an earlier column (The old peeled potato trick, August 2017), Tim and I would often offer our services as team batboys. Occasionally, we’d talk our way into the old-style scoreboard where the announcer would introduce each batter as he stepped up to the plate. We would sit beside the announcer on a small stool and switch on the lights indicating balls, strikes, and outs as the pitches were fired in. At the end of each inning, we’d slip the scoring numbers into the right slot and sometimes installed the rectangular digits right-side-up on the first try. It really made you feel like a big-shot sitting up there in what amounted to Talbot Park’s Gondola.
Even if we were just spectators at the games, we could always snag a free Coke by fetching the foul balls hit over the fence into the parking lots of the apartments on Bayview. Of course, you had to be the first one to the errant ball. Sometimes there were a dozen kids sprinting for the chain link fence, so the free Coke was often hard-earned and just as often shared.
Yes, Talbot Park was almost a second home for us growing up in Leaside. We still catch a few ball games each summer, but my fence-hopping foul ball-retrieving days are behind me. While we never gave lawn bowling a shot as kids, who knows what the future might hold? There’s still time.