He Plays For Who?

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It was a typical warm, sunny Saturday in July of 1964. For a group of six 9 year olds, the only thing on our minds that morning was who was getting first pick for the game of 500 we were about to play (baseball). This had replaced the winter-long run of weekend road hockey games that we were playing a few months earlier. A number of events had happened over the past 12 months that would have a lasting effect on our lives in the years to come. We just didn’t know it at the time. The assassination of JFK would go on to become the most talked about unsolved mystery of our time.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream speech’ still impacts millions of lives today, and MLK Day is now a national holiday in the USA. The Beatles exploded onto the scene and would become the greatest musical act in history. They would change the youth and the music of their time forever. In the previous 12 months alone, The Beatles would have six number-1 hits, two number -1 albums, appear on the Ed Sullivan Show before 73 million viewers on Feb 9th 1964, and make the movie ‘A Hard Days Night’. This was unheard of. The Toronto Maple Leafs would win their 3rd Stanley Cup in a row April 18th of 1964. Muhammad Ali would become the Heavyweight Champion of the World that year. Pete Rose would have his first major league hit, and it was a triple.

Closer to home, the Toronto Marlboros Jr-A Hockey Club would be crowned the Memorial Cup champs. I loved that team! They were my 2nd favourite team next to the Leafs, and their games were on TV every Sunday (I watched them religiously). Mike Walton was my 2nd favourite player. He wore number 14 and played center, the same position as Dave Keon, who was my number 1 favourite player. The powerful ‘Marlies’ were led by future NHLers including Stemkowski, Ellis, Carlton, Seiling, Mckenny, Meehan, Selby, and Smith.

Years later I would cross paths with on a personal level and/or play against most of these guys, little did I know.
Back to that summer in July of 1964. I lived at 51 Elinor Avenue in Scarborough. My friend Johnny Dupont lived at 41 Elinor. That morning, we stood out in the front of John’s house deciding who would pick first. Someone in the group made a casual comment that I shouldn’t get first pick today because most of the time, I got first pick in road hockey. They went on to say that I wasn’t even the best player on the street and shouldn’t automatically get the first pick (or something to that effect).

Before I could reply, someone else asked, “well who is anyway?” “ John’s brother Ray,” was the answer back. Ray was way older than us (he was 19 at the time) so that doesn’t count. “Who does he play for anyway?” I asked Johnny. “He plays for the Marlies,” said Johnny. “HE PLAYS FOR WHO?” I shouted. “Marlies,” was the answer I didn’t want to hear. After a few minutes of back and forth with no resolution in sight, I challenged Johnny that the only way to settle this and get on with the game was to ask Ray himself! “Go ahead,” said Johnny. Up to the front door I went, stalling, because I was sure that at any minute these guys would stop me and they would tell me it was all a joke. To no avail. Again, somewhat mystified and a little unsure, I approached the front wooden door of the Dupont farmhouse (the family had farmed the area for years before the subdivision was developed)
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“Yes Mike,” said John’s mom, looking a little confused as to why I’d be knocking on the front door (she always called for John at the back door). Also, John was standing behind me, out on the street. “Is Ray here?” I bravely asked. “Yes he is Mike,” said Mrs. Dupont still a little confused by all of this. “Can I please speak to him?” “Just a minute Mike”. Off she went upstairs to get Ray, and I’m wracking my 9-year-old brain wondering how this could possibly be true. I lived five doors away, both John and I went to Precious Blood School and then St Kevin’s for the past four years, and we had hung around together almost everyday since I moved to Elinor five years ago. If this was true, how could I not know this? I knew the Marlies almost as well as I knew the Leafs. “Mike, you looking for me?” asked Ray, rubbing his eyes, having been woken up from sleeping, as any 19 year old would have been doing at this time of the morning. “Do you play for Marlies?” “Well yeah Mike, I do”. He was probably thinking: this kid is here everyday of the week and is asking me this now? “Ray, could you sign my baseball glove please?”

As Ray signed my glove, I noticed my other four friends coming up behind me to do the same thing. As I walked away I was still stunned that a real Toronto Marlboro player lived on my street. Also, I had just got my first Marlie autograph.