I was fortunate enough to grow up in a safe and family-friendly neighbourhood. There were two distinct sides to it. On one side of the school were the owned stand-alone three and four bedroom houses that had driveways and car ports and big yards. On the other side of the school were very modest rented garden homes with no yards and only shared parking. That’s where I lived. And I can’t pretend I didn’t feel stigmatized by it, though I never heard anyone say anything negative to me about it. But kids know.
However, between these two almost distinct neighbourhoods, all around the school, were our playgrounds and sports fields. In the winter, we had a great rink. Neighbourhood dads would volunteer to water the ice late into the cold winter evenings. And if it snowed one weekend afternoon or on a weekday night, we kids would grab our shovels to make it playable.
There were two ball diamonds for the summer, basketball courts, tennis courts and later a few soccer fields. Pierre Trudeau once signed the cast on my broken arm on the very field where I had broken it. He was watching one of his sons play soccer. And he was still Prime Minister at the time. Only in Canada.
Kids my age, our parents tended to start their families a little younger so it wasn’t uncommon for a dad who was still in his thirties to play tennis with us or shoot some hoops. Usually with a 1950’s style set-shot that made us chuckle. Especially because we wanted to play like Dr. J.
I remember one particular father/son softball game from when I was about eighteen. One of the neighbourhood dads was named Mr. Shoemaker. He was about fifty but he was still spry. And he took charge in the infield like any good shortstop should. However, because it was slow-pitch and we all pulled the ball as much as we could, any time a lefty hitter came to the plate, he’d yell, “Boudreau Shift” and the whole infield shifted to the other side of the diamond to play the defensive odds better. It was hilarious and effective.
The Boudreau Shift was invented in 1946 to counter-act the hitting tendencies of the great Ted Williams. It was ahead of its time and is an integral part of the game today. But no one calls it the Boudreau Shift anymore.
Over the years I’ve tried to help my wife fall asleep more easily by telling her old-timey baseball stories. If she happens to see a weirdly set-up infield defense in a game she has no interest in, she’ll still say. “The Boudreau Shift”.
Mr. Shoemaker died a short time ago. He lived a long and happy life with a family that loved him. And as a tribute, the next time I see a shortstop on the wrong side of second base, I’m going to shout out, “The Shoemaker Shift”. Rest in Peace.