Growing up there were very few things that I looked forward to more than, or enjoyed quite as much as, playing pitch and catch with my father on the lawn in front of our house. Everything about it was great: warm weather, sporting activity, spending quality alone time with my dad. Thinking about it now, there were only two negative aspects about the activity. First, since we usually played in the evening after supper, there always seemed to be six or seven million mosquitos all vying for the blood-suckable real-estate on my, usually bare, chest and back. The other was that my dad always quit before I was ready to stop (no judgement on him or his stamina, I just simply wanted it to last forever). One of the things I enjoyed the most about it was that, as far as I can recall, it was the only time that we were alone and the subject of how I was doing in school never came up. During the schoolyear, I would avoid situations whereby it was just the two of us for that very reason. Both of my siblings did very well in school. I did well in hockey, and I knew that if he asked me questions about pedagogy, I would be forced to lie. Though I still did lie (of course I did…who didn’t), I was never comfortable with it. Pitch and catch, on the other hand, was good, honest fun. The other major thing I loved about our front-yard sessions, was that this was the only time I can remember him showing me how to do something (at least something I was interested in. Who gives a shit how to properly clean the garage or prune the apple trees? That’s right…NOBODY). It was during these twice-monthly moments where I learned the difference between a curveball and a slider, where I came to master the knuckleball, and how I developed my own secret pitch that I liked to call the ‘knuckle-curve’ which was designed to fall to the ground exactly 59.5 feet from the pitching rubber. All of this stuff I learned from my dad. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to change the oil in my car, build a solid fence using wood and screws and stuff, lay bathroom tiles, or even pretend to discuss anything plumbing-related without making up my own words (to be honest, I don’t think my dad knows any of this stuff either), but I am 53 years old and I can still throw a decent curve, fire off a wicked slap-shot, and I can ride my bike forever thanks to my dad.
Another thing I learned from my father, mostly through osmosis, is frugality. I am not, nor is my father, cheap by any stretch; we simply hate to see hard-earned money get wasted. Even watching people in movies carelessly blow money makes us physically uncomfortable. I have no problem watching a cyclist crash into road furniture at 90km/hr resulting in a mound of shattered carbon, steel, rubber, and bloody flesh, but I have to change the channel when I see some idiot on a sit-com go ‘all in’ betting on the Jets to win the Superbowl. Because my dad was very prudent with money, he constantly told us how important it was to take impeccable care of the things we valued and/or that were expensive. For me, this meant that it was absolutely vital that I never, ever let anything happen to my glasses. Though I hated them with a passion because they were hideous and a total embarrassment (for more on this topic, please read my book, My Coworkers Think I’m A Pro which is available on Amazon), I treated them as though they were worth more than a Faberge egg because they were super expensive. In fact, they were, by far, the most expensive thing I owned. They were even more expensive than the bike my brother got for MY eleventh birthday (again, refer to my book).
It was during one of our late-summer pitch-and-catch bonding sessions when my father’s two greatest influences on me (throwing a baseball and thriftiness) collided. On this particular occasion we had been at it for longer than our customary 30-45 minutes and I could tell that dad was getting fatigued and was soon going to give me the old, “Let’s call it a day”. I knew his arm was toast because his fastball had lost most of its pop and he had begun working on his ‘off-speed’ junk at which he was a genius. He was chucking slow-curves, knucklers, change-ups, and even the odd Ross Grimsley lob-ball. Frankly, he was putting on a master class of pitching prowess and I was reacting to all of it, catching everything the way he had taught me by studying the angle of his throwing arm and the position of his glove hand. I knew what was coming before the ball even left his hand. Then, he threw something new…something I had never seen before, or even heard of, but that I now know was a ‘screwball’. The special thing about this particular pitch was that it slid in the opposite direction to the curveball; that is, towards a right-handed batter instead of down and away from them. Having never seen it before, I couldn’t predict the path of the ball and I missed it as it buzzed right past my glove and struck me hard in the left eye, shattering my glasses and leaving a giant shard of the lens imbedded in my left cheek along the orbital bone. Bruised, cut, and bleeding profusely, I fell to my knees and began bawling my eyes out while my dad sprinted over to me absolutely certain he had given me brain damage. I continued to cry uncontrollably despite his efforts to get me to stop (which he was desperate to do because this was a time before cable TV, Netflix, and the internet, so people tended to do more things outdoors and the neighbours had begun to gather with concerned, judgemental looks on their faces). He asked me over and over what was hurting and if I could remember my name and address, but I did not want to answer. I was in pain. Of course, I was in pain…a chunk of glass was wedged into the flesh a few millimetres from my eyeball, but that wasn’t the problem. I could have bled out and died, in fact, at that moment I would have preferred that fate because then I wouldn’t have to deal with what was going through my brain. All I could think about was that my glasses were broken and that once my father realized that fact, he was going to stand me up so he could throw another pitch at my other eye for being so careless with such an expensive item. When I finally told him why I was so upset, he breathed a huge sigh of relief and the neighbours, recognizing that hunks of my brain were not falling out of my skull and that I would most likely survive, fucked off. It took him a while, but he was eventually able to calm me down telling me everything was going to be okay. After all, he said, “it’s just a set of glasses”. In the end, it was a pretty good father/son moment only slightly soured when he told me, as we walked into the kitchen to get me cleaned up, “take better care of your next set, that’s all”. I’m sure he was kidding.
A few summers ago, back when racing was still a legitimate thing, I was gearing up for an Ironman 70.3 in Muskoka when an incident similar to the one above occurred. The race was on a Sunday in early July, so I figured that on Thursday I would go for my last hard’ish’ ride. It was about 90km long, and pretty easy, with a few bursts here and there to remind me what speed felt like. The ride was going well for the first 60km and I had made the final turn towards home to finish the remaining 30km at ‘race-pace’ or faster. The first part of this home stretch ran down Avenue Bourgogne in the historic district of Vieux-Chambly, Quebec. It is a beautiful street that is normally teeming with pedestrians, as tourists and locals alike enjoy the many shops, museums, and restaurants, but on this day, it was completely deserted. Because this was so rare, I took the opportunity to really open it up and ramped my speed up to about 45km/hr along the far-right side of the road, about a metre from the sidewalk. The street itself has three intersections about 800 metres apart each with a four-way stop. I blew right through the first two without even needing to look to my right or left. There were no cars or pedestrians anywhere, so I just kept my hands in the drops and sped through and I kept motoring until about 400 metres from the last set of stop signs. Right before I reached the Fort Chambly National Historic site, a Volvo SUV passed me and slowed down to make the ‘mandatory’ 3 second stop. As I neared the Volvo, it had just made the stop and I knew that even if it stuck around for the full three seconds, which has only happened in the Province of Quebec eight or nine times since the advent of motor vehicles (all because there was a police car on the cross street), I knew that it would be accelerating away from the intersection as I arrived, so I put my head down and raised my wattage. Though I knew I would have the entire road to myself, I stayed as close as I could to the sidewalk on my right, just in case I misjudged my speed and had to pass the vehicle on the right, and as I approached it became clearer that I might just have to do so. I was so proud of how fast I could go on such a flat section of road with no wheel to follow, and I was kind of looking forward to passing the car knowing I would startle the shit out of its occupants when I flew past. By the time I was level with the rear bumper of the Volvo, I was doing 47km/hr and I lifted my head to take a quick peek to be certain I had the requisite clearance on the right side. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the front passenger-side door had become abruptly ajar and was immediately wide open. I instantly moved my fingers in a futile attempt to grab two fistfuls of brake, but my reaction time was insufficiently swift, and my bike smashed into the inside of the open passenger door at full speed. Fortunately, the window was open and, though my bike came to an immediate halt, my body continued at the speed it was going before the door opened and threaded the opening. I flew right by the stop sign and part of the way into the intersection, skidding to a halt on the right side of my body. My jersey was torn to shreds on the right shoulder and my shorts only barely covered a patch where the skin was rapidly turning a bright red. My lip was split, I shattered one of my bottom teeth and I was bleeding all over the place. The driver of the car jammed it in Park and came sprinting towards me in a state of shock, certain she had killed me. When she got closer, she noticed that I was still alive, but cut and bruised everywhere, so she ran back to the car. When she returned, she was brandishing a travel-size package of Kleenex and a bottle of Purell so large it was clear she had purchased it at Costco, and she wasted no time applying it to my skinless shoulder all the while apologizing profusely for hitting me. I am sure that the burning sensation caused by the alcohol in the hand sanitizer was causing way more pain than the actual injuries themselves, so I got up and told her I was fine. She would not stop apologizing and kept trying to rub my wounds. Finally, I was able to calm her down telling her that the entire incident was my fault, hoping she would leave me alone so I could make sure that my bike was okay. The burning of the Purell had shocked me back to lucidity and I was able to realize fully what had just happened and I remembered how fast I had been going. Now it was I who was the one beginning to get a little frantic, expecting my bike would be a write-off. After convincing the driver that there was no need to dial 911, all I could think about was what kind of repairs it would require. I would have been content to lose a couple of fingers and maybe a toe or two so long as I could ride the damn thing home. When I got to my bike, I was elated to find that it was fine. There was nothing wrong with it at all, save for a couple of scratches here and there which actually, like a well-placed scar, made it look kind of windswept and increased its appeal. Even though my face was bleeding, my tooth was floating around my mouth like a Chiclet, and the entire right side of my body was on fire from the road rash and hand-sanitizer, knowing my bike was okay, I felt fantastic. The woman, who’s vehicle I ran into, and who did not understand English at all, couldn’t comprehend how I could be more concerned about a bike than my own well-being, tried one last time to douse my road-rash covered shoulder with another layer of alcohol gel. Feeling giddy for my good fortune, I tried to be funny and simply held up my hand and said, in a heavy British accent, “It’s just a flesh wound”, and I rode home.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook and Twitter by clicking on the appropriate box below (it really makes a big difference). Also, purchase my book, My Coworkers Think I’m A Pro which is available on Amazon or wherever books are sold in your area. Be sure to follow me on instagram.com/gibbs.brock.