Langdon Critch more than a coach, writes former player
I was about 10 years-of-age on a June morning back in the early 70s when I got a phone call from Langdon Critch.
“Jenny, do you want to play softball? I’m going to start a team. Come to the field at two this afternoon.”
And so began my journey into softball with “Lang” as my coach, teacher and friend.
I was never a star, but I learned how to be a team player under Lang’s instruction. But he taught me a lot more than that.
For the next eight summers, I learned — along with all my friends, including Natalie, Rexine, Francine, Sonya, Genny, Claire, Cathy, Jackie and many others — how to play softball.
Interspersed with those lessons were the countless lessons about life bestowed upon us all through Lang’s presence in our lives.
If we got clunked on the side of the head with a softball — they really are not that soft — Lang would quickly jog over to us, assess the damage and then characteristically pronounce: “The main thing is not to worry.”
Although we were often miffed with his seemingly “careless” attitude regarding our injuries, Lang taught us that, in the great scheme of things, minor issues like these should not be exaggerated.
There were more important things to worry about. We all survived intact, and I believe our collective abilities to deal with all the worries and tangles that life often presents to us these days were ingrained in us through those long summer days spent playing ball with Lang. There are very few, if any, “divas” among my dearest childhood softball buddies.
A compassionate man
On those days when the blistering sun was draining the energy from our bodies as we practiced for the invariable upcoming provincial tournaments, Lang would often disappear from the field for 10 or 15 minutes, only to trot quickly back onto the field with a box of Popsicles he had purchased from the Brookfield ice cream warehouse up over the hill.
Although not outwardly so, our treasured coach was a compassionate man who took great care of his “players.” And those rare Popsicle treats taught us all to appreciate gifts from others, whether big or small.
In the early years of playing ball, our Bay Roberts team was often pitted against the Spaniard’s Bay team. These games were orchestrated by Lang, of course. He would telephone each one of us individually from his workplace at D.B. Russell’s to advise us of the time and we would all meet at the field, waiting for the Spaniard’s Bay team to arrive in the taxis that Lang had arranged and paid for out of his own pocket.
We always won, but we knew in our hearts that it was simply because we had Lang on an almost daily basis to teach us the skills of the game, while the Spaniard’s Bay girls only occasionally got his tutelage.
The funny thing was, though, that as we got older, many of us became close friends with those Spaniard’s Bay girls — some of them include Marge, Betty, Cynthia, Rose Ann and Nancy — and they eventually became important and valued members of our regional teams. And they were good. If not for Lang, we would have all missed out on those opportunities to form new and lifelong friends.
Back in the 70s, because of the denominational school system, we often didn’t know the kids in our own neighbourhoods, because many of us went to different schools. I credit Lang for my friendships with Cathy, Claire and Genny, and although we don’t see each other much or run in the same circles, there still remains that magical bond of softball among us.
I was never a star player, especially in left field, which was my “spot,” but when I was 11 years-of-age, I could hit a home run like nobody else on our team. It was a very special moment for me then, at the softball banquet held in the old Amalgamated school gym at the end of summer, when I was presented with the trophy for “Most Home Runs” for our team.
I’m pretty confident that this award wasn’t one of the usual ones, but Lang made sure that I was recognized for my “15 minutes of fame.” That trophy made me the proudest 11year-old in Bay Roberts.
So Lang taught me another life lesson; the importance of acknowledging the achievements of others, no matter how minuscule they are.
We didn’t always win the provincial tournaments, but we were competitive and respectable teams because of Langdon Critch. He never failed to put the losses in perspective for us, saying: “There’s always next year.”
That was a valuable lesson too — none of us would be winners all the time. So we approached adulthood armed with the knowledge that it was OK to lose. We would just try harder next time.
We learned the importance of being on time, because other people were counting on us. We learned the importance of cheering on our teammates and friends, even when they weren’t the best players on the team. We learned the importance of fair play and perseverance when the going gets tough. We learned the importance of giving everyone equal opportunity, and we realized, later in life, that we had led charmed lives in our youthful years because we had had the most wonderfully kind, generous and patient man to help lead us through to adulthood.
Thank you, Lang.