Ace King of (baseball) Hearts

by on November 15, 2012

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Clyde King has been at North York’s Bond Park since 1966. He hasn’t lost a step and his gadgets improve players as they always have …

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Video on Clyde King

By Andrew Bradley

The rain falls on an early September Saturday morning at North York’s Bond Park. A lone Honda sedan rests near Milt Dunnell Field under the overhang next to the wall of champions.

The clubhouse lights are on inside the Bond Park clubhouse. House league finals have been rained out, but Clyde King is here setting up shop, something he’s done for 46 seasons.

 

 

I am greeted warmly with a smile and firm handshake next to boxes of player trophies waiting to be doled out.

We’ve been trying to meet for an interview for several weeks, but with his wife Shirley in hospital to repair and replace part of her leg, and all of her knee, scheduling has been a challenge. However, the recent news has been good.

“This week she walked 80 feet,” said Clyde, as he snaps his hands together—bam!—lightning quick, like the powerful split-second beginning of a hitter’s sprint from the box, “she’s going to make it.”

The glint in his eyes showing, as he cracks a smile, Clyde is pumped about his wife’s recovery.

Since 1966, when he began coaching his seven-year-old son John, Clyde has been a fixture at Bond Park — stoked, like the golden glove boxing days of his youth, about amateur baseball.

Former North York Baseball President Bill Down places Clyde, along with Art Marsh, Gord Bain and Don McQuarrie, as one of the founding fathers of the association. Clyde served as NYBA Registrar for 28 years, humbly conceding that “most of the work was done by my wife Shirley, because she took all the phone calls.”

He’s been a multi-term NYBA vice-president, coached at all levels of rep and remains active on the Board of Directors.

“My fondest memory of administering at North York,” says Clyde, “was running what we called the Majors House League program. We had midget, juvenile and junior teams with 20-player rosters, and 120 kids left over who still wanted to play. They had nowhere to go, so we created a 10-team house league for them. And it attracted kids from all over the city. Because it wasn’t rep ball, it wasn’t infringing on territory rights, and everyone played.”

Down said recently that “we could never convince my good friend (whose initials are A.C.E. King – I call him “Ace” every now and then: Ace King) to be President.”

Perhaps it’s because his most fulfilling moments have been on the diamond. Like coaching against the late Norm Bryan of Toronto Greenwood for over 30 years. Fielding teams of 10 and 11-year-old kids with the late George Newbold. Coaching the 1993-94 North York bantam girls with Scott White to back-to-back Canadian Championship wins. With White (again) and teacher-coach Mike Doig on the York Mills Collegiate team (2010, 2011, 2012) — City of Toronto Champions in 2011.

Norm Bryan and Clyde King at the 2004 Ontario Volunteer Awards.

“The hardest thing to do as a coach is to recognize the fragility of young kids,” relates Clyde. “If you’re smart, you can realize who needs a pat on the back or a swift kick in the tail. It’s a delicate balance.”

After working 37 years for the Canada Revenue Agency, Clyde retired in 1994 to, in his words, “pursue baseball full-time.” That same year, after the second-straight national championship with North York’s bantam girls, Clyde won the OBA’s Coach of the Year Award, presented to him by Toronto Blue Jays GM Gord Ash at the Best Ever Coaches’ Clinic.

Over the years Clyde has crafted various tools to help kids learn baseball fundamentals. There’s his metal-framed rebounder, “which 50 years ago,” says Clyde as he whips a water-injected tennis ball (to match the hardball’s weight) into the centre of the tight mesh, “was called the pitch-back, but after a week with the kids they would break down.”

Clyde secures his rebounders with lobster twine from his native Newfoundland, “good for two years under water out east, so they’re very strong, safe and accurate. And the tennis balls fit the little players’ hands.”

As he tosses strike after strike into the mesh, each time the ball rebounds back to him, chest high. Throw. Rebound. Two-handed catch …repeat.

“Bantams,” with another quick snap of his arm, “get their tennis balls hurled back from my rebounder at 58 mph.”

Then there’s Clyde’s line-driver system. Three clotheslines are loaded with whiffle balls and secured on hooks so that they span the clubhouse wall to wall. One line is at the top of the strike zone, one in the middle and the other at the bottom. He demonstrates with the middle-of-the-zone line this morning, the sweet spot and proceeds to hammer five balls flawlessly across the room.

Smack, smack, smack … using his original (vintage 1992) sawed-off wooden bat with two fiberglass rods drilled into its top secured by glue and a nail.

“The most important thing [with hitting] is to be relaxed,” says Clyde, while he slides the whiffle balls back into position.

Again: smack, smack, smack …another flawless round.

“Relaxed in the beginning, holding the bat like spaghetti, and when you move forward, like steel. I always say: From spaghetti to steel.”

Clyde, with his line-driver bat and water-infused tennis ball.

In recognition of Clyde’s volunteer efforts, in 1988, he received the Government of Canada’s Certificate of Merit from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In 2004 he was honoured with the Ontario Volunteer Service Award. And adding to his hardware, the Toronto Baseball Association is pleased to present Clyde King with this year’s membership into the Carmen Bush Signature Club.

“What I still get a kick out of,” says Clyde, “is going downtown and, whether I’m wearing my blue North York baseball jacket or not, someone will come up to me saying ‘Hi Coach! How are you?’ ”

After 46 years in the game (and counting): Clyde King, you must’ve done it right.

Welcome to the Signature Club.

 

King at Bond Park Clubhouse, rebounder on the right, line-driver on the left, posing with his 1994 OBA award, Sept. 8, 2012.

 

In 2002 TBA President Dave Lauzon instituted the following special award:

CARMEN BUSH SIGNATURE CLUB — This is an award for lifetime achievement established to honour Carmen Bush (member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) and perpetuate his memory through special recognition of an outstanding coach or volunteer in the TBA. There is at most one recipient each year to be honoured at the TBA Annual Meeting.

2002  Roger Neilson (posthumously)

2003  Nick Rico

2004  Howie Birnie

2005  Norm Bryan

2006  Tom and Pat Lawson

2008  Jack Wilson

2011  Dave Lauzon (posthumously)

2012  Clyde King

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