My Dad, (E.R.”Rosie” Helmer) was well-known in Calgary during the “thirties” as a sports enthusiast and promoter. He was named Robert Edward Helmer at birth but the first two initials got changed around somehow. When I went to Sarnia years ago to meet Dad’s sister-in law and her family they all referred to him as “Eddie”. He was trainer for the Calgary Tigers in the years before the entire Western Canada Hockey League was sold to Eastern Canada interests. Teams in Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton were sold outright and became the original teams for Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago and Boston. In those days there were few if any players who were not Canadian and most of them came from Western Canada.

The Calgary Bronks were funded by Dad and he also had an interest of some kind in the Calgary Rangers. The teams in the thirties were almost exclusively based in towns that could provide jobs for the players. The ‘Allan Cup’ was the supreme trophy for the teams in this league and I remember as a kid being familiar with all of the teams in the Western Division. They came from Trail, Coleman, Canmore, Olds, Kimberley, Lethbridge, Edmonton, Drumheller, Luscar and any other town that had a brewery, a packing plant or a coal or hard rock mine that could provide employment.

A few of the ‘elite’ hockey stars who were playing in the NHL ‘big leagues’ and making enough money during the winter to take it easy during the summer months played for the ‘Pucksters’, Dad’s baseball team, which played only when he was able to bring a ‘name’ barnstorming team to town. I can remember him hosting Connie Mack’s old ‘Athletics’ team sometime in the early thirties. Did you know that Connie Mack was an Irishman and his real name was Cornelius McGillicuddy? A big framed photo of Dad and Connie and a few key players hung in the Billiard Parlour (Helmer’s Downtown Club) below the Hudson’s Bay store for many years.

Lloyd and I were particularly impressed each year when the House of David team came to town. They wore black uniforms and all had substantial beards in keeping with their Jewish tradition. I knew they all had beards but I suspected that they were not all Jewish. I wasn’t invited to shower with them so I couldn’t confirm my suspicions. The highlight of their appearance was the display of ‘pepper ball’ they featured between the seventh and eighth innings. Four members of the team would stand side by side between home plate and the pitcher’s mound and a fifth would bat the ball to them. There would then transpire an incredible display of sleight of hand as the players would toss the ball back and forth to each other, at least appear to do so, and we would assume so until the ball appeared in some other player’s hand and he would appear to throw it full force to another player but the ball would come out in a lazy lob. Maybe I should have called it ‘sleight of arm’! The House of David played a better than average game of baseball but the highlight of their appearance was always ‘pepper ball’.

Both of the born and bred in Calgary Thompson brothers, Paul and Cecil (“Tiny”) were playing for the Pucksters. Paul was starring for the Chicago Black Hawks as a forward and “Tiny” was a Hall of Fame (I think) goaltender for the Boston Bruins. Other outstanding athletes playing for the Pucksters were Archie Mcteer, who was actually a football star but all-around athlete, Sweeney Schriner, Freddie Hergert, Pete Sande, Roy Harris (my Grade Seven teacher), Joe McGoldrick, Pat Eagan, Sam Timmins and Gordon McFarlane.

Besides being privileged to keep Roy Harris’s glove warm when he was at bat I was sometimes elevated to even more important responsibilities. I was on occasion allowed to sit up in the sports reporter’s booth high above home plate with Bob Mamini, who reported the games for the Calgary Herald. I can’t remember ever seeing the locally famous Percy Scott sitting there with his chewed up, long-dead stogie stuck in his mouth. My sole responsibility was to yank the cord connected to the bell on the outside wall of the booth to signal the scorekeepers out behind centre field how many runs had scored in the ‘batting’ just concluded. As busy as I was I frequently became distracted and Bob Mamini would lean across me and pull the cord the requisite number of times.

‘Oh, yeah, sorry about that!’ I would say, vowing to myself never to forget it again. Well, at least till next time!

My Dad was what the baseball players called a ‘southpaw’; you rarely hear the nickname these days and I should know because I spend a lot of my time watching the game on the ‘boob tube’. The sportscasters regularly refer to left-handed pitchers and left-handed batters but rarely if ever to ‘southpaws’. Also, you should be aware that my Dad came west to play baseball in the early years of the century. In case you are wondering why he was not in WWI, the explanation is fairly simple. His older brother Dan had fought for the Americans in the Philippines during the Spanish American War and had seen all of the horrors of jungle warfare. He told his younger brother that he could go to war in Europe if he wanted but it would be over Dan’s dead body.

Anyway, to get back to ‘southpaws’— baseball diamonds are traditionally laid out with the first base line running due west to east from home plate to first base. Of course, the third base line runs from north to south from third base to home plate. The sun had something to with this but don’t ask me what, because it seemed to me that at one time or other of the day the fielders had to look up into a blazing sun while trying to catch a high fly ball. The point of all this dreary explanation is that a pitcher who was left-handed was facing in a southwesterly direction when throwing to a batter; his pitching arm was facing to the south during his throw. Hence…’southpaw’! Clever, what?

Dad was capable of yelling at an umpire from extremely close proximity exactly as we have seen it done on television but I think that kicking dirt on their shoes had not been thought of yet. Everything else had! I remember Lloyd and me trailing along behind Dad as he returned to the dressing room one Sunday afternoon. He was fuming mad and using words that were new to us and seemed to be words rarely used, especially on the Sabbath. It was educational, however, and although we were as quiet as little mice we were memorizing every word.

Marty Burke, who subsequently became either coach or General Manager of the Calgary Stampeders Hockey Club told me some time after Dad’s death that he first became aware of a problem one day in 1940 when he saw Dad downtown sitting on the kerb on Eighth Avenue. He said Dad was fully dressed and was leaning against a light standard. He knew Dad was not a drunk so he went over and asked him what was wrong.

‘”Jeez, Marty, I suddenly felt dizzy and now I feel really rotten,”‘ he replied. ‘He wasn’t drunk so I called a cab and sent him home; maybe I should have sent him to a hospital!’

‘I wouldn’t feel bad about it, Marty,’ I said. ‘They didn’t have any really effective ‘post-stroke’ treatment then, anyway. Our family doctor came up to the house and checked his blood pressure and then told him to reduce his salt intake!’

‘That was it?’

‘Afraid so, I took him to a baseball game when I came back to Calgary from Trail in the spring of 1947. From that time on he just deteriorated a little bit at a time with each successive stroke. He was pretty well permanently bedridden for the last year and a half of his life; the worst part was that he seemed to understand what was being said but he was unable to speak. Every so often he would let out a loud groan of frustration. Old friends would come to see him and leave in tears. Understandably it was very uncomfortable for most of them so the visits gradually diminished until only one or two faithful old-timers would come by, bring him up to date on the news and then leave. ‘Red’ Dutton always sent Mom a bouquet of flowers on her birthday but obviously didn’t have the heart to see Dad in his condition.’

‘That must have been sheer hell for everyone.’

‘It was; the irony of it all was that television hadn’t become widespread at the time; if we’d had the continuous sports coverage we have today it would have been marvellous.’

‘Was he in any pain?’

‘Only mental, I should think; the whole family was there when he finally died on Christmas Day 1951; I think he knew we were there!’

‘I’m sure he did. It’s all very sad , though!’ Marty said, shaking his head.

‘Yeah, it is! Thanks!’

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