Clyde King: Coach. Inventor. Newfoundlander. Humourist. Born May 20, 1931, in Fortune, N.L.; died Nov. 19, 2021, in Toronto, of heart failure; aged 90.
You probably didn’t know Clyde King, but you know someone just like him.
He was one of those wonderful folks you find at rinks or service clubs or food banks across Canada – a special human being who volunteers thousands of hours of their time doing the work others take for granted, all the while spreading joy and wisdom and asking for nothing in return.
For 47 years, Clyde was the guardian angel of Toronto’s Bond Park, a green jewel tucked between train tracks and some 1950s housing developments in Don Mills. Clyde coached kids who years later brought their own kids back to Bond Park so he could coach them, too.
Clyde was more than just a coach. He was an inventor. He created many tools to help kids learn the fundamentals of the sport, including his famous “Line Driver” – an ingenious combination of whiffle balls and wires that forced a player to develop a short, compact swing.
Clyde became a passionate champion for female ballplayers. He was a superb hitting instructor and at every game, Clyde would stand in the first base coach’s box, clap his hands and yell out: “Hammer time!” The hits would inevitably follow, his students delivering on the lessons of a wise tutor.
Baseball is a slow game. That gave Clyde plenty of time to tell stories – often involving his childhood in Fortune, a fishing community on the southern tip of Newfoundland whose history goes back to the 1500s – or demonstrate his legendary humour. One day when it was hot and the kids were noisy and impatient, Clyde had them gather around in a circle. “Did you know that baseball is the only game mentioned in the Bible?” he said. “It’s right at the start: ‘In the big inning …’”
Clyde lived in the same apartment in Toronto for five decades, but he never really left Newfoundland. A favourite story was the one about how his father, Captain John King, bought a sunk freighter and raised it from the bottom by submerging 45-gallon barrels filled with air into the hull of the ship. Clyde, then just a boy, later crossed the Atlantic on the same ship.
Clyde attended Dalhousie University, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and then like many Newfoundlanders, went west to Toronto to find work. While in Ontario, he reconnected with Shirley Spencer, who had been his classmate in Fortune. They married in 1955. When their son John wanted to play baseball in the 1960s, Shirley and Clyde (who had played soccer as a boy but never baseball) became volunteers. Shirley worked Bond Park’s concession stand for four decades and when she died in 2015, the place never seemed the same.
There was another side to Clyde that most people didn’t know. For 35 years, he worked at Revenue Canada and part of his job was to determine how much tax visiting performers should pay. This often led to disputes with concert promoters and band managers. He used to tell a story (and those who heard it desperately wanted it to be true) that the Rolling Stones once objected to the levy he imposed, but that Clyde met with Mick Jagger, who had studied at the London School of Economics, and the two of them worked things out.
Clyde never raised his voice at a player or umpire or a parent (even when they deserved to be spoken to sternly). Even in his late 70s, he seemed ready to keep going on long, scorching summer days. Win or lose, Clyde always smiled.
“I don’t know where it came from,” John said, trying himself to understand why his father gave five decades of his time to others. “But it defined him. It was the essence of who he was.”
Scott White is Clyde’s friend and fellow coach.
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