Double-Play On Skis (Mark Belanger Memories)

Every child, especially boys who love sports, have dreams about athletic accomplishments, or meeting players they admire.

When I was in sixth grade, my cousins Billy and John begged me to take up skiing, so I could spend Saturdays with them at Bousquet’s Ski Area.

No one in my family had ever taken skiing seriously and it took a bit of convincing to persuade my dad to let me join in.

Up until that time my dreams of sports were focused on baseball.  I  never was very good, but I didn’t know it yet.

My dad had a salesman working for him named Ronnie.

Ronnie was an expert skier and dad asked him to take me to Besse Clarke’s on North Street to set me up.

Back then there were few options for sporting goods, most were on North Street.  Dad was also friends with Sam, the manager of the sporting goods department.

As we walked over from Columbus Ave. to North Street, Ronnie said something that got me excited.

I have a surprise for you when we get there.

What could that mean, I thought?

When we walked up to the second floor and turned the corner; there was the surprise; “The Blade.”

“The Blade” was the World Series winning shortstop from the Baltimore Orioles, Mark Belanger, who was going to sell us my new skis.

I could hardly believe what was happening.

There was a legend I’d only seen on TV, hundreds of times, helping me choose skis, boots, bindings and poles.

It was the highlight of my imaginary baseball career.

Mark was a Pittsfield High School grad.

In those days ball players were paid an average wage and still needed winter jobs in their home towns.

In many ways our “go-nuts-society-over-celebrities” is the same now as it was then, except for one thing, there wasn’t as much money involved.

Thirty years later Mark passed away from the effects of cancer.

I’m not sure how she knew my wife was a vocalist, but Mark’s wife contacted Natalie and asked her to sing for her husband’s funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Church.

There was no way I was going to miss this, so I volunteered to help carry the music stand to the balcony.

Mark’s funeral was filled with other local celebrities, like Silvio O. Conte our Congressman, who told Natalie after Mass he wanted her to sing at his funeral, because she sang so well.

As I watched the Mass and ceremony unfold, through clouded eyes, I thought about the kind way Mark treated me as an 11-year-old kid with nothing more than a big dumb grin on my face.

I was clearly no celebrity.

I was just a fan.

I can still see him writing up the slip for the ski equipment by hand and then using an adding machine to double-check the math.

No money was exchanged.  Dad had “an account.”

That didn’t mean a credit card, it just meant he was “good” for the money and he’d have my mom mail a check as soon as the bill came, or usually before it came.

Lord, thank you for the simpler times and memories in our lives that we’ve all had.

Like the apostles, who said, can anything good come out of Nazareth in John 1; You allowed something good to come out of my hometown Pittsfield.

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? Nathanael asked.

Come and see, said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.

I can proudly say, there was nothing false about this great, yet humble man.


2 Responses to “Double-Play On Skis (Mark Belanger Memories)”

  1. Paden Belanger Says:

    I never met him but he was my uncle. I was 5 when he died. I remember hearing stories about him and I can recite his stats like they were my own. I tried to play like him and made defense my priority. But this was something I never knew. I knew he was a good man. He fought for the players union and my family loved him. This is special. Thank you for sharing this. I only wish I had half of his ability and heart.

  2. jmassery Says:

    Thank you for commenting Paden. You are much more like him than you know. God bless you.

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