Alfie Payne fit into that group.
Payne, one of the more talented shortstops Toronto diamonds ever produced, lost his long battle with cancer Wednesday afternoon at 4:45 p.m., at Princess Margaret Hospital.
We first met early in 1968, before a game at Talbot Park when Alf was playing for Leaside. He tripled to right in the bottom of the first. Never saw what he did the rest of the game as my father had a stroke in the third base coach’s box in the top of the second and was rushed to Sunnybrook.
When I saw Cal Ripken running on an extra-base hit in the 1980s, I recall thinking his long stride was similar to Alfie’s.
We’d bump into each other over the years and about 18 years ago we began seeing each other on a regular basis. We even checked out the 1968 scorebooks.
Alf was the “ultimate competitor, a fierce rival, a loyal teammate and an understanding confidant,” e-mailed one of Payne’s friends, who at one stage or another was all of the above, too.
If they lined up Alf’s pals, friends and players he’d coached at home plate, Buck Reed and Brian McRobie, two loyal members of the entourage, would be at the head of the line.
The three of us went to see Alf at Princess Margaret near the end of his previous stay — a 77-day stretch.
Dave Dix, Howie Bernie, Bob Smyth and Greg Cranker were contemporaries in the 1970s and there were thousands of others. Amateur fans in their 50s or older may remember how tough Alf was facing a 3-2 pitch. Well, with wife Carol by his side he battled and battled cancer, which first surfaced in 2000.
The last time we chatted was in Brantford at Arnold Anderson Stadium the night the Red Sox beat the Ottawa Fat Cats to win another championship. Alf may have been Toronto born, but his statue should be in Brantford.
That’s where he played, coached, and was the general manager as the Red Sox returned to their championship form of the 1960s and where Alf could be found holding court in Coco’s corner, named for Doug (Coco) Lane.
Alf could be answering a question about a hitter’s swing, telling a youngster the best fit for him next season or re-calling a bench-clearing brawl against Belleville at the eliminations in Peterborough.
Or listening to the father of a former player say “remember after you coached the Brantford juniors, and you came to watch the next year ... the kids thought so much of you, they’d look into the grandstand for signs on the bunt defence?”
Alf played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was involved in the Intercounty League’s first players’ strike, played and coached the 1979-80 Waterloo Tigers and with Brantford from 1973-77 and 1981-82.
Payne hit .316 during his career with 34 homers and 173 RBIs. He was the Intercounty home run champ in 1971 and ‘72 and in 1972 led the league in RBIs. The Red Sox won in 1981 for the first time since 1965.
Alf ran East York in the Labatt senior loop from 1983-93 and in 1998 became the Brantford GM.
He played for Canada at the 1975 Pan-Am Games and coached at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
A baseball lifer, Alf did what baseball lifers do: he touched lives, helped others and passed on his wisdom in a gentle way.
The last time we saw him he was smiling after Terrell Alliman scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th for Brantford’s 14th title in September.
Deepest sympathies are extended to wife Carol, their children Alicia and Brad and their families.
Visitation is next Wednesday (2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.) at the Paul O’Connor Funeral Home, 1939 Lawrence Avenue East
(between Victoria Park Ave. and Warden Ave), Toronto.
The service is 11 p.m., Thursday morning ... opening day for the Blue Jays.