|Peter Wylie (left) gives the Beezer a few tips on lawn bowling on Wednesday. (Mark O'Neill, Toronto Sun)
I figured, after taking a shot at lawn bowling on Wednesday, I might get an e-mail or two from some disgruntled aficionados of the sport.
I was right.
But the one that caught my eye was from a guy named Peter, who, it turns out, is the president of the Lakeshore Mimico Lawn Bowling Club. Upon receiving the e-mail, I automatically assumed that Peter was an old coot, and possibly an old crank. I mean, it’s lawn bowling, right?
“Steve,” the e-mail began ...
Good for him, I thought to myself, the old fart managed to type in my name correctly.
“Good article. But don’t take shots at lawn bowling. It’s not that easy, and very skillful,” he continued.
Not that easy? Very skillful? What a joke! Hey, I’ve seen lawn bowlers do their thing. It looks like a high-action funeral.
“I challenge you to a game anytime,” Peter continued.
Interesting, I thought to myself. My sadistic sports editor, Bill Pierce, enjoys it when I do the first-person column thing, especially when it means some woman is beating the crap out of me or a pro athlete is slamming me into a wall.
“Have you played? Regards, Peter.”
Have I played? Do I look 80 to you? ... That’s what I was going to write back to Peter. But then I thought, hey, why not? Why not give lawn bowling a shot? What’s the worst that can happen? Some old biddy hitting me over the head with her walker if I drop my cucumber sandwich?
Plus, the club is in Mimico and, despite what some of my skeptical friends believe, I have quite the history in Mimico. Both my mom and the old man lived in Mimico (at different times) and I’m a proud graduate of Mimico High (and I’m sure they were particularly proud to have me there.)
And, besides, I pounded back a few ales at the Blue Goose Tavern in my day, though I haven’t been around the joint recently.
Peter offered to show me the ropes and we agreed to meet on Thursday. I just hoped I didn’t have to yell too loud for the old bastard to hear what I have to say, I chuckled to myself.
So, imagine my surprise when I showed up and Peter turned out to be Peter Wylie, the renowned boxing coach at the venerable Cabbagetown Gym, the man who guided Shawn O’Sullivan to the world amateur title in 1983 and silver medal at the ’84 Los Angeles Olympics.
Hell, Peter and I go way back.
And he certainly isn’t an old coot or crank, though he is a former Toronto cop and member of the force’s bomb squad.
I’ve always gotten along with Peter, though, like any other person I’ve written about, we’ve had our moments.
Years ago, back in 1988 I believe, O’Sullivan fought his Cabbagetown stablemate, Donovan Boucher, for the Canadian professional welterweight title and part-way through the fight, I noticed Peter pointing at his head. I also thought I heard him say something along the lines of “go for the head,” though the crowd was loud and it was very chaotic around the ring.
At the post-fight press scrum, I accusatorilly asked Peter if he had instructed his fighter to head-butt Boucher, as O’Sullivan was clearly losing at that point.
Peter was not amused at the suggestion.
But, to his credit, he didn’t make a big deal out of it and never seemed to hold it against me. These days, he’s training Canadian heavyweight champion Neven Pajkic, a fighter who wasn’t really going anywhere until Peter began putting him through his paces last year.
My initial shock that Peter was Peter Wylie turned to shock that a boxing guy, who certainly isn’t over the hill, was involved in something as sedentary as lawn bowling. (I get shocked a lot these days. Possibly the early stages of senility).
Turns out, Peter saw lawn bowling on TV from the Commonwealth Games years ago and found it intriguing.
“I thought: ‘Wow, this is kind of an interesting game.’ I love snooker and billiards, which I was playing a lot then, and I like the game of golf, because it’s skilled. And so, I thought, I’ve got to give this a shot?”
I pointed out the extreme differences in boxing and lawn bowling.
“One is brutal and the other is brutally boring,” I laughed, though Peter wasn’t amused with my little quip.
As I quickly learned, while lawn bowling certainly isn’t fast-paced, it’s anything but boring.
Obviously, there’s a ton of skill involved and it’s highly competitive. Peter showed me the ropes, how to grip the bowl, how to bowl it, which way the bowl will turn based on what side the bias is on, how to get nasty tea stains out of them white shirts (ha ha, another little joke).
Peter and I played a few ends and I sort of got the handle of it, though my weight was wildly inconsistent.
Though he did kick my ass, I found myself eager to play some more because, while it was frustrating at times, it was also a lot of fun.
And the great thing was, afterwards, nobody was mad at me, which is usually the case when I play hockey or fastball or anything else.
“I picked it up because it was a very relaxing sport and there wasn’t that huge, competitive nature to it,” Peter said. “The people who come to play it are very social — ladies and gentlemen type thing. I enjoyed that social interaction.
“In boxing, everybody is at each other’s throats and it’s very competitive with this huge, electric atmosphere all the time,” he added. “Here, you have a cup of tea, play the game and enjoy yourself.”
Funny, former heavyweight great George Chuvalo always told me that tea is the boxer’s drink of choice. So I guess there is a similarity.
Peter and I didn’t have any tea, because it was about 48C with the humidity. But I have to say, I’m certainly going to give lawn bowling another shot. After all, it would be great to play something where I’m not the oldest geezer in the game, though I suspect I’ll always be the lousiest.