The cane hit the blacktop first. Mayor Thomas M. Menino then eased himself out of his black sport utility vehicle and balanced on the wooden walking stick upon arriving for a playground dedication in Jamaica Plain.
This was no regular black cane, nothing like what the mayor has relied on for the past several months. It was a baseball bat. A 29-inch Louisville Slugger, to be exact, outfitted with a curved maple handle at the top. A black rubber stopper on the bottom seemed to give Menino an extra spring in his step Friday as he approached a schoolyard full of children.
Kids clamored to touch it. (“I like your cane, Mr. Mayor.”) Adults admired the handiwork. (“That cane is fantastic.”) And reporters gave Hizzoner a little extra space as he joked about swinging the cane like a bat to keep critics in line.
“I use it as a medical device, but if somebody gets fresh with me, I use it as a weapon,” Menino told the press. “If the police come around, I’ll say I’m using my medical device to help me out.”
The mayor received the baseball-bat-turned-cane as a gift Sunday from Gary and Lynne Smith, longtime friends whose devotion to the Red Sox stands out even in a city as baseball crazy as Boston. The couple’s home in Wellesley sports a bathroom decorated with a mural of Fenway Park, a sink painted like a baseball, and Yankees toilet paper.
The Red Sox honored Lynne Smith as the team’s most loyal fan. She goes to ballgames wearing a hat topped with a replica of Fenway Park, Citgo sign included.
“Most people know me as the Fenway hat lady,” she said.
This year, the Smiths attended all 16 Red Sox playoff games, home and away. At a game in Detroit, they sat in Comerica Park near a man with a cane crafted from a baseball bat. The Smiths thought of Menino.
“You know how sometimes something just clicks?” Smith said. “Gary, my husband, and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is perfect.’ ”
The mayor had been treating his old black cane like an unwanted appendage, a curse that slowed him in the waning months of his 20-year run at City Hall.
After a series of illnesses, Menino needed help walking. Victoria Reggie Kennedy had given the mayor a cane used by her late husband, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, but it was the wrong fit.
“I wish I could use Senator Kennedy’s cane, but it was about 4 inches too tall for me,” Menino said.
“It’s an honor to have his cane, but it’s just not the right size.”
Then the Red Sox won the World Series.
Lynne Smith and her husband spent $72.95 on a cane from baseballbatcane.com, a one-man company run out of the Florida garage of Rick Just, a retired firefighter from Coral Gables.
Just gets Little League-sized bats from Louisville Slugger and affixes the maple handle and rubber stoppers.
“What I’ve found with older people is they are very self-
conscious about getting their first cane,” Just said. “They don’t want one.
“But people love these because they are so different. They are conversation pieces.”
The Smiths surprised Menino with his cane Sunday.
“His eyes just lit up when we gave it to him,” Lynne Smith said.
The cane sparked conversation when the retiring mayor used it at a press conference to announce his new job at Boston University earlier in the week.
And on Friday, when Menino took his seat for the playground ribbon cutting, he held the cane like a king’s scepter. He balanced his forearm on the curve of the handle as he listened to children sing. The crowd could read the engraving on the barrel.
“Mayor Tom Menino
World Series Champs
2004, 2007, 2013”
Menino held the bat aloft to show it off to an admirer, pointing at each of the three years.
“The three years I was mayor,” he said.