After my Jays home opener party, and the coverage it got on CBC, I became sort of the go-to guy when things happened with the Blue Jays. When the Blue Jays made their big roster moves, like adding Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, and seemed poised to take first place in the AL East division, CBC once again had me on the radio, this time with Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning. What was funny about that, was, in the time between booking me to come on, and my segment actually airing, they also booked then-Liberal leader (and current Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau on the show the same morning, so I have a feeling that they might have forgotten completely that I was supposed to be on. It was also interesting seeing Secret Service agents at work, and to peek behind the curtain a little bit on Trudeau’s political machine.
But the interview, though I think abbreviated by Trudeau’s segment, turned out just fine, and Leisha Grebinski is just as nice in person as you’d think she’d be from hearing her on the radio.
Then, when the Blue Jays made the playoffs, the whole country went Blue Jays crazy, and I had the great privilege of being at the front of the parade. Eric Anderson took over as host of the CBC weekend show, so each Sunday, he’d have me on to discuss the team’s performance. It really became something to which I would look forward.
And there was much to talk about. Texas and Toronto had a see-saw battle, game by game, and by game 5, things were looking rough. For whatever reason, a bunch of the Toronto games seemed to be in the afternoon, which didn’t work so well for my straight job as a graphic designer. But with Game 5, there were enough people watching at my office that my office manager finally just came into my office and said, “get out there, and watch the game!” I didn’t need to be told twice. So me and my co-workers at Realty Executives Saskatoon watched the game with great anxiety, then fury, as it seemed that bizarre, never-before-seen applications of the rules was going to cost Toronto their victory. As many of my co-workers are more hockey guys than baseball fans (particularly my boss, Wayne Zuk, an ex-Edmonton Oiler) I found myself explaining rules, or situational strategies, and though the game was tense, we all enjoyed the chance to be catching the game instead of working.
When Jose Bautista stepped to the plate, and hit his now-famous bat-flip won the game, we were all jumping up and down, high-fiving, and yes, perhaps even hugging.
And then, only a few days later, an extremely cool thing happened, something even now I can barely believe really happened. As the Blue Jays advanced to the American League Championship Series, I got a strange phone call from my boss, Wayne. He asked me if, on Monday, I’d be available to hop a flight with my sales manager to Winnipeg. At this point I was thinking it was work-related, some sort of presentation to our Winnipeg branch or something. Then he continued, “from Winnipeg, you’d connect to Toronto, landing at 3pm, in plenty of time for the game.” He then explained that my company was sending me, all expenses paid, to see the Blue Jays next home game, but that I had to answer quickly. I asked for ten minutes, called my wife at her work, pulling her out of her classroom. As quickly as I could I explained what was happening, and asked her what she thought I should do. Immediately she replied, “why are you even talking to me? Get on the phone and say yes!” And just like that, I was going to be off to Toronto, to see my favourite team in their first playoff berth in decades.
I was traveling with my sales manager (and Baseball Canada honcho) Terry Butler, and I was so glad for his company, and also his travel experience. I travel a lot for comic-cons, but in those cases it’s usually pretty shoestring, but Tery taught me a lot about traveling in style. We got up comically early on Monday morning and boarded our flight, and had no real trouble with our connections. Upon landing on Toronto, Terry taught me my first travel lesson–limousines are roughly the same price as taxis, and are a much nicer way to travel to your hotel.
As we drove into Toronto, I was flooded with memories of my time there in art college, and of my first comic-con in 2011, and it really filled me with gratitude–I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities because of that city, and here was one more. Life is sweet.
Upon reaching our hotel (an OK place, but probably the one area we scrimped a little) we quickly changed into our Jays gear and headed for the stadium. It would be hours before the gates opened, but we still wanted to get there, and to take in the ballpark ambience. Terry, a veteran of dozens of Jays games, had his favourite hot dog stand outside the stadium, and guess what–it was the best freaking hot dog I’ve ever eaten, and cost something like $2.50.
The feeling around Rogers Centre was electric, with marching bands, and drum kids, and cheerleaders and all the rest. It really felt like an event, and we hadn’t even entered the building yet!
We lined up to get inside, and, having been handed giant foam J’s and rally towels, that familiar field came into view. The Kansas City Royals were taking batting practice, and even without my team in sight, it was a pretty amazing view. And this time I was seeing it from the stands, rather than a restaurant, as I did in 2004.
As mentioned in a previous post, I was fortunate enough to meet Blue Jays Central hosts Gregg Zaun and Jamie Campbell, but my traveling companion Terry had spent a lot more time with them, having been an organizer of the event that brought them to my hometown in the first place. As we wandered around Rogers Centre, we came upon the curtained area that contained the Sportsnet Jays Central set. We rolled the dice, and asked the security guard if we might pop in to say hello, and he asked us our names. Terry gave him his, and the security guard looked at a sheet of paper that held only two names. And Terry was one of them. So, magically, we were whisked into the familiar Sportsnet set, and were greeted warmly by these commentators I had spent so much time watching, over the years. Having previously met Zaun and Campbell, I was most excited, this time, to meet the always positive Pat Tabler (who was a great Jay in his own right, to say nothing of being Mr. Clutch for his career). I raced over to the set to shake his hand, and he just could not have been nicer. He said “Hi, I’m Pat.” shaking my hand, as though I wouldn’t know who he was. Zaun and Campbell were also super nice, and I we gathered together for a picture. To his great credit, Terry just kept snapping away, so I have tons of photos from this great moment.
Stupidly, I didn’t step up onto the set (which is about 9 or 10 inches off the ground) so I look even tinier than I might next to these guys, as they’re all solidly standing on the set above me. Everyone was so kind, and friendly, and really made it a magical experience, to be behind the scenes, seeing this broadcast from a perspective that very few people ever did. The only bummer was that, because he was doing on-field coverage for another network, Pat’s broadcast partner, Buck Martinez wasn’t in the booth, so I didn’t get to meet him.
Still, my head was spinning afterward, and I still had the game ahead of me. I texted my wife the picture I took of me on the Sportsnet set, and, because it looked so perfect, she replied, “oh, they had cardboard cutouts?” which was funny. Then me and Terry fought the madding crowds at the Jays shop. Since I got to go to the game, I didn’t really think I needed anything for myself. I bought a hat for my friend Hannah, and shirts for my wife, and for my sister, the real Jays fan in the family.
And then–oh, right, the actual game! This was very much THE home game to see that series, as the Jays piled on the runs, eventually winning 11-8. It’s hard to describe how crazy the noise level was as the Jays took back the lead, and after that, they really didn’t look back. The Royals threatened in the 9th, but we were even glad about that, since it meant we would get to see Roberto Osuna put the game to bed.
After the game, I clambered down to field level, just so I could really see what it was all like. When I see another game, I would love to sit at field level–not that I’m complaining about sitting in the outfield–it was all an amazing experience.
We walked back to our hotel in the rain, and despite how late at night it was, one of my oldest friends, the great Aylwin Lo came to visit, and we celebrated the Jays victory, as well as his impending nuptials.
As luck would have it, the generosity of my employers became big news, and I was interviewed on the radio the next morning as we waited to board our flight home. My voice was hoarse from screaming, and the lack of sleep (Aylwin and I stayed up pretty late, eating A & W and remembering old times) had given me a cold. CBC news later picked up the story, so everyone knew what great bosses I have, which was a real bonus.
As I write this, the Blue Jays are battling for another playoff spot, almost a full year later. Even if I can’t be there as I was last year, I sure hope to be watching some October baseball. But I’ll never forget the kindness and appreciation my employers showed me, as long as I live. Wayne, Laura, Terry, Jordan, and whoever else was involved, you gave me memories which will last a lifetime.
Thanks for reading, I love you.