Take Me Out To The Ballgame
By Mike Toth Plunk me into the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp.
With COVID-19 still a raging concern, professional sports entities such as the NHL, NBA and MLB are still whacking the weeds and planning to return to the playing fields.
Should they play?
With all the health hoops to jump through, the answer is rather simple.
What happens, for instance, if a big-name athlete kicks the bucket during the "Play On" pandemic? Talk about a league having blood on its hands from the ultimate public relations disaster. However, as the push to play through the virus proves, pro sports is primarily a big business. Sure, there won't be any fans in the stands paying ridiculous ticket prices. But there will be plenty of butts sitting on the comfy cushions at home as the leagues are desperate to slice at least a piece of the pie from their multi-million dollar television deals.
Personally, I'm not that pumped about watching basketball and hockey on the tube. For the most part, the NBA and NHL are winter-schedule sports and the idea of viewing them on a sticky summer night is enough to boil any couch potato. Baseball, on the other hand, is a huge part of many people's summer entertainment package. But while it could be comforting to sit home and watch good old Buck and Pat broadcast the Toronto Blue Jays on Sportsnet, (as long as the playing fields don't turn into the Coronavirus killing fields) there are some things about actually attending a Jays game that are difficult to replace.
With my two Jays-loving sons in tow, we usually arrive at Rogers Centre as soon as the gates open - an hour and a half before first pitch. It's straight to the outfield fence, as the lads slip their mitts on and begin hunting batting practice baseballs. Hunting balls is like fishing. It's tough to reel in the big one, but all you need is a nibble to keep going. Over the years, my guys have snared a few BP home runs. But usually they walk away empty-handed as they complain about the goofy grown-up wearing an "official" Jose Bautista forty dollar glove who kept jumping in front of them.
Sign On The Dotted Line
Oh well. The hunting trip isn't over just yet. Now it's down to the infield seating area to try and grab a few pre-game autographs. Even though we go to a half-dozen Jays games a year, my kids list of signatures is pretty lean. It's also a tad light on star power - Danny Barnes, Trent Thornton…..and Ace, the Blue Jays friendly feathered mascot. Still, the boys are pumped to get their souvenir baseball signed by any living, breathing big leaguer; and it's amazing how legible Ace's autograph is, despite being forced to manipulate a magic marker with those big blue talons.
Catching a batting practice homer?
Snagging a Blue Jays autograph?
Visiting the Rogers Centre snack bar?
Get your financial planner on the phone…..Now!
Every pro sports fan knows the hot flash you experience after forking over seven bucks for an ice-cold hot-dog. But the official rules of baseball dictate that you have to chow down at the ball park - and the junkier the food, the better. We've all gone to a game with a precocious health freak who only orders a bottle of water and complains about the lack of a salad bar on site. I once roamed around Comerica Park in Detroit stuffing my face for three innings because I didn't want my dieting buddy to suffer a relapse and try to pry the salted pretzel from my greasy hands.
All baseball foodies have their favorite. To me, no trip to Rogers Centre is complete without a heaping helping of cheese-smothered jerk chicken nachos. Just sniffing the stuff would probably slap a couple of extra pounds on Vladdy Jr., and the price tag will definitely slap your wallet silly. But, trust me, every beautiful bite is absolutely worth it.
Okay Blue Jays, Let's Play Ball!
Tasty morsels aside, the most delicious aspect of attending a major league contest is getting the chance to witness world class athletes display their head-shaking skill.. Like all Blue Jays fans, I have some special memories of visiting Mr. Rogers baseball neighborhood.
Jose Canseco was briefly a Blue Jay and in 1998, he smacked the hardest hit ball I've ever seen - a massive upper-deck bullet that would've knocked over a condo if it had kept going. Of course, we now know most of Jose's homers were "Juiced". But watching that ball soar like a 747 is something I'll never forget.
A less famous Blue Jays slugger named Reed Johnson carved out his own home run heaven on an amazing day in 2003. Johnson led off the afternoon by belting the baseball over the wall and then wrapped things up in dramatic fashion a few hours later by clobbering a game-winning homer in the tenth inning.
The most recent memory for many Blue Jays boosters took place just last year; the thrilling debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Rogers Centre was absolutely rocking when Vladdy Jr. came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 nail-biter; and when the kid nailed a double that helped key a spine-tingling victory, the noise was deafening.
What had people pumped about going back to the ball yard in Toronto this season was the chance to check the progress of Vladdy Jr. and the rest of the talented young guns the club has assembled. Unfortunately, Coronavirus has nipped all of that excitement in the bud. So, if the games do go ahead (still a big question in the minds of many) baseball nuts will have to get their fix on TV; and yes, my baseball-crazed boys and I will be watching.
Maybe we'll gather in the basement early and I can smack a few pre-game wiffle balls. The lads can camp out behind the sofa, pretending it's the left field wall as they make the catch without the threat of a fat old guy in a George Bell retro uni shoving them out of the way.
We can toast our own popcorn and pound as much "No Name" iced tea as we can drink; and unlike the Rogers Centre snack shack, we'll still have a little cash left over to send the kids to college.
And we can still sit back and watch Vladdy Jr. and his young buds light it up. True, it's only a 60 game mini-schedule. But after a 120 day COVID nightmare, we'll all be pumped to experience even a brief bit of baseball magic if MLB can somehow pull the whole thing off.