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Turning Over A New Leaf

By Mike Toth

The Toronto Maple Leafs are handing out free tickets for all of their future home games.

Now before you keel over in utter disbeLEAF, I should point out that I'm talking about the Toronto BASEBALL Maple Leafs.

The hockey Leafs, of course, wouldn't dream of letting fans in on a freebie; not when a lot of puckheads would spend their life savings on a couple of ducats to watch the Buds battle the awful Arizona Coyotes on a Tuesday night in February. (Confession: I'm one of those puckheads. I once dropped $300 bucks to watch the Leafs host a meaningless exhibition game in September. But hey! Leafs legend Doug Gilmour was in the line-up for the Buffalo Sabres and, besides, I was trying to impress the girl I took to the game.

That girl is now my wife and now that we have a couple of kids, we can't really afford to go to many Leafs games.

But the BASEBALL Leafs?

Watching them play at Christie Pits Park is a huge part of our family's summer.

Two things come to mind at this point in the blog.

First off, it really is true. You don't have to pay a single penny to watch the baseball Leafs play, as they never charge admission. Just throw down a blanket on the grassy hill overlooking the diamond, soak up the sunshine and take in the great semi-pro action of the Intercounty Baseball League. If you do, however, want to help pay for the Leafs gas money to Barrie, you can always toss in a few bucks for the prize draw that's part of the fun down at the Pits. Over the years, I've won a ball glove, a dinner certificate to a local Chinese restaurant and a train ticket to Montreal. The restaurant folded before I cashed in the certificate and I never did take that train trip to Montreal. But I've used the ball glove for too many father-son catches to even count.

Secondly, what's the deal with all the confusion over two teams using the same name?

I've always felt that the idea of the BASEBALL Leafs was always kind of goofy. I don't know how many times I've told people that I'm going to a Leafs game and they stare at me like I've got two heads.

"You're going to a Leafs game? What are you talking about? The Leafs don't play in July."

That's true….and they don't play very often in May or June either.

After absolutely killing it with my comedic skills, I then inform them that I'm talking about the BASEBALL Leafs. Personally, I've always believed the ball Leafs could save themselves a lot of confusion and boost their marketing profile by changing their name to the "Terminators" or "Towers", or whatever. But they've been the Leafs for over half a century, linking themselves to their once successful hockey namesakes, so Leafs I guess it shall continue to be.

No matter what they're called, however, the Leafs have always been a huge part of our family's summer ritual.

Chowing down on hot dogs from the concession stand located on the other side of the center field fence.

Tossing the ball around with my two boys between innings; and yes, I use my lucky Leafs prize draw mitt.

Grabbing a 5th inning cone from the ice cream truck parked beside the press box.

Some people go to the cottage, we sit on the side of the hill watching Leafs baseball. And as I mentioned earlier, the baseball is pretty darn good. Over the years, the Leafs have featured a strong line-up that's even included former Toronto Blue Jays such as Paul Spoljaric and Rob Butler.

Butler, in fact, was right in the middle of one of my most memorable, albeit weird, Christie Pits moments. It actually took place before I was married so instead of being perched on the hill, I usually watched the game while leaning against the fence near first base. On this particular day, Butler was playing first base for the Leafs when a crazy dude, completely buck naked, jumped over the first base fence, dashed across the diamond, hopped the third base fence, donned some clothes he'd hid in the bushes, and took off up the hill. After a short and shocked silence, Butler broke the uncomfortable ice with a perfect line.

"That guy reminds me of myself after I fired my first agent. The guy stripped me of everything I owned."

The Leafs play their home opener of the new IBL season on Sunday - a season that's been delayed a few months by (what else?) the lousy pandemic.

Let's hope we don't have to deal with another streaker. But if it does happen, the guy better respect the COVID protocols and at least slap on a medical mask.

And oh yeah, one more thing.

You know how the hockey Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in 54 years?

The baseball Leafs have won eight IBL titles during that same time frame.

So taking in a game at Christie Pits won't only be a cheap afternoon of great entertainment, (or cheap thrills, I guess, if streaking is your thing) you'll also get a chance to cheer for a Leafs squad that might actually win a play-off series.

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