If you are a baseball fan living in Ontario and haven’t been to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, do yourself a favour and check it out. The quiet little town of St Marys, situated an hour west of Kitchener is a picturesque place with quaint shops, century old homes, and large maple and cherry trees.
Early Saturday morning of the induction weekend, I had the opportunity to interview all of the inductees (Click Here To Listen To The Podcast), including Shirley Cheek, widow to the late Tom Cheek, who was also inducted.
Sitting down and chatting with Tim Raines, he shared his opinion on what makes a good leadoff man, and how the game has changed today.
Shirley Cheek shared with me that Tom had dreamed of being a broadcaster from the age of seven. He used to take a recorder to games and practice calling play-by-play. Tom Cheek called 4,306 consecutive Blue Jays games, before taking a day off for his father’s funeral in 2004. Tom passed away in 2005 from brain cancer. For an in-depth look at Tom Cheek’s career, read John Lott’s article here.
Rob Ducey, the only Canadian-born inductee of the group, was polite (as Canadians stereotypically are), soft-spoken, and had a great story about his first day in the big leagues, and some advice that George Bell had for him.
In 1987 he was the AL MVP, the only Toronto Blue Jays to have ever won the award. He had a big swing, and an even bigger personality, which still holds true today. George Bell claims that he can’t quite remember all the details from his 12 seasons in the MLB, but once you get him talking, it becomes apparent that he still has some very detailed memories from his career. This larger-than-life hall of famer was a lot of fun to spend time with.
Following the national anthems being sung by none other than critically acclaimed singer and actor Michael Burgess, Canadian sports announcer and emcee for the day, Rod Black took to the mic and immediately warmed the crowd:
Rod didn’t stop there (it must have been the Red Bull). He delivered a witty and hilarious speech on what it means to be Canadian:
Following the ceremony, my wife and I headed off to the museum to look at the baseball memorabilia.
For many kids, when you fall in love with the game of baseball you have your favourite players, and maybe even a hero. Growing up a Blue Jays fan in the 80’s, you could pretty much take your pick from the roster for great players. My favourite was Jesse Barfield.
Jesse was a gold glove winner (’86 & ’87), an All-Star in 1986, and had a heck of an arm from right field. He was an exciting player to watch, he hit big home runs, and had charisma (today we’d call that swagger).
This past summer (2012) my younger brother Kyle and I had an opportunity to meet Bell, Moseby, and Barfield at an autograph signing at the Eaton Centre in Toronto. I wanted to think of something special to have signed by arguably the best outfield the Jays have ever had, and after much deliberation, decided on a program from 1985:
You see, it had to be something much more special than a baseball card (although I love my autographed Pat Borders card) or a baseball hat (although I love my autographed Joe Carter hat). As I was going through my various Blue Jays collectibles, I came across something unique and special. It was a baseball card in a plastic holder, from a Jays-Yankees game, Sept. 17th, 1990. The case reads “I helped break the Major League attendance record”. I started reminiscing about the game, and remembered it well (surprising since I was only 10 years old when I attended that game). I remembered sitting down the third base line in the 100-level (tickets were only $15 then!). I remember much of my family attending. And I had a distinct memory of Jesse Barfield hitting a home run that game…while wearing a Yankee uniform (he had been traded the season prior). I checked online, and sure enough my memory served correctly. While I still had my mind set on having the program signed, I decided to bring the ticket along anyway (as well as a few baseball cards – more on this later).
Kyle and I lined up on Yonge street, and just made it inside the Jays Shop before they stopped letting people in. Now here’s the important thing to remember about this story: there was a very strict rule about having ONE autograph per player. It totally makes sense, they want to get through as many fans as possible.
The guys were sitting behind tables, George Bell signing first. We made small talk, but George was already talking to the other guys about getting some Chinese food afterwards. My brother followed me, and pulled a clock out of his bag to get signed. Bell seemed impressed with the clock.
The Shaker was next. We talked golf a bit. He was quiet and polite, as you would expect Moseby to be.
Then I got to Barfield. He signed the program and we started chatting. I pulled out the ticket and started talking about the game. His eyes lit up, and he said “I remember that game, I hit a home run off Stottlemyre”. He then commented that he got nothing to hit the rest of the game (I checked online, sure enough he had four walks that game). Jesse said “take that ticket out of the case, let me sign it for you”.
Now, all I had to do was say thank you and walk away. I had already exceeded the autograph quota. Had a great conversation with a Jays All-Star. My favourite player. But obviously I didn’t just walk away. Otherwise there wouldn’t be an embarrassing story here, would there?
Remember those baseball cards I mentioned? At this point I thought it would be a good idea to pull them out. But not to get signed. I had to ask Jesse if he had really said what was quoted on the back of the card. Ok, let me back-track a bit.
When I was in Grade one, I started collecting baseball cards. My mom’s friend’s husband (are you still following?) was a local firefighter. In the mid 1980’s, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs teamed up with the Toronto Star and a couple other organizations to produce Blue Jays cards. And on the back of the cards, were fire safety tips incorporating baseball terms. And they were REALLY CHEESY. For example: FIRE SAFETY TIP – Lloyd Moseby says: “Don’t foul your outlets by using too many extension cords.” George Bell says: “Don’t get caught out in left field. Be sure you plan your escape.” And my favourite, Jesse Barfield says: “Be defensive against fire…And win a gold glove.” What? There’s no way Jesse said that. I wanted to ask him if he actually said that. I mean, it was only 26 years ago. Of course he would remember. Really, I just wanted to tease him a bit. I mean, we were practically best buddies at this point…
Only, as I started to read the quote on the back of the card, three things happened:
1. My brother who had patiently been waiting his turn, put the clock down in front of Jesse, who said “Wow that’s a really cool clock man”. Instantly distracted and now not listening.
2. George Bell started yelling at Jesse, “Dude you’re holding up the line! It’s lunch time. Hurry up Jesse!”
3. A lady with a clip board (yes, a clip board!) stepped in towards me and said, “Sorry sir, it’s a one-autograph maximum. I’m going to have to ask you to move along.”
I immediately looked like the crazy dude who brought his entire baseball collection to get signed. And it doesn’t matter what you say, or what your intentions are. When a woman with a clip board asks you to “move along”, you instantly look like a doofus. I think when I asked Jesse if he had “actually said that?”, his response was “I don’t know man”. He clearly hadn’t even heard what the crazy guy with the baseball cards was muttering about.
My brother’s clock that everyone loved. I must admit, it’s a pretty awesome clock.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here. Maybe you can tell me what you think it is. I just hope that one day I get to chat with Jesse again, this time while holding a microphone and doing an interview. Maybe I’ll even ask him for some fire safety tips. Besides, I’ve discovered people pay way more attention to you when you hold a mic…but you’re not even reading this now are you? You’re still busy looking at that damn clock.