Torontonians in the winter months must brave everything from frigid temperatures to ice storms and loss of hydro. For many, summer sports such as baseball couldn’t be further from their minds (even though Spring Training is less than a mere 50 days away). But for a select few Blue Jays fans (45 to be exact), on January 9th, 2014 they donned their baseball gear and took to the field at Rogers Centre, having the rare opportunity to interact with baseball greats such as Pat Tabler, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, and the most decorated Blue Jays player, Roberto Alomar. The special occasion? Another successful fundraising effort by the Jays Care Foundation, WINTER TRAINING DAY.
The official charitable arm of the Blue Jays was the 2012 recipient of the MLB Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence, as well as the 2013 recipient of the Beyond Sport Sports Team of the Year Award. The mission of the organization is to focus energy and resources toward community-based endeavours that develop baseball programs and help children in need to excel academically, get active, and lead healthy lives. To date, Jays Care has invested over $8.2 million in Canadian children and communities. This Winter Training Day raised over $38,000!
Greeted by a young and cheerful staff, myself and my cameraman made our way down onto the field. The participants were being taken through warm-up drills. Safety first, of course. We spoke for several minutes with Pat Tabler, who would spend a good portion of the day at the soft-toss station, giving hitting tips. In speaking with Tabby about his success in pressure situations (hitting nearly .500 with the bases loaded over his career), he attributed it to “being mentally tough”.
We then connected with the Executive Director of the Jays Care Foundation, Danielle Bedasse for a short interview:
While sitting in the dugout, I had the opportunity to speak with several participants, one admittedly in awe at moments, especially of Alomar. For baseball fans – and Blue Jays fans, it’s hard not to be. One fan approached Alomar, shook his hand, and said “I was at the game where you hit back-to-back homeruns from opposite sides of the plate”. Alomar’s eyes lit up, and responded, “right, against Chicago”. Even Hall-of-Famers have their favourite moments. This was obviously one of them.
Alomar looked on while men and women took batting practice throws from Tabler and Moseby. After one participant fouled off a few pitches, Moseby could be heard from the mound saying, “I’ll stay here all day until you hit one hard, baby”. Everyone’s “baby” to Lloyd. Super-friendly with a large grin, Moseby threw pitch after pitch for what must have been half-an-hour. Before interviewing Moseby, we were warned that he had come straight from the airport, and had no sleep. “Could have fooled me”, I thought. His energy is infectious. We reminisced about Lloyd’s infamous base-running blunder, back in 1987 when he stole second base, then in a moment of confusion ran back to first (as the ball had sailed into centre field). The errant throw from the centre fielder by-passed the first baseman, thus allowing Moseby to steal second again! “I’m suing major league baseball for airing that footage” Moseby joked.
Attention to detail and terrific organization was apparent within the entire Winter Training Day event. Announcements over the PA system signaled the rotation of groups between stations (batting practice, soft-toss, hitting instruction, and shagging flies). I can only imagine (as participants experienced) what a thrill it would be to hear your name called over the sound system in Rogers Centre.
Walking beyond the left field wall that Joe Carter’s famous homerun sailed over, we headed down a ramp and into the Jays batting cages where participants would be taking hitting instruction from Jesse Barfield. Always good for a story, Jesse re-enacted a moment in a game where an opposing team’s fan relentlessly heckled him from the stands in right field. Barfield’s response to the fan? A monstrous homerun. The fan never spoke another word.
Upon quietly observing the event from the dugout, I noticed how much fun everyone was having – staff included. The Jays Care Foundation appears to be in great hands. The dedicated team had put together an event that everyone in attendance was bound to remember, for years to come. After all, at the end of a baseball game all you are left with are memories and experiences. It’s even better when they are special ones.
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.