TP21: Cream and Sugar

A note from the author: Throughout the course of the Alumni Weekend, I had moments of inspiration listening to these five alumni speak and recall moments of their past. The way the spoke about a single pitch or an at-bat throughout their careers was unbelievable. This post is a compilation of notes I made on my Blackberry throughout the four-day encounter with five of the greatest players to ever play for the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s scattered and random resembling the weekend, the time they spent in Toronto and the time we spent organizing and shuffling them around making it happen. The time and day mark the note that was written in that moment. 

When you have a detailed itinerary, highlighted and marked with various to-do lists and a meeting midweek to hash out the events, you can expect little to no sleep and a three-day adrenaline rush. This past weekend, that was the life we lived in the land of professional baseball in Toronto. When I began in April, I never thought I’d be picking Dave Stieb, (the only pitcher in Blue Jays history to throw a no-hitter) and his nineteen year old daughter up from the airport after a late Thursday night flight from Reno. Nor did I ever imagine that I’d have a memo in my blackberry marked “Stieb’s coffee order,” noting the way he and Pat Hentgen, took their coffee for an early morning media visit the following day. Spending bursts of time shuffling five Alumni players around the stadium and the city, made me think of he glory they shared and lived before I was born. I know about it, thanks to old footage or reading about it, but it was never the same as hearing about it, as they recalled moments around me that weekend. They proved their young selves during their prime, made something of the organization in it’s initial years and for Stieb, earned himself a spot on the – now Rogers 

Centre – Level of Excellence.

FRIDAY – 7:30am

Ward, Hentgen and Stieb were catching up as Jordan and I drove them to an early media appearance. They spoke of their children and how teenage girls are an absolute handful and how they went from worrying about ERAs and contracts to their teenage daughters with boobs (and boys) and teenage temper tantrums. They talked about everything except baseball: their homes, the guys who didn’t make it to a normal life after their baseball careers, etc. Three guys in the late forty’s early fifty’s; American’s who made names for themselves in a Canadian city. They spoke about their beliefs about politicians and corruptions in areas of the United Sates. It was old friends, co-workers catching up. 


The pitchers that I’ve met are generally all the same: quiet, reserved and they’ll listen and process a conversation and make a select few good comments rather than babble on. Stieb embodies this. Hentgen and Ward however, are chatty guys. I liked that about them. 

Duane Ward was asked at a radio interview on Friday morning about his experience at bat in his time in the major leagues. “One time, I got to bat,” he said. And when asked how he did at the plate he replied, “I smacked that ball 500 feet.” The host laughed. “250 feet up and 250 feet right back down.” You know, he’d used that line before; I was told so.

FRIDAY – Noon

At a visit to the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre with Hentgen, Barfield, and Stieb, the veterans had a chance to ask the alumni any questions in an informal setting. One gentleman asked about the 1993 World Series and how it felt to be there when the final home run was hit. 


With a smile on his face, Pat Hentgen took to the Mic and replied: “I was probably the happiest person in the dugout when Joe Carter hit that home run. I had to pitch game 7.”

SATURDAY – 11:00am

I walked onto the field from the left field wall with four of the five alumni players. The current team was tossing baseballs around in the outfield. It was a beautiful sunny day – we discovered – after taking hidden elevators from the hotel that only the players knew about so we didn’t have the go outside. A moment. I had one. The division between team and media. I was with the team this season, and in that particular moment. The media relies on such greatness, on the moments these players can recall on a whim. Stories are written daily by the people in this city, who are quick to make judgement and share their opinions and shed negative light on something that isn’t perfect for six months and into the post-season. The reality is, without a team, those people would have nothing to report on, nothing to write about, and no purpose in their sports journalism careers. I appreciated those players more than I ever had at that moment. They are the reason sports journalism exists. Their dreams and passions create dreams and passions for writers who gave up on their hopes of playing or had passions for the written word. That moment of appreciation felt rare, but I was thankful for it. 


The history of the organization was embodied with these five guys. Their records, most which remain unbeaten to this day. The memories they share together remain unforgettable,  for themselves and the people around them. The fans too, who witnessed such greatness remember it as though it was yesterday. 

SATURDAY – 2:00pm

Watching the afternoon game, the topic of pitching in the day’s game came up amongst the three alumni pitchers. “If they through me out there right now,” Ward said, “I’d be throwing 47 miles an hour.” 


SATURDAY – 2:30pm


Walking Duane Ward to an interview in stadium, I asked him about his pitching camps that he has in Colorado. I wanted to know what he teaches to young kids who dream of pitching professionally, but may not have ever done it under instruction before. 

“The first thing I teach in my camps to a young pitcher is strike one.” He said matter-of-factly. “Which teaches them the most important thing: how to throw strikes.”

SATURDAY – 3:00pm

It was like constant locker room talk from five guys who have known each other for over twenty years. It was as though they hadn’t missed a beat, chatting about the good days and the new days and having non stop fun together. “That’s what its like everytime we”re together,” Ward told me. They looked on at the young players together each game, commenting on their form and reminding each other of their glory days and time and time again when so-and-so couldn’t strike whats-his-name out. Ever. Not once. But everyone else on the team could and it bothered him beyond no repair. I don’t think they’ll ever let him live that down. 


They way they recalled moments with such fact and precision. They make me love baseball even more.

Their thoughts on the players of today, are hysterical: The long hair and how you can’t tell who’s a big guy and who’s not because they wear such baggy pants. Regardless of their opinions, they were watching. They were on their feet, cheering as Bautista hit his 42nd home run against Verlander on Friday Night as fans. 

I asked Ward, while running to a TV interview (I ran to the wrong place and ending up having to go back…with a two time World Series Champion who was overheating and needed water..ugh) what the transition into life was like when he stopped playing. His words, “I realized that I had my career and I enjoyed every minute of it. I had no regrets and that’s what I think when I look back on it.”

SATURDAY – 3:30pm


I’m with Barfield right now in the broadcast booth for his interview. Tabby [Pat Tabler] just gave him the biggest hug and asked how his wife was. One word: Team. That’s what these guys were. It’s what a lot of the guys of today aren’t.

SATURDAY – 5pm

Sitting next to five of the most historical Blue Bays hosting an event for the Fan Club. I introduced them all and made mention of their achievements in Toronto before opening the floor for a Q & A session. The way they spoke and recalled their moments, shed light on the days when baseball was so much more than just a game for young players. It was a life style a career, and something they put every thing into…together

I asked them what it was like to transition into their lives once their major league careers ended and all five of them answered to similar extents: they knew it was time and they enjoyed the moments they had. Now, obviously Hentgen and Stieb did make brief returns to the Blue Jays years after their retirement but after that they chose to start their lives and move on, enjoying the memories they had and twenty years of baseball which they endured.


SUNDAY – 1:00pm: Dave Stieb Day

Watching the compilation of his moments on the video board, the roof open, the CN Tower in the corner of my eye. Five greats; five reasons to love the blue jays even more. Even though so much time has passed since such feats, the memories they had gave me chills as they replayed history on the video board. The crowd cheered as they were on their feet, proud to be fans of such a great ball player. He had tears in his eyes as he hugged Cito, accepting his award marking the 20th Anniversary of the only No-Hitter in Blue Jays history. The crowd remained on their feet. Stieb spoke about the almost no-hitters and his voice shook, trying to find the words through the emotion of seeing his moment – a moment in club history – replayed for him in such a removed setting. The no-hitter was his favourite memory with the club. Four current starting pitchers presented him with a painting, hugged him and offering congratulations. He did something that all of them hope to do in their career. 

After the presentation, Stieb prepared to throw out the first pitch. He took to the mound, one last time for the Blue Jays in his powder blues. Number 37: a great in Toronto history.


SUNDAY – 2pm

Talking stats with Duane Ward while driving to the airport to catch his flight back to Colorado. He said to Chris and I, ” 70 to 80 percent of the time the team that wins scored more runs in one inning than the other team did the whole game. Look it up.”  


He hugged me goodbye and thanked me for all my trouble throughout the weekend, including my pen which he took with him back home. 


I wish I could have thanked them all. They let me see into a world of baseball that I had never experienced before. Life was different then and so was the game. Their stories spoke of true team players and the idea that a team is a family: you play together, you practice together, and you win together. So, if you ever run into Dave Steib, you’ll be in the presence of a man who single-handedly contributed a lot of pitching history to Toronto. A man who, along with four other alumni, told stories of the good old days for four days together, and are proud of their time in Toronto. Shake his hand and buy him a coffee; cream and sugar. 

TP20: Road Trip Recap

Author’s
Note: Due to a personal leave of absence for a few days immediately following
the Fan Club Roadtrip, I was unable to complete this post in its entirety upon my
arrival home from
Detroit. After some time, I’ve been back
and into the swing of things and have finally completed this post. You’ll
notice that it begins, in the first paragraph while en route to
Detroit and has been completed, in the
second paragraph and onward, back in
Toronto.

Glancing
into my rear view mirror as the sun set in the east, driving west along the
Gardiner Expressway, it dawned on me that this trip would check another ball
park off the list. The “list” is something my boyfriend and I made
not too long ago – to visit all 30 MLB ballparks before the age of 30. The
list, though mental, would combine our love of road trips and baseball and give
us the chance to see cities we wouldn’t have otherwise picked as a weekend
destination (
Cleveland for example is a bit of a dive, but
Progressive Field was fantastic). Well, turning 22 in less than 24 hours leaves
me eight whole years to visit 26 stadiums across the States that we have yet to
see. Numbers aside, we’re not doing it to simply say we’ve done it – visited
all thirty ballparks – but as self-proclaimed baseball enthusiasts, we delight
in seeing the way the game operates in different cities spread vastly across a
continent.

Much to my
excitement, I was able to cross
Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, off
the list this summer. About three months ago when I had been hired with the
Blue Jays, it was mentioned to me that – to my surprise- my help would be
needed on the Inaugural Official Fan Club Roadtrip in July. Faster than I knew,
July tore through which meant the Roadtrip arrived much faster than I had
thought. The preparations seemed daunting and my role on the trip was not specified
so I made a few videos throughout the weekend in
Motor City as well as a recap when I got home, chatting about the things I had experienced.


It’s August
now and the Roadtrip has come and gone, so here’s a recap of three things I’m
still talking about:

1. A ninety-seven year old man named
Art.
Even at
seventy-five years my senior, he was undeniably sharp regardless of the fact
that he couldn’t read a single thing and his eye-sight was failing. I made
friends with Art on the Saturday night of the Roadtrip, having sat beside him
on the way home from the ballpark. No one had spoken to him and most wondered
why he frequently delayed the traveling progression at every stop we made,
making a bus load of antsy people wait for him to finally arrive back in his
seat. They grew impatient with him for no good reason but having never spoken
to him, I decided to start up a conversation. Little did I know, he was a
retired political sports writer who worked for the London Free Press for over 20
years as well as for various papers in
Toronto. He had published three books
pertaining to his experiences in sports and the politics which ensued. Art
kindly presented me with his personal copy of his last book – which included a
photo of him holding his great-grandchildren – upon discovering it was my
birthday. He spoke so fondly of his time as a writer and recalled the smallest
of details to every tale he told. Though his eye-sight had grown to be
problematic he loved baseball games and though he was not a Blue Jays fan, he
enjoyed the company the Fan Club provided him. I have yet to encounter a kinder
soul in a complete stranger, someone whose stories I could have listened to for
hours. Though times have changed and the writing industry has evolved, it was a
pleasure to encounter such a personality that I would otherwise may never have had
the chance to meet. If I’m ever in
London, Art requested, to look him up,
because he would love to show my boyfriend and I around his little town. And if
I am, for whatever reason, that’s a phone number worth looking up.

2. Comerica Park. I always find it fun to see how
other’s teams treat their fans in their stadium; the concessions, the overall atmosphere,
and in-game entertainment – you name it, I notice it. Especially since working
in a marketing department and sitting in on pre-game production meetings. I
also found that I’m unnecessarily judgmental of other clubs and what they do, because
I see the work that goes into every single game at home. I digress. Outside the
stadium pre-game on Saturday was fun – a lot of people were at the local bars or
tailgating in nearby parking lots and having a good time pre-game. Seeing fans
like that, roughly 35,000 of them, was welcoming. Even the Tigers fans who
despised the Jays, were kind to me – a small, Canadian, who clearly supported
the team of her place of birth, as represented by the logos every article of
clothing visible. Comerica had some neat features and of course, being in an
outdoor park with post-game fireworks is always enjoyable. The outfield
waterfall was neat though I’d say the video board could use an update. The
staff was beyond friendly (to continue my restaurant-esk review of the
ballpark) and the ushers at every section even wiped off your seat before you
sat down. Overall, I’d go back and I give it a four out of five (since I’m
writing more of a review at this point). It’s tough to judge and compare parks
but I like to see them as little entities of their own, each boasting various
characteristics that set them apart from the rest. Though I’ve crossed this one
off my list, I’ll go back.

3. Detroit. After a lot of nasty looks and
comments at the mention of (gladly) spending my weekend in
Detroit, I’d like to say, it’s not what I
thought. Though, to be quite fair, I spent my time going to and from
Comerica Park twice and the other time in my
hotel room of a seventy-two floor hotel (it was no wonder Art got lost so often).
As mentioned about the area around the Park, it was friendly and lively before
and after the games. I don’t think I’d ever go back to
Detroit for fun in the baseball off-season
(unless it was for a Red Wings game) but it was unquestionably cool to see the
way baseball fans share their excitement in another MLB city. 

TP19: A Mid-Season Update

Forty-three home games ago, I had little idea of what to expect throughout this season. Upon finishing the school year, I ambitiously dove into a job with an organization I had only known from a media perspective (which quickly changed). As the days passed, I became offended when anyone would insult the team because seeing how hard the people work behind the scenes to make everything happen, really altered my views. When I originally began this blog, close to four months ago, it was meant to capture what it would be like to work for a professional baseball organization, the only team in Canada. However, it’s become a place that I’ve been able to share my experiences of seeing invaluable moments of baseball first-hand, from a perspective I never anticipated I would have had before. 
The Home Opener for example was unreal: 46,000 fans at Rogers Centre; playing catch with Alex Bilodeau warming him up for his first pitch; or being handed a microphone to promptly interview some of Toronto’s biggest names in Sports Media on camera. The photographs I captured help tell the story but it’s the memories that I have – the events I witnessed and participated in – are what really stand out in my mind. My favourite, has been Father’s Day: an emotional monologue from Johnny Mac to twenty-five sons and daughters with their Father’s (after his father had passed days prior); cut-to nine-innings later, witnessing his homerun on an 0-1 pitch as tears were streaming down his face. That moment, like many other moments in sports, will be remembered in the minds of all fans present. 
Like any profession, there are proud moments and moments that people would like to forget. Like Stock Brokers on Bay Street or Lawyers on University Ave., I’ve seen good days and bad days for the Blue Jays this season at Rogers Centre, who come to work to do one thing: Win. On the contrary, I’ve also seen other days when wins and losses haven’t really mattered at all. 
Before I knew it, my job in the office grew to be a lot busier than I expected, which didn’t offer much time to write (I’ve had a story drafted about MLB Beat Writer Jordan Bastian for over a month now that I’m determined to finish). Though I tackled bigger topics on my blog that allowed for some true storytelling (read: emotional tidbits that I couldn’t help but share), I was reminded of how important the human interest side is, of professional sports. These days, with the quick click of a mouse (or track pad) the latest scores and updates can be found on the internet and the top scores and transactions constantly scroll across the bottom of Sports television channels. Once in a while there’s a story that’s told about a player and shared, that allows for a different perspective than before, but that story – about why a player loves the game or how he began playing – is always present, regardless whether or not it’s told. That human interest side connects people and takes these players down to a relatable level, providing insight about their lives and who they are when they leave the field. I believe there should be more of that within sports, not only because it’s relatable but those are the stories that (personally) I love telling and sharing with others. 
Working for a professional team has given me insight into that. I’ve been given a lot of responsibility in the past four months like organizing and executing contests, being a co-executor on promotional days like Jr. Jays Saturdays and Fan Fridays and even being the personal security guard to the 1993 World Series Trophy for the past weekend. There have been sleepless nights and tiring days and I’ve had moments of madness that nearly made me lose my sanity, but I enjoy what I do because I’m starting to see things from a perspective that I hadn’t until this season. I love baseball; I’d play catch with anyone who asked and being here, part of this team makes me realize that there’s a bigger picture and these baseball players are real people. They’re fathers and husbands when they leave the field like I’m a daughter and a girlfriend when I leave work too. Not to mention, the people that make game days possible work their butts off to do it and don’t sleep much while they do. 
I’ll be starting a video series within the week and I’ll be posting more frequently moving forward. The Jays are playing better than anyone expected four months ago and with thirty-five  home games left in the season, it’ll be interesting to share what this whole experience has been like once the end has arrived. For now, thanks. 

TP17: It’s Better At The Game

This team is proving that they can contend offensively within their division, and they are. With the leading homers in the league and millions of dollars less than other big-payroll teams, there’s a “back-to-basics” system working its way through the roster. I was reminded earlier this week that experts claimed the Jays would only win 60 games in all of the 2010 regular season. Granted, it was a tough loss last night but the four consecutive games they won prior to last night’s loss to the Rays, have been beneficial to the building of this team. It’s June 2 folks and they’ve already had 31 wins which makes one believe those so-called expert opinions, will prove untrue in future months. 
Every at bat, they’re swinging for the fences. Every game seems to stand alone as a game that could keep them in it as they continue to play solid baseball. Keep your eyes on Jose Bautista, the next time he strikes out swinging. He doesn’t just saunter back to the dugout; he becomes frustrated to a point that his disappointment speaks volumes. For three seasons, he has flown under the radar and this season, he’s making himself known – and for good reason. With 16 home runs so far in 54 games, he’s already surpassed the 13 dingers he recorded in 2009. Not to mention, he’s leading the Major League in home runs and adds his 16 to the [vastly unexpected] Jays’ total of 91, which is 21 more than the second best teams in the league, the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. Records and names have been written in the books of the Blue Jays in recent weeks, and the expectations that were anything but great pre-season, have been surpassed but new expectations have been put into play. Now, the expectations shift to see if they can withstand the top teams within the AL East, play as well at home as they do on the road and most importantly, if they can continue their offensive streak.   
Regardless of the sport, when a player has a big hit or scores a great goal, the people in the stands react and it only enhances the experience of being there to see it. The talk of home runs brings me to a recent conversation I had via Twitter, about why it’s better at the game. These are not my opinions, but rather the opinions of the people who follow the team and are fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. When asked, what’s better at the game, this is what a few fans said:

@CorySilver: @thestoryofagirl Hearing the crack of the bat, or the ball hitting the leather of the glove. Can’t get that experience from your couch.

@Jay_A_Nixon: @thestoryofagirl it is better @ the game because you cannot catch a HR ball sitting on your couch

@CivicBroncos1: @thestoryofagirl Because there’s absolutely NO WAY you can catch a souvenir baseball when you’re parked on your couch at home. #jays

@davidparadis: @thestoryofagirl It’s better AT THE GAME b/c of the sounds – the bat, the ball in in the glove, so much clearer than TV.

@lookitslawrence: @thestoryofagirl the atmosphere is amazing; you can feel the tension and excitement

@be_myangel: @thestoryofagirl The same reason live music is always better: it becomes a shared experience. #jays

And finally, the most relevant to my previous ramblings:

@Pat__C: @thestoryofagirl It’s better at the game for bragging rights! I was at the game when the Jays broke the most home runs in a month record!

You said, it: it’s better at the game. I could tell you every reason why I think it’s better at the game but unless you’re at the game to see it for yourself, you wouldn’t believe me or necessarily feel the same. Baseball in general is an experience that stands alone. I was standing at centre field at 9:30 Sunday morning looking around the empty stadium, preparing for a promotional day for fans that are sticking by something they believe in, having seen success far more recent than 1967 (albeit, the Jays didn’t exist then). 54 games in to the 2010 season and they have proven the experts have been incorrect thus far. The idea that it’s better at the game will come up again, and in the meantime keep your eyes on the Homer Happy Blue Jays.  

TP16: Now Batting, Johnny Mac

Whether it was braiding my hair before school, driving to early morning practices on a dewy field at the ballpark, or teaching me how to properly barbecue, my Dad has always been a big part of my childhood and my life. It was due to his love for classic rock, car racing, and lacrosse that I took an interest in those things as I grew older. He has had a key role in the person I have become today. I can only imagine the fear my father endured when at twenty-four, he become a parent to a daughter, his first-born child. My parents worked in tandem as much as possible to give myself and my two younger siblings the best life and everything possible, always putting us first. At this young age, I’m happy I can look back and have vivid memories of my parents throughout my childhood, not to mention the numerous home videos and photo albums (read: pictures of me in cardboard boxes) to look through.

I’m not at the age yet that my friends and the people around me have started having kids but I do know people that have or are planning to in the foreseeable future. Every young father I’ve met worries about new children and the skills and challenges that they will face, especially when the first child is a daughter. Even the men in my life who had sworn they would never have children in earlier years, have made mention of how scary fathering a daughter would be and how their protective instincts would naturally kick-in to gear. That’s what happened to Blue Jays Infielder, John MacDonald, when he became the proud father of a daughter a couple years ago. As a professional athlete, a lot changed when the parenting began but according to him (and the smile on his face) he couldn’t have asked for a better change.

Thirty-five year old McDonald, a native of Connecticut, was drafted to the Majors in 1996 to the Indians. After brief stints in Toronto, Detroit, and a final trade back to Toronto, McDonald has been around for quite some time. He’s witnessed changes around the league and throughout his own career, but it’s his life away from the field that has seen the biggest alterations in recent years.  

“I think first getting married changes your life. You start thinking more about two people than you do about one,” said McDonald, who’s been with his wife for well over ten years. “Then having our daughter; everything isn’t about either of us anymore, everything is all about her. I’m not looking forward to some of the things that come along with having a daughter but I am looking forward to her getting older and learning more and she’s just starting to learn how to talk now.”

Having seen baseball in the Majors since 1996, John McDonald has seen his fair share of
rookies come up and through the system. When asked if there were any skills he acquired through baseball that he can apply, McDonald thought hard before responding that the lessons and skills of parenting and being professional athlete, seem to go hand in hand in his life.

“As my role of someone that’s been here for a while, it’s teaching younger players how to go about playing the game, how to respect the game and how to be prepared. It’s not unlike watching my daughter go from crawling, to walking, to running. You see those same things and you try to help people become better,” said McDonald, of his daughter who will celebrate her second birthday in
July. “I try to help my daughter get better at anything she’s trying to do that day and I want to make sure she does it right. We have guys that continue to come up to the big leagues and you want to make sure that they’re ready and prepared and they’re getting better every day too.”

As spring turns to summer and the days grow longer, Father’s Day approaches and polka-dot ties, golf tees, and coffee mugs start flying off the shelves. This year, think about all the ways you’ve spent time with your Dad and the memories you have together. Be it current or past, those memories and bonds created will linger in thoughts for the rest of your life. The Toronto Blue Jays want to reward those memories and are holding a Father’s Day Contest in which twenty-five lucky Fathers will have the opportunity to win the chance to attend a pre-game BBQ at Rogers Centre hosted by Blue Jays Infielder, John McDonald, on Sunday, June 20th.

John MacDonald, who is often referred to as Toronto’s favourite Blue Jay and now father of a little girl, will judge the contest and pick winners based on the entries. During the 2010 Spring Training McDonald’s Father was diagnosed with cancer. Like many Father and Sons, he had a close relationship with his Father and the news was difficult to handle. In an effort to pay respect to his Father and share the importance of Fatherhood, McDonald wanted to host an event in Toronto for Blue Jays fans: a Father’s Day BBQ presented by the FAN590. According to McDonald, it will be tough to choose winners and the best entries, but what most excites him, are the stories and memories between a child and their father much like those he shares with his Dad.

“When I come to the ballpark I love seeing kids with their dads; People that are excited to be at the ball game and it’s something that they’re doing together. I think it’s important for parents to spend time with their kids; maybe it’s something that a father and son share and continue to share for years,” said McDonald of what he’ll be looking for. “Maybe it’s one game that they go to every year but they do it together and it’s something that they talk about, that can bring them closer together. I think that’s very important in relationships.”

To share with the Blue Jays what makes your Father most deserving of this experience, you can submit a written entry (no longer than 250 words) to http://www.bluejays.com/fathersday or via mail-in entry. Within the entry you must include and describe why your Father is important to you and the importance of Father’s Day. The Grand Prize for twenty-five lucky Father’s includes: two tickets to the John McDonald Father’s Day BBQ, two field level tickets to the game vs. the San Francisco Giants, two passes to attend Blue Jays Batting Practice, and two passes to attend a pre-game BBQ including a Meet & Greet with Toronto Blue Jays infielder John McDonald. Submissions will be accepted until Friday, June 11th, 2010.

Take a moment to think about all the ways your Father has had an impact on your life. Whether it was his motorcycle skills, perfectionist cooking, or the way he taught you how to throw a baseball. It’s those memories that shape the relationship you have with one another and the memories that will hold an everlasting place in your life. Thanks Dad! 

TP15: Jr. Jays

If you were at Rogers Centre for the games this weekend you would have been part of a crowd who witnessed some dynamite baseball from the Jays who are now 23-16, this season. After a great (7-3) road trip, the Jays swept the Texas Rangers in a three-game series which began Friday night to an excited crowd and pleasing weather. It is some of the young players on the team that have been a factor in the recent success the team has been seeing. As the team has gotten younger, so have the fans taking in the games. Parents, who bring their children out to the stadium, have the opportunity to give their children an experience that they’ll remember as they grow older. At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday are a good example of that, when you can observe well over six-hundred kids run the bases post-game. It is these experiences that will last a lifetime with those kids. 
I have memories of going to baseball games with my papa at a young age – glove in hand and eager to catch a glimpse of a baseball game with players who seemed eight-feet-tall. Now, I did that in the early-to-mid 90’s and with technology and various things tugging for a child’s attention from every direction it’s harder to grab their focus these days. If they love baseball, fostering their fandom of the Toronto Blue Jays and the sport will only encourage a fondness for a team that is changing. As the team is building and growing to become a key competitor in the AL East Division, the future looks bright. Any fan can attest to their love for a sports team from a young age, and these young fans will be supporters of the team as they grow and the Blue Jays flourish into something greater. 
This season, the Toronto Blue Jays re-launched their Kids Club as the Jr. Jays Club, which is pretty neat, if I do so say myself. Kids ages 4-14 can become Official Club Members by simply purchasing a Jr. Jays Club kit and activating their membership. Not only does the child receive the initial kit (with Blue Jays bits and pieces, like foam fingers and Webkinz) but they also get the chance to participate in unique opportunities like exclusive Autograph Sessions and visits to Blue Jays Batting Practice before games. In addition, there is a special event for Jr. Jays Club Members called ACE in ACTION where they will have an opportunity to go right down to the field and run around with select members of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays encourage children to stay healthy and fit and with this event, athletes who work hard to stay physically fit will lead by example for young fans. If you have a child or know of one, this Club allows young fans to get a one of a kind look at a team (up close at autograph sessions and batting practice) and to be part of a crowd while spending time with their families at the stadium. 

Buck Martinez signing autographs for Jr. Jays Club Members
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Jr. Jays are also encouraged to participate in At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday, which is open to all kids every Saturday home game at Rogers Centre. Kids are chosen to be part of the starting lineup and in game announcing and every child has the chance to run the bases post-game. As the season progresses, At My Best Jr. Jays Saturdays will take part outside of Rogers Centre and will be an interactive experience for young kids before the game. I’ll be blogging about the At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday outdoor program experience which begins May 29th, 2010 at 11:00am outside Gate 10 of Rogers Centre. In the meantime, check out the website to discover what else the Blue Jays do for young fans throughout the season. To purchase a Jr. Jays Club kit or for more information on the opportunities for young Jays fans, visit http://www.bluejays.com/kids
Kids arriving at home plate after running the bases on At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday
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TP14: Rookie League

Working for an organization that receives a lot of uninformed acknowledgments for a lack of community involvement really irks me, especially when the truth in these matters is very much the opposite. That being said, over the past month I’ve written about events and on-going affairs within various arms of the Toronto Blue Jays trying to enlighten anyone willing to read these posts. As someone who was born and raised in Toronto, I’ve seen the city change and become what it is today. Nothing from the time I was ten and playing baseball on local fields has been completely preserved and remains the same to this day, but there are some aspects of this city’s culture that will be enduring of change. What remains unvarying, are the youth within this city who eagerly take to local parks and green spaces to interact with one another throughout the summer months while engaging in fun, activities.

Growing up, my parents gave me every opportunity to try everything; every sport, club, and after-school or summer activity that I wanted, I could try. As the eldest of (what would be) three children, I watched as they did the same for my two siblings and still do, to this day. They encouraged every inclination I had to try new things and grow into who ever I wanted to be from a young age. Despite additions to the family over the years (siblings and a spoiled dog) their encouragement never changed and I continued to discover new opportunities as I got older.

For those of you who have followed from the beginning of this blog, you’re well aware of my fond memories of playing baseball at a young age. Those memories and moments, of which I speak fondly, are thanks to my parents who allowed me to be anything I wanted to be and try new things, regardless of the activity (dance was never truly my calling as I was a shy performer while wearing a leotard). I’ll never forget those mid-summer afternoons and the company I kept during championship games and early morning drives to practices on brisk spring mornings. The chance to be part of a team gave me the opportunity to learn how to be a supportive, reliable teammate to twelve other people and inadvertently taught me valuable life lessons. Sports in general act as a vehicle in teaching young athletes skills they will take with them, far beyond the field and apply them to their every day lives. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the experiences I gained thanks to the opportunities my parents gave me, doesn’t necessarily occur as naturally for others as it did for me and my siblings.

As part of their on-going initiatives within the community, Jays Care Foundation is once again partnering with Toronto Community Housing to execute Rookie League, a summer-long baseball day camp for kids who reside in Toronto Community Housing across the GTA. Rookie League presents kids ages seven to twelve, the opportunity to play baseball and be part of a team and learn life skills (like being a reliable teammate), an experience some may never have had otherwise. Let’s put this into perspective: Rookie League will impact over thirty communities across the GTA and over seven hundred kids will have the chance this summer to play baseball and receive instructional skills on the game and about life. As this city continues to expand and grow, the youth of this city should be recognized and given the opportunity to gain the skills and experiences that will make them an active part of this city as they grow.

In order for Rookie League to be successful, Jays Care holds an annual equipment drive which formally accepted only gently-used and new equipment and this year, Jays Care Foundation is making it easier for fans to donate equipment or personal donations. The equipment drive is held pre-game May 29th-30th, 2010 at Rogers Centre but donations can be made at any time online at www.bluejays.com/jayscare. The opportunity to gain experiences and like skills are invaluable to Toronto’s youth, so I urge you to consider helping Jays Care give kids the chance to learn and grow.  

TP13: Major League Dreams from a Grassroots Level

DSC02131.JPGEvery spring, when the snow on the ground melts and trees begin showing early signs of life, I fight every inclination I have to run outside with a glove and ball to play catch with any willing participants. Even when I’m stuck inside, there’s a baseball in my purse, which I toss around to temporarily entertain my urges. There’s a reason why spring provokes thoughts of baseball in my mind; I vividly recall summers of playing on a local diamond as I did every spring and summer from a very young age. The first home run, the first stolen base, or the first big win in little league baseball are memories that remain ingrained in the minds of many kids as they grow and continue their lives on and off the field.

This season, the Toronto Blue Jays are continuing their support of grassroots baseball through an initiative to cultivate Amateur Baseball in Canada by partnering with Baseball Ontario. This partnership will provide support to five divisions (Rookie, Mosquito, Pee Wee, Bantam, and Midget) which encourages the youth of Ontario to pursue their dreams beginning at an amateur level.

As someone who played baseball from the age of four, my baseball memories of being part of a team year after year, taught me so many valuable life lessons. In a country that thrives in the winter, baseball gives youth an opportunity to get outside in warmer months to be part of a team and learn new skills while developing or improving on skills previously acquired. The Toronto Blue Jays are focused on growing the game of baseball in Canada and giving an opportunity for everyone to play to game. That being said, the participation and introduction of baseball at an early age gives kids the chance to learn the game and instinctive part of their childhoods.

The Blue Jays host over thirty amateur baseball instructional clinics across Ontario each season. These clinics, which began last weekend, allow for player development with the assistance of qualified instructors and reaches out to kids ages seven to fourteen in local and provincial baseball organizations. The clinics spotlight skills such as hitting, throwing, in fielding, pitching and base running and other basic skills of the game. These skills further the initiative to foster baseball driven goals of young players, allowing them to better their skills as part of their leagues. These clinics have a direct impact on baseball at a grassroots level because they directly involve the youth of smaller communities in Ontario and plant a seed within those communities which they won’t soon forget about, furthering the growth of Canadian baseball.

Sunday, the Blue Jays highlighted their support of Baseball Ontario by hosting Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre. Teams from Ontario came down to the stadium and young players representing nine teams – from the ages of eight to thirteen – were invited to be part of the starting lineup and a representative from a tenth team had the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Brendan Morrow was also in attendance pre-game as a cheque was presented to the President of Baseball Ontario for $25,000 as part of the sponsorship from the Blue Jays organization. Young players throughout the stands at Rogers Centre wore their team uniforms from various associations in the community as well as Jays caps, every player had been given.

Seeing the excitement on the face of nine-year-old part of the starting lineup dressed in his team uniform, Sunday, sparked my own memories of baseball at a young age. At the age of eleven, I hit a two-run home run in the Championship game as a member of the Wildcats. I have vibrant recollections of the white jerseys and gray pants covered in dirt and the smiles on our faces. I will forever remember the moment that I rounded third base, looking over to see twelve girls cheering and going on to win a second consecutive championship. Those memories will stay with me and return every spring at the sight of freshly painted lines on a diamond or the smell of the grass at the local park. It is those memories that stay with Major League Players as they accomplish their childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues.

Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre and Amateur Baseball Clinics are only two of the ongoing initiatives the Blue Jays execute throughout the season to aid the growth of the game, locally and nationally. Youth in Ontario are fortunate to have the opportunity to play summer baseball and develop and grow as they’re part of a team and a community in cities across the country. I’ll be following this partnership between the Blue Jays and Baseball Ontario as well as the various Blue Jays Amateur Baseball weekend clinics, all season long. Baseball at a grassroots level impacts the lives of so many youth in this country every year and this season, the Blue Jays continue to encourage amateur players to pursue their Major League dreams.

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TP12: Jays Care Hits Grand Slam

Since
1992, Jays Care
Foundation has been empowering children and youth in need, inspiring
them to
make positive choices and helping them realize their dreams by providing
access
to programs that support physical activity, education, and life-skill
development.

                                                                                                 -bluejays.com/jayscare


Teamwork, involvement, contribution, commitment, passion, and
dedication; six simple
words most would not associate with both a professional baseball team
and a
charitable foundation but all of which explain the underpinning
principals
behind each entity.

On
the
field, the Toronto Blue Jays believe in the heart and hustle within the
team;
the passion and dedication it takes to work towards one goal in unity,
as each
player contributes to the best of their own abilities. The charitable
arm of
the Toronto Blue Jays, Jays Care Foundation, extends their efforts off
the
field, working to engage and inspire youth within the community through
funding
programming and various youth-based programs and organizations.

Thursday
evening
the grant recipients of 2009 were recognized during the pre-game
ceremonies at Rogers Centre prior to taking in the game and having a
chance to
chat with one another, as part of the Annual Jays Care Foundation Grand
Slam
Grants Recognition Night. Most importantly, it marked a notable occasion
in
which Jays Care Foundation awarded the selected organizations and
programs with
the funding from the Grand Slam Grants initiative.

When asked how rewarding it is to
see students succeed and benefit from teaching basic life skills, Jeff
Good,
President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Ontario, one of the
2009
recipients, had only one word: “unbelievable.” While he spoke and
explained the specifics of how Junior Achievement influences and impacts
the
life skills of over 80,000 students a year, the smile on his face grew.
He has
witnessed the success first hand of the charity which speaks to youth
about
financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and workplace readiness in the
classroom.
Underpinning those messages are life lessons about leadership, the
importance
of staying in school, and living your dreams. Good was once told that he
had
changed the outlook of a young student and opened her eyes to a whole
new
world. “That’s what Junior Achievement will do this year 80,000 times
and most
importantly, through the support of the Jays Care Grant, we will be able
to
reach that many more students.”

It
is
through these partnerships that youth are given a chance to become who
they desire
to be and are encouraged to pursue their dreams and aspirations, no
matter
their background or upbringing. It is with that chance that these youth
will
have the opportunity to become an active part of a community, in this
city,
because of the organization behind the Blue Jays.

Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre is situated in a high-risk area of Mississauga amid a townhouse complex
which
according to staff member Lindel Merraro “allows them to be right there
for the
children.” The programs, offered for children ages
six
to twelve
, are free of charge and encourage
community participation and work towards creating positive community
involvement and interaction. The grant funding directly impacts one
aspect of
the program which is called the Kids Fun Club, an afternoon program
offering
homework help, healthy snacks and most importantly a positive place to go once
school
is done for the day. “The kids love it,” commented Merraro, while taking
in the
third inning of the Blue Jays victory Thursday at Rogers Centre. “It
directly impacts
a community that is in real need of these programs.”

Jays
Care
Foundation has put over two-million dollars back into priority
neighbourhoods across
the province through Grand Slam Grants, since its inception. Again this
year,
the Foundation has dispersed additional capital funding to local
charities. By partnering
with these organizations, youth of Toronto and Ontario are directly effected,
which gives
them a chance to recognize their goals and aspirations and allows them
to
develop life skills as they grow.

Over the span of almost one hundred
years, Moorelands Community Services has helped thousands of Toronto children living in
poverty with a
recent concentrated interest in
Flemingdon Park (a neighbourhood north of
downtown
Toronto) and engages children who
can use
the experience to improve their outlook on life. The Jays Care grants
will be
specifically directed to the City Summer Day Camp which Moorelands
offers to
children allowing them to participate with children their age through
the
summer months. The excitement that radiated from the Moorelands Director
of
Development, Robert Tomas, personified the optimistic character that
reinforces
the Moorelands programs. “Oh my gosh, it affects them tremendously,”
said Tomas
when asked if the children would directly benefit from the Jays Care
grant.
“What really gets us going and brings a smile to our faces is helping
kids
overcome their own challenges and helping them develop the ability to
think
beyond their own needs. We think of that as being the most important
gift we
can give our students.”

Speaking
with
grant recipients, I was taken aback by how few of the organizations I
was
familiar with. As someone who was born and raised in the city of Toronto, I was reminded of how
much is
often taken for granted in some areas of the city, particularly among
youth who
have naturally grown up with various opportunities. One thing that I
walked
away knowing after speaking to three recipients in particular was that
Jays
Care is spending it’s efforts to learn, partner with and support
programs which
encourage physical activity, education, and life skill development to
youth who
may not otherwise have had an opportunity. That principal would seem
simple to
a great deal of people, but I realized then, that if it wasn’t for youth
programming around the city, a lot of youth would never break out of
their
personal environments. Thursday, my outlook on youth programming
changed, and I
quickly grew passionate about spreading the awareness of all of the
influential
programs available to youth in
Toronto. Trying to convey all
that I
learned in such a brief space is difficult and though I spoke to only
three
representatives from the organizations recognized, I cannot articulate
enough
how important it is to become familiar with these programs and
organizations.

TP11: The Twitter Effect: 140-Characters or Less

I am a closet nerd. I wear glasses and enjoy the dusty musk of old, bound leather between the stacks at the Toronto Reference Library and could spend hours contently reading. I don’t retain as much as I would like to, but I always recall the most educating and entertaining parts of books and literature that stand out to me. From a young age, I’ve devoured books but I’ve realized that if you can remember parts of a story or phrases from an article – days, months, even years after you’ve read it – it was worth your time and energy. The term nerd is often associated with negative connotations (think comics of Archie and Moose) but I have embraced it as I’m certain that the term is not a bad thing whatsoever. When the internet grew and was viewed as a tool it acted as a digital archive which housed global information. With that the minds of the curious grew greater and the hunt for more knowledge continued. Not only did the internet allow constant access to information but it provided a platform to share new found knowledge and interact with people with the same interests. One of the best assets of the internet (for all of you forgetful folks) is that even if you failed to remember something, information posted online remains accessible forever, enhancing the archival properties of the internet.

Information is crucial to the people who create and further develop the knowledge of those searching, therefore the archival properties of the internet are extremely useful to writers. It allows access to information required to enhance arguments or gain more information on specific topics to better writing. With the internet making social media what it is these days, a lot of professional writers turn up their noses at the idea of blogging. Many writers even consider it amateur writing because of it’s honest and conversational nature and so be it. I grew up with the internet and spent countless sleepless nights on MSN and ICQ through dial-up internet, which led to a life that has relied on instant information and communication. I expect responses to emails and text messages within minutes and when there is breaking news, I expect information to be online almost immediately. That being said, I feel I have a good idea of the way this generation – the one which communicates through social media and relies on instant reaction and response – is different from that of previous generations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a book reading, glasses wearing, baseball loving nerd but social media is opening the doors to so much more information which influences those things, than some ever thought possible. With the use of Twitter, instant messaging, and the internet, news travels as it happens instead of discovering recent events after the fact. Gone are the days when the evening news, the newspaper or a couple blogs on the internet were the only sources for the latest transactions or team and player reports. Social media has allowed a global network to interact and connect while sharing information instantly.

The Twitter Effect – sharing news or communicating in 140-Characters or less – has allowed news consumers to become news sources and formal news sources now rely on the interaction of consumers within social media to remain relevant and well-informed. With Twitter, for example, the average-everyday-person can tweet about news as it happens, sharing to followers and Re-Tweeted and so on. Not only has this had an effect on the way information in shared and the way people communicate but it bridges the gaps between formal and informal writing and allows concise news, antidotes, or facts to be written. It also allows news to travel instantly which eliminates the middle-man, assuming sources are factual and trusted. From strictly a communication perspective, Twitter allows users who have common interests engage in small-talk from anywhere around the world, in turn making friends and creating a larger stage for news to be broadcast.

Have you ever had someone come up to you, point and tell you who you are? I did, except that it wasn’t my name (my given name that is) it was my Twitter username. “You’re @thestoryofagirl,” I was told yesterday upon meeting a Tweeter during the first ever, Tweeting Tuesday – a social media initiative that the Blue Jays (@bluejays) have begun to engage fans and become an active part of social media. Last night @bluejays gained over 200 new followers and had over 1,200 mentions throughout the game, which is a good indication of how many people can be reached during a few hours. The Blue Jays are the first team in the league to do anything of this kind using a social media platform. Tweeting Tuesdays for example allowed social media savvy Jays fans to interact with us here at Rogers Centre as well as fans at the game and those watching home. With three people operating the same Twitter account you can only imagine how much interaction the fans had with the Jays. Not only was there interaction with fans online but Twitter was the theme of the game and the entire night. Even the Ceremonial First Pitch was a Jays Follower who was selected and surprised pre-game with the opportunity. To say the first Tweeting Tuesday was successful is an understatement; the positive feedback from fans poured in and the Blue Jays were a trending topic for the first time in Ontario and both Eastern and Western Canada, thanks to the televised broadcasts of the game. The Jays will continue Tweeting Tuesdays on every Tuesday home game throughout the season.

Other dominant social media initiatives in professional baseball is minimal. On every website in the MLB, each team has a section to “Connect with…” the team’s front office staff and writers, which was an initiative that began early in pre-season. I sat down and reviewed every Twitter page and feed of all thirty teams to see what their primary usage of the Networking Site was and if they took advantage of it’s characteristics to engage fans. On a daily basis, clubs use Twitter to relay information such as game day lineups, player injuries and transactions, current promotions and giveaways but for the most part, clubs only use Twitter to drive traffic to their website and the latest news. Rather than merely post RSS feeds to the team website, which is the case for the majority of teams across the league, Twitter could be used to remain relevant through the changing times that social media brings forth. Think of what Twitter has done for professional clubs and organizations, not to mention the way sports media is being forced to adapt and provide news faster than ever before. I feel sometimes that people in sports media are running around like chicken’s with their heads cut-off trying to keep up with the demand for information, blogging, tweeting, and posting news as soon as it happens. There is an unspoken battle to be the first source to report breaking news as media outlets now use Twitter as a credible source. I was speaking with a good friend of mine in sports media the other day and he made a great point about sports news and using social media as a platform. The key point he made clear was how time sensitive every bit of information has become. “Four minutes is too long,” he said. “In forty-eight hours, news is almost obsolete.” Sports news is no longer just your Sports Centre at night or your Sports section in the morning newspaper; sports news is Twitter and blogging, which has blurred the line between informal and formal, giving a voice to fans and people who may not have previously had one.

The downside to social media is that it allows users to hide behind their computer screens not necessarily using the medium for the most positive purposes. Granted, there will always be users of any media who take to writing or ranting to be heard, calling on anyone who will listen. Negative users and ranters aside, Twitter and social media is a good thing. In my opinion, more organizations on a global level should adapt to it to remain relevant and become an active part of the shift in information sharing. As I mentione
d previously, news is now instantaneous and the way news is provided and consumed will most likely never return to the previous ways. Social Media “Experts” have their fair share of opinions on how everything in sports has altered through this shift in communication but in my opinion, social media is continuing to change daily. It has become a part of the daily tasks of every MLB club, which should be embraced rather than criticized. After all, the more information available to fans and media, the more fans can find reason to relate to a team or player. It can only enhance the way baseball is consumed and allow information to be spread on a local, provincial, and national platform.

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