Megan Robinson: How long have you been the Manager of Player Relations and Fan Loyalty?
Holly Purdon: I actually just assumed the role last Fall (November 2009). Prior to this role, I had been the Manager, Community Relations for a few years, Coordinator Community Relations prior to that and began with the Club as the Community Relations Intern right out of University in April 2003.
MR: Wow, so you’ve been around the Jays Organization a long time. What is your main objective as the Manager of Player Relations?
HP: The Player Relations component of my job is really threefold as I also assist in facilitating programs and requests for our Blue Jays Alumni and our Player’s Family Programming… so for example: Alumni Weekend, the Lady Jays Food Drive, etc. I would say that my main objective is to uphold respect for all parties involved (whether it be their schedule, requirements, etc.) while facilitating and creating opportunities that provide a clear line of communication between our Players and Alumni with the Organization, our Staff, our Partners, our Fans and our Community.
MR: They definitely keep you busy. Have there ever been any crazy, Diva-like requests from Players or Wives (without naming names)?
HP: HA. You would think so, but I can’t say that I’ve actually had any requests that would be considered ‘diva-like’. There have definitely been some interesting requests but I think that is more a reflection of the interests and personalities of our players who represent such an array of regions from, primarily, across North America – but by no means anything we couldn’t handle. I think one of the cutest requests I received this year was when I was down at Spring Training and asked some of the player’s children what kind of snacks they would like for their lounge here at Rogers Centre. Their response: “Canadian” Iced Tea.
MR: Okay, so aside from taking their requests, you’ve probably witnessed a lot of players give back to the community and to fans. Can you recall the nicest or most notable thing you’ve ever witnessed a Blue Jay player do off the field?
HP: That is a tough one. We have so many amazing players that take the time to go out of their way for others once off the playing field. It is very difficult to hear our players being ridiculed at times for their lack of emotion or community involvement when I’m aware of some of the great work that they do. With the marathon of what is the Major League baseball schedule it obviously does not permit for a lot of ‘free’ time between games, workouts, travel and time with their own families – but just because it may not be headline news, doesn’t mean our players are not out when they can be and making a difference. Many of them prefer to do so out of the lights of the camera. To name just a couple of the things that some of our players are doing that has even further raised the amount of respect that I have for them, here’s two examples off the top of my head. John McDonald – What can I say? He’s one of the most popular Blue Jays for a reason. One of the nicest men I’ve ever met, John repeatedly goes out of his way to ensure that he can help put a smile on someone else’s face. John has met so many children here at the ballpark through the various Wish Granting organizations in the city – but there are many that he continues to communicate with outside of the game. He emails and calls to check-up on them, invites them back to the ballpark as his guests and he has even taken the time to drive his family North of Toronto to see one such child participate in his own baseball game. Vernon Wells – For all of the struggles he has had the previous couple of seasons – and this year seem to be gone; knock on wood – Vernon has been doing some amazing work in the community both here and back home in Texas through his new charitable organization, the Vernon Wells Perfect 10 Foundation. Just a couple of weeks ago the Foundation broke ground on their first major project which will be two buildings that will house underprivileged families, specifically, to help single mothers in need. Throughout his tenure as a Blue Jay, Wells has also served as the Honourary Commissioner of the Jays Care Foundation Rookie League Program which is funded by a portion of Wells’ $1M donation to the Foundation.
MR: Explain your role as the Manager of Fan Loyalty.
HP: The Fan Loyalty component of my role is actually quite complex and I’m looking forward to this new role and the challenge that it presents. Essentially, I need to understand exactly ‘who’ is a Blue Jays fan. Their interests, likes and dislikes, what makes them happy, sad – maybe mad; their depth of knowledge of the game of baseball and if it extends to our active roster or right through the players in our minor league system, and so much more. It’s about educating our fans and community about the game of baseball and the Blue Jays and understanding how our fans and the community need and want these messages relayed to them. All of this information is important to building what is otherwise known as our “Fan Club” and “Jr. Jays Club”. Finding ways to create new Blue Jays fans is one thing but ensuring that we keep these fans engaged, is another.
MR: I heard the Fan Club has changed this year. What’s different from previous years?
HP: The two most notables changes for this year’s Fan Club is the re-vamped Baseball 101 Sessions and the addition of the Fan Club Road Trip! On June 24th and August 26th we are going to be hosting Post-Game Baseball 101 Sessions in the HSBC ClubVIP here at the Stadium and invite Fan Club Members who can ask questions and mingle with select Members from the Blue Jays team. The biggest addition to the line-up of Fan Club events is the Road Trip to Detroit at the end of July (July 24th – July 25th). It is at an additional cost but is an exclusive offer to official Fan Club Members only. We have a luxury coach bus that is scheduled to leave Rogers Centre early on the Saturday morning, with various pick-up locations on the Westbound 401 en route to Detroit, and then participants will get tickets to the game on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park to see the Jays play the Tigers. They will have one night accommodation and full breakfast Sunday m
orning and an opportunity to attend a Meet & Greet with a Blue Jays player while they’re in Detroit!
MR: That sounds like it would be a great weekend. Can anyone become a Fan Club Member and why should someone join?
HP: Definitely! Although, for fans that are 14 and under we do have our Jr. Jays Club which is catered a bit more to their needs and those of Mom & Dad’s. The Fan Club is there to provide our Fans with exclusive opportunities to get up close and personal with our players and, where the schedule permits, our alumni as well. Fan Club Members will have the opportunity to attend two autograph sessions with Blue Jays players, two pre-game Batting Practice visits, two Baseball 101 Sessions and the chance to participate in the Detroit Road Trip at the end of July. They will receive vouchers and discounts for concessions and merchandise here at Rogers Centre. They will also receive the new Fan Club E-Newsletter with up-to-date information on the team and the opportunity to submit questions that you have for some of your favourite players. Question is, if you’re a Blue Jays fan, why wouldn’t you join!?
MR: Managing Fan Loyalty, you’ve no doubt come across some passionate Jays fans. What has been the most memorable of them all?
HP: For sure – there are some very big supporters of the Blue Jays out there. If I had to name one though – I think the most memorable Jays fan that I had the pleasure of meeting was Amersia Thompson. She had such a kind soul and everyday was here at the ballpark to wave to the players as they arrived and then again as they left following the game. She had such a love for the game and this team. Haha… I smile when thinking about her and how much she inherently adopted aspects of my role as she would explain the players schedules and when they would be available/unavailable to other fans that surrounded her. Sadly, Amersia passed away in January 2008. To this day, friends and fans ensure that there are flowers always atop of the ramp to the parking garage where Amersia would stand to wave welcome and bid farewell to her beloved Blue Jays.
MR: Describe a typical day during a home stand.
HP: In a nutshell, it starts early and ends late! A typical homestand day is definitely a long day but they are by far the most exciting; they’re what you spend the entire year working and preparing for. When I arrive in the morning – around 8-9am – I check my messages, look at the to-do lists for the day and spend the day planning out a variety of items related to our Fan Club and Jr. Jays Club programs. I ensure that my Intern Chris Traynor is equipped with resources he needs for the day. Chris has been a machine, keeping up to date with the Fan Club and Jr. Jays Club inquiries and I couldn’t do this without him! I double-check with co-workers in other Departments as to what upcoming ‘player needs’ they have so I know which player to speak with and about what. Mid-afternoon I head downstairs to deliver any memos or reminders to the players for upcoming appearances and meet with them about these requests until they are ready to go start their pre-game ‘BP’ [batting practice] at roughly 4:30pm. Following BP I bring players to and from autograph sessions and appearances that sometimes go until around 6:15pm. After that, it’s back down to the field to assist our Game Entertainment Crew in ensuring that we have the right players in the right places for any pre-game presentations, first pitches, etc. Once the game starts at 7pm our player’s families are usually in the building so I’m with them checking-in, answering any questions or updating them on any of the upcoming events that they are assisting with. Actually, you can watch for our Lady Jays assisting with the Jays Care Foundation Broadcast Auction this Monday, April 26th! Typically around 8pm I’m back at my desk trying to get caught up on some of the emails and calls I’ve missed since being away from my desk. I’m usually in my car on the way home about half an hour after the game ends, unless there is more player appearances or autograph sessions to take the players to post-game!
MR: Again, wow. That’s a really long day. Final question: what is your favourite Blue Jays moment?
HP: Growing up in Kingston, Ontario I never really was here at the ballpark in Toronto to witness some of the amazing moments in Blue Jays history. I will never forget my first year with the organization in 2003 and being at the game on September 27th when Roy Halladay recorded his 22 Win of the season; the atmosphere in the crowd was amazing. We just knew that he had to win the CY that year, and we all know now what happened.
The next time you consider the job of the Blue Jays remember the one person who coordinates the appearance and event schedules and day-to-day requests of all of the players. She works day in and day out to ensure all players are where they have to be and most importantly, that they are keeping up with appearances. Along with so many other people in the Jays organization, Holly Purdon plays a key role in the daily lives of most people involved in the club. Not only does she work year round to coordinate the season but she is especially dedicated for six months of the year, 162 regular season games, and 15 hours days during homestands but the most noticeable thing about her is that she does it all with a smile on her face.
To be part of a team is to be a part of a group of people with one goal, one mind frame, or one task at hand. The age old (read: Aristotle-old) idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, stands true. Baseball, like most team sports, follows this thought and allows for every member of the team to contribute with their best efforts and come together. Recently, for those of you who have been following the start of the season as I have, you’ve witnessed a team that’s working to build a roster that can endure a season and compete in the Eastern Division while building for a successful future. Naturally the Jays remain a team, regardless of players sent down or called up from Triple-A, new additions to the active roster, deactivations due to injury, or poor game attendance due to the unfamiliarity fans have with such a young and new roster.
I’ve watched for the past two weeks as first baseman Lyle Overbay has struggled at the plate. People at games, on Twitter, and in person, commented and shared their opinions on how they believed it would just be easier to sit him until he could perform. Despite his streak (something he’s struggled with since the start of the regular season) the team and Cito Gaston, have supported Overbay and want to see him improve – for the team and for himself. Last week, Gaston mentioned that sitting Overbay was not an option and that he would remain in the lineup. Overbay commented the same day about feeling good in warm up and in the batting cage but simply couldn’t figure out what the issue was when it came time to perform during the game. He made no excuses for his slump and lack of performance at the plate and simply remarked that he was working daily at getting out of it, which I can imagine, is easier said than done.
Sunday, after the Jays were swept by the Angels and Overbay’s slump remained, five members of the Jays roster sat down to an autograph signing for Season Ticket holders, sporting Overbay jerseys backwards with his name and number on their chests. Shawn Marcum, Scott Downs, Ricky Romero, Vernon Wells, and Casey Janssen all proved that they believe in their teammate with the gesture. How many times have you seen teammates stick together like that? It goes to show what kind of team the Toronto Blue Jays really are and that they support their teammate – no doubt someone some players now call a friend – no matter what opinions other people (read: fans and journalists) have about his play. When I saw that, I recalled what it was like to be a part of a team myself in every sport that I’ve ever played. Win or lose, those people – your teammates – should support their one another, as every action affects every member of the team, for good or bad.
I was watching the game Monday night and simultaneously reading the comments and replies on Twitter (something that has become part of my newest game viewing routine). When Overbay stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 2nd inning, the comments on Twitter from Jays fans were almost too predictable, some using sarcastic tones and others commenting on his recent slump. Well, low and behold, Overbay stepped up to the plate for the 0-1 pitch and smacked a double to left-field. The comments, though some remained sarcastic, flooded my Twitter home page with the news and as stated on the bluejays.com game recap, “Struggling first baseman Lyle Overbay showed signs of life by finishing 2-for-2 with two walks,” which was enough to alter the minds of tough critics, at least for the evening.
Now obviously being part of a team is not only supporting the struggling members of the roster, but with the Blue Jays, it’s a good example that has created a current buzz amongst fans and media. Though the Blue Jays are a professional team and a part of this city, fans often feel as though they are directly affected as part of the team as well. The commitment and emotion that coincides with sincere fandom is often times overbearing, however, if there’s one thing it is – it’s honest and I think that is what makes a true fan. When the team loses, the city loses, the fans lose, and the people feel it; we – this city, this nation – are a team and should support one another though thick and thin. Heck, we have the only (read: ONLY!!) Professional Baseball team in this country, so unless you don’t like baseball, why wouldn’t you?
The Jays are now 9-7 to start the season and have just ended their first homestand. Something I’ve thought about a lot recently is what it was like to experience Rogers Centre nearly full during the Home Opener. To see that many people out to support the team (who for the most part, is still unfamiliar to fans during this building stage) followed by nine games that poor attendance made headlines over the team’s performance was disheartening to say the least. Attendance and criticisms aside, the Jays will keep on playing and the organization will continue to grow. Being a part of a team is often not chosen – like a family – and maintains an unshakable faith and support system for one another. Despite their unfamiliarity to this city and to fans, the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays are a true team with a lot of character and personality; it’s only April and they’ve made that quite clear.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the two most important
things in life are good friends and a good bullpen. ~Bob Lemon, 1981
Since Jackie Robinson Day Thursday and a tough weekend against the Angels, quite a bit has happened in and around the Blue Jays club. A new edition to the team and trends setting in early on in the season, a response from Blue Jays President Paul Beeston to an article published in Chicago about baseball in Toronto, and the first Jr. Jays Saturday (a chance for young fans to take part in game day activities). Since it’s Monday, let me catch you up to speed.
Let’s Talk About Fred Lewis
The Outfielder made his MLB debut in 2006 in San Francisco and played in 326 games for the Giants. In his three seasons in San Francisco he made 931 plate appearances holding a batting average of .277 with 53 doubles, 16 triples, 16 home runs and recorded 34 stolen bases. Lewis was placed on the Disabled List earlier in the month for a strained oblique muscle and rehabilitated in the Pacific Coast League. Upon reactivation last Thursday April 15th he was traded to Toronto in return for Future Considerations to the Giants. The trade was made official late Thursday night by the Toronto Blue Jays.
According to Lewis, he’s looking forward to playing in Toronto despite the initial trouble he had crossing the boarder. Canadian Customs Officials did not believe the 29-year-old that he was in fact a professional baseball player who had just been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. “It took me almost an hour [to clear customs],” said Lewis to a reporter quoted in an article on bluejays.com. “I had to find a website that had something to do with me in it and had to show them that. I had my passport there but that wasn’t enough. It was kind of a long day.”
After a day of traveling back to Mississippi before flying to Toronto Friday, Manager Cito Gaston chose to leave Lewis out of the lineup Friday. Saturday, Lewis did make a plate appearance at the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitting for Catcher Jose Molina. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful; Lewis struck out swinging against Angels RHP Fernando Rodney in his plate debut for the Jays, Saturday.
However, Lewis started in left-field and batted first Sunday in the final game of the three-game series against the Angels. Lewis rectified first impressions when he doubled in the 3rd and promptly stole third base, marking the 35th time in his career he has successfully stolen a base. Though no run was scored and his other three at-bats were not as victorious for the Jays, the 3rd inning was a glimpse of Lewis’ potential.
No doubt it’s tough to up and move but he’s excited to go to bat for the Jays as often as possible. After the Jays were swept by the Angels over the weekend, despite a notable appearance from Ricky Romero on the mound Sunday, the Jays are looking to come back against the Royals who are in Toronto for a three-game series beginning tonight. Obviously, the signing of Fred Lewis will not be a key factor in the turnaround, but rather it will be a team effort and could aid the momentum to break the offensive trends that have been surfacing early on in the season.
Jays in Toronto: Here to stay for good, as confirmed by Jays President Paul Beeston
Twitter had never seen such an outcry from angry Blue Jay fans over the past weekend, after an article was published in a Chicago newspaper stating that due to a multitude of factors (according to this particular writer) including poor attendance after the Home Opener in Toronto, that the MLB did not belong in Toronto or in Canada for that matter. Game attendance decreases naturally after the Home Opener which makes sense, but this writer had a lot more than just attendance to comment about. Confused fans on Twitter took to their updates to express their feelings on the aforementioned article though the fire died down after about a day of responses and angry comments on the article, which by then, Toronto papers had picked up on and summarized for the city to see.
Blue Jays President Paul Beeston commented on the article and the thoughts of the writer Saturday, which promptly halted the discussion, “The Blue Jays will be in Toronto longer than the writer will work for his paper.” That was the end of that. If you haven’t been out to a game yet, you should really go – there’s nothing quite like live baseball on a Saturday afternoon and here’s a fun fact: The roof on Rogers Centre was open last Thursday night (April 15th, 2010), which set a new record for the earliest date the roof has ever been open. The previous date was April 16th, 2002. You know what that means? Spring is in the air, the Jays are 13 games into their season, and summer baseball is soon to be thriving.
The First Jr. Jays Saturday of the 2010 Season
I tried to recall what it was like going to baseball games as a kid and only vaguely remembered a few visits to Rogers Centre (then SkyDome). This past Saturday marked the first Saturday in which kids had the opportunity to participate in aspects of the game including the starting lineup and the in-game announcer. If I could tell you how many times I said “Awww” in regards to one of the kids – that would be remarkable – because unfortunately it happened so often that I quickly lost count. Kids aged five to ten were selected randomly prior to the game Saturday and given a spot in the starting lineup, where they had the chance to run on the field alongside a Jays player in the starting lineup.
I don’t think I’ve ever met smarter kids who told me about why they didn’t like certain players no longer with the team and how they got traded, how many home runs Vernon Wells has hit or when Aaron Hill will be back. It’s remarkable to speak to kids who are so knowledgeable because I often forget how much information they can retain, like I did at their age. I quickly made friends with Jarrett, 6, and Crystal, 5, who were both jumping up and down with excitement over the chance to simply run on the field. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to some, but to them, it was huge. I captured some of the best moments of the afternoon, so take a peek at the pictures below but watch the video of the starting lineup [click here]. I promise, it will make you smile.
All 10 Jr. Jays for April 17th, 2010 – Watch the video for introductions
The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and
baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for
– Jackie Robinson
Baseball fans alike associate specific numbers with players, records,
and history within the game. Today marks an especially significant
anniversary in baseball history and is being recognized league wide. 63
years ago today, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson made his Major League
Baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking the colour barrier as a
player in the league wearing the number 42. Between 1945 and 1966
Robinson made baseball history recording a total of 14 firsts, as he
continued to break colour barriers throughout his career.
Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston was the first African American Manager to
win a World Series when the Toronto Blue Jays won in 1992 and the first
to win back-to-back Championships when the Blue Jays won the World
Series in 1993. Gaston returned to the Jays in 2008 is
currently managing for his last season with Toronto. Members of the 2010
Jays roster were asked what Jackie Robinson Day meant to each of them
as a player this season. As Gaston also holds a first in baseball history, he made note in his response, to the role which the accomplishments and achievements of
Jackie Robinson played in his career in the league.
“Mr. Robinson is a great man as far as I’m concerned. He gave minorities
a chance to excel and also move up in the organization as far as being
managers, coaches, and general managers,” said Gaston, in a video on
bluejays.com. “We owe him a lot as we’ll be pleased to celebrate that
day in Toronto.”
As today marks such a milestone in league history, MLB has mandated that
all players, coaches, and umpires wear the #42 in all games played across the league today to celebrate and honour Jackie Robinson for all of his
achievements that began 63 years ago. The Toronto
Blue Jays host the Chicago White Sox in the final game of a four-game
series at Rogers Centre tonight at 7:07. Both teams will wear
#42 on their jerseys, in recognition of the Hall of Famer.
For more about Jackie Robinson Day and what it means to the Toronto Blue
Jays players click
You owe it to yourself to be the best you can possibly be – in baseball
and in life. – Pete Rose
After all is said and done, the first experience of a Home Opener while working for a Major League team will no doubt surpass the majority of my baseball game memories. There was so much that happened throughout the day that recalling everything would be a daunting task, making me grateful for the photo log I kept, capturing all of the best moments. Words are problematic at times; often, the more you try to convey your thoughts and reactions using an elaborate description, you fall short of doing the lone task you set out to do: allowing an audience to tap into your exact feelings and emotions by revisiting a specific moment in time. So, forgive me if it’s difficult to sum up the entirety of the day; so many words are appropriate but none provide adequate justice.
For a week prior to the Home Opener, I observed and assisted (where required) as the field was constructed, the office staff planned and organized the pre-game ceremonies, Rogers Centre was set-up and prepared for the next six months and the Toronto Blue Jays were on a five-game winning streak. The pitching mound that had been in its preliminary stages my first day on the job, had been worked on and shaped by grounds crew to meet league regulations. Olympians and Paralympians were confirmed, jerseys were ordered, media coverage highlighted Spring Training and forecasted 2010, ACE cleaned up for the beginning of another new season, JForce rehearsed and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. With everything that goes into the first home game of a season, fans only witness a tiny glimpse of the preparations for a few hours during the night, but it’s everything that ensued prior to gate opening, that allows the night to go accordingly as its seen and televised nationally.
You could tell it was the Home Opener for a multitude of reasons but most noticeably because Rogers Centre was energetic from the first moments of the day. Contagious smiles, a buzz about the building and employees wishing one another a “Happy Home Opener.” I overheard a co-worker proclaiming to another in the office, “there are only three reasons why I dress up; my birthday, New Years and the Home Opener.” The suits, shined shoes and fresh haircuts exhibited that point and everyone was around the building was eager for game time. The Home Opener is an annual chance on a municipal, provincial, and national stage to showcase the franchise and their efforts to fans at the commencement of the new season. It also inadvertently acts as proof that this city – the only major league baseball city north of the US boarder – is adamant about baseball in this country.
The digital narrative I posted acts as a photographic play-by-play of the Home Opener encompassing the 48-hour span in which the day was set-up, rehearsed, and executed. The entire day is a blur but what exists in my memories a couple days after the big night, are fragments of reactions and thoughts that I endured throughout that time frame. A few moments in particular are vivid in my mind and it’s as though I can put myself back in that precise moment every time I recall that memory, reliving every step.
The minute I stepped out of the car Monday morning, I began the day with so much energy and excitement for what was approaching. That reaction to the Home Opener remained and grew throughout the day. I had the opportunity to chat with fans and members of the media as well as Olympic and Paralympic athletes, who for the most part, had never seen a game of baseball, but the best moment by far, was towards the end of the pre-game ceremonies almost immediately before the first pitch. The drum line and JForce lined centre field with the armed forces on either side holding flags representative of Canada and the US; thirteen Canadian Olympic and Paralympic medalists stood tall behind the pitching mound, wearing their medals with pride in a new place full of passion and pride and both teams, stood on the field for the national anthems after the team introductions. It was that moment, right before the field cleared for the commencement of the game, that time stood still, even if it’s only in my memories. In a split second, that moment had passed, the field had cleared and the first pitch was thrown. Needless to say, I can begin to describe it, but words don’t do it nearly enough justice.
I’m positive that all 46,321 fans in attendance would agree that if there’s anything you should experience in Toronto, it’s a Home Opener. There’s expectation and determination with the hope of success riding on this season and if the Home Opener was any indication of the support that the Jays have behind them, this team will no doubt prove what they’re capable of in the upcoming months.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today is the day. It’s what baseball in this city
lives for: it’s that moment; a new season with new hope. It’s the hustle
and heart that the Toronto Blue Jays bring to a national stage. They’re
not only the team of Toronto but the team of the entire country. Home
Opener isn’t about one day though, it’s about the process which it takes
to arrive at that day. For months and weeks leading up to tonight’s
first pitch, the Toronto Blue Jays staff work off the field to make sure
everything it set to start the season off in the best way possible.
order for you to be begin to comprehend the daunting task of creating a
Home Opener, I’ll be taking photos throughout rehearsal and during the day. I’ll be updating as
frequently as possible with photos as they happen, so stay tuned. [EDITORS NOTE: Click on photos to enlarge]
Even after a long day, I’m just so happy to be there.
9:56pm – 24 hours from now, it won’t be nearly as calm…
It’s a beautiful day for baseball in TorontoEdit 3: Home Opener Midday Photo Op: April 12th, 2010 12:20pm
Alex Bilodeau and his Olympic Gold Medal with Jamie Campbell
And so, 13 Olympians, T-Shirts, Interviews, and 11 Innings later: Happy Home Opener.
…Tom Farrell, Rogers Centre Head Grounds Keeper
ever wondered about how the field at Rogers Centre is maintained
lengthy season and 81 home games, you’re not alone. I had the
sit down and chat with Tom Farrell, the Head Grounds Keeper at Rogers
the day before the 2010 Home Opener. In the off-season the Rogers Centre
installed a new turf system for the season and with that change, a lot
have been effected. Based on ten questions, I discovered more about
position and what the daily tasks and objectives of the Grounds Crew are
ensure the best kept infield for the Blue Jays from April to September.
Megan Robinson: How long have you held this
position with the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre?
Tom Farrell: I’ve been supervising since 1994
when I took over for the then, Head Grounds Keeper, who unfortunately
away from cancer at a very young age. I was asked to take over interim
they could find a replacement. My career goal was to attend the Ontario
of Art but when I was asked if I would take over temporarily, I did that
few years. I applied and was accepted to OCA (now OCAE) and was about to submit
payment for my first classes when I was offered the job full-time. It
was a job
I loved and a very rare opportunity to be a Head Grounds Keeper so I
and haven’t looked back since.
As Head Grounds Keeper, what is the
main objective for the dirt and baseball operations ground crew staff?
Our main objective is to make sure
the playing field is to Major League Baseball specifications. On a daily
we’ll come in and maintain all the dirt areas which include the bases,
plate, pitching mound and the bullpens along with our other
setting up and tearing down all batting practices. So, pretty much
that goes on the field that’s baseball is what we’re responsible for.
two crews that work on the field – there’s a conversion crew that does
and then there’s the grounds crew, which are my guys. We just
the dirt areas and bullpens.
Currently we’re 25 hours and
counting away from the 2010 Home Opener – How have you been preparing
Well, right now we are making
corrections based on the fact that we have a new turf system. The
that we had was a palate system, so the turf was on trays. The thickness
tray system was greater than it is with the [new] roll system. With the
roll system, the turf is rolled out almost like you would lay down
large rolls and therefore it’s thinner. As a result, we’ve had to lower
pitching rubber and our home plate. So, this close to opening day and
currently just getting all of our levels to the right height.
Once Home Opener has passed, what
is a typical game day like for you?
On a typical game day, we would
start at 11am and the first thing we
would do is break into groups. The
first group would go and work on the dirt areas, where each guy has a
area which they’re responsible for and the other group would work on
all the batting practice equipment. What people don’t realize is the
hours we spend grooming and maintaining the dirt areas, repairing holes
the night before, watering, raking, and leveling. So, we’ll work from 11am till 2pm when the visiting team
out for extra hitting. If the visiting team doesn’t come out at 2pm, we’ll continue our work
until 3pm which is approximately
home team comes out for extra batting.
You mentioned a little bit about
the pitching mound, but explain the technology behind the mound.
The pitching mound is quite
remarkable; it’s a simple technology but what it does is outstanding.
Basically, the mound is made up of clay which is similar to most
in the Major League. What’s different is that the clay is built on a
dish that was manufactured by a local yacht company. This fibreglass
essentially a boat – for lack of a better term – and below the pitching
is a deep well, so what happens when we want to bring the mound up for
baseball, this well is filled with water. As the mound floats up to the
surface, there are five locking pins that lock into place. Then the
out and the mound rests on those locking lugs. We fill in the remainder
perimeter of the mound with steel channel plates and we cover those
with clay. When we’re done, it looks like that mound is always there and
take it out, it’s just the reverse. It’s really a remarkable system and
been here since ’89 and I’ve been here we’ve never seen any problems
With all the rules and regulations
that the league mandates, how to you go about ensuring all of those
rules are met
here at Rogers Centre?
multiple rules that we have to follow that are set out in the official
which they send me every year. Also, MLB will let me know right away if
are any updates. For example, the distance that the mound has to be from
plate is 60-feet-six-inches, which is the same for every team in the
With all the rules and regulations
and constant maintenance to the field, a lot of work must be done. How
people makeup the grounds crew?
Currently we have 15 part-time
grounds keepers and as of now I’m the only full-time grounds keeper. The
of the crew works mostly in the summer time with the exception of my
who works all year round with me. We’ll have a couple extra grounds
to help out over the winter but for the most part they’re all part-time
they work over the summer.
The grounds keepers who are part of
the 5th inning cleanup are boasted as the “Quickest in the
is there any specific training or necessary preparations that they do to
prepare for that?
No. When our grounds keepers are
interviewed they’re asked if there is anything that would prevent them
running the distances; they need to run, they have to do it every day
approximately 60-seconds to clean up. So they’ll run out from the
corner, come out to the base areas, do their jobs – switching out the
a new one, sweeping loose dirt back onto the dirt area from the turf,
leveling out the dirt which they do with a toothless rake – we almost
it in under a minute.
Walk me through the duties of the
grounds crew post-game.
Well, post-game we’ll come out and
start closing out the field. What that involves is raking the dirt
the base area, removing the top dressing off the mound and the same
home plate- not all parks do that but we find we can water it and work
better when we remove all the loose dirt. It’s mostly just closing the
off and getting it prepared to do all the filling of the holes the next
Finally, what’s your favourite Blue
My favourite Blue Jays memory would
have to be the ’93 World Series Joe Carter home run. Back then I was a
part-time grounds keeper and I was sitting on the field waiting for the
end. Every one of us had an objective: by the end of
we had to secure a piece of equipment, for fear that if fans ran on the
they would remove some of the stuff. My personal objective was to
third base and make sure it was kept safe. So I was sitting on the warning track
the left-field side of the field and Joe Carter hit that home run. I ran
grab the base and I almost took it before he rounded third. Sometimes on
highlights you can see a glimpse of a person standing in the background
Carter rounds third, and that’s me – almost taking third base before Joe
Rogers Centre Field in Numbers
– The record time in seconds it took for the 5th
inning clean-up at a game in 1991
The number of crew used during the 5th
– The approximate number of turf
rolls used to cover the field
– The length in feet, of the
longest roll of turf used which is placed at centre field
– The number of hours it takes to build the pitching
2,700 – The amount of dirt in pounds,
used to cover all three bases
60.6 – The set distance, in feet, from
the pitching mound to home plate as per MLB
“10 Questions with…” will appear as
an additional weekly feature to the Triple Play blog.
You know, I really thought it was that can’t-eat,
can’t-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over- the-fence, world-series kind of stuff.
– It Takes Two (1995)
For Chris: May we teach
you the ways of one of the greatest games ever played.
I had a
conversation with someone last night who had never been to a baseball game. He had also never seen a game on television. At twenty-seven years of age, I couldn’t
fathom how he had not encountered at least one game at some point throughout
his life. I thought he was kidding at first, but I wasn’t sure why anyone would
joke about something like that. Born and raised in Vancouver and having only recently moved
to Toronto, I understood
that baseball is not on the forefront of sports culture out West. Of course, there is no Major League team in Western Canada but surely, baseball
isn’t popular in only Toronto. Granted, due to
my own experiences with the game throughout most of my life, it’s difficult to
think of living without encountering it in some way or form. After trying to
explain the basic rules of the game, the two leagues and divisions and how
people remain interested after 162 games, I began to wonder what I would want
to know if I unknowingly turned on a game of baseball or saw a game live at a
field for the first time. Now, thankfully he wasn’t ignorant to its existence
but because baseball was not a part of his life, it was just not something that
ever sparked an interest. Aside from my first experiences playing (read:
sitting on) third base at the age of four, I thought back to the stand alone
baseball memory in my past which really solidified my passion for the sport.
Think long and hard; what was that one moment that changed the way you looked
at the game? What was the moment that allowed every pitch, every swing, and
ever base to resonate within you and when did it become more than just a game?
Reflecting on my
life playing and watching sports, baseball in particular, there have been a lot
of home runs, all-star games, and championship wins as a member of the Wildcats
for three consecutive seasons during my pre-teens, that could very well have
been that moment. As a player, those memories stand out as being successful in
the game and not as a defining moment regarding my passion for the game.
Everyone is different and naturally that moment will vary from person to
person, but exists within us all even if it must be thought about for days on end. When
I thought about it long enough, I recalled a recent trip that really clicked with me
and it was in that moment that time stood still (in my memories at least) as I took in all of my surroundings.
Labour Day Weekend
2008, I flew to New York for the weekend
to catch the Jays take on the Yankees at Old Yankee Stadium. It was the last
time the Blue Jays would play on the field before the end of the season and
ultimately before they tore it down. We arrived late, making stops along the
way as it was my first trip to the Big Apple, but we made it just in time to catch the
singing of the anthems. I can’t describe my feelings to you, because it
happened so quickly but it hit every inch of me harder than anything I’d ever felt before. That moment
resonates within me every time I think about it. It felt right; the ambient
noises, the perfect mix of Jays fans taunting the fans of the Bronx Bombers, the constant
chatter, the echoing sounds of Bob Sheppard on a pre-recorded tape announcing
Derek Jeter as he walked up to the plate;* everything. Regardless of what team
you cheer for, when you’re engulfed by 50,000 other people who love baseball,
it’s hard not to fall harder for a game that takes a lot of flack in your home
and native land, where hockey reigns supreme and is held in such high regard.**
In baseball’s off season you could often times forget it ever existed
(momentarily) in Toronto, because
regardless of the season, hockey talk is what makes headlines. For baseball
fans in a country that is known in and throughout popular culture for hockey,
curling, and lumberjacks, what makes baseball stand out? It’s that moment that
you fall in love with a game, a moment which you could never completely
explain, but it makes sense and simply: you just know.
*Yankees Shortstop Derek Jeter, originally
from New Jersey, imagined walking up to Sheppard’s voice as a child. When Sheppard took a leave of absence in 2006, Jeter would
not allow anyone else to announce his plate appearances and requested a recording of the introduction. Jeter has said he will forever use the recording throughout his career.
**For the record,
the Jays won the three-games series, 2-1 over the Yankees that weekend.
of all, HAPPY SEASON OPENER! Today, my dear friends, is the day you’ve all
been waiting for: the 2010 baseball season has officially begun!
Right now, the
Blue Jays are in Arlington, Texas where they took on the Rangers for the first of three
contests this season. After a tough 5-4 loss this afternoon, the Jays will play
their next two games giving the Rangers a run for their money. I can feel it and despite the
loss, it’s hard not to be optimistic at this point in the season. In other
news, you know what that means? Less than one week until the Jays bring it back
to Toronto to showcase the 2010 Roster in the Home Opener next Monday against
the Chi-Sox. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to catch up with what
the Jays have done in the off season, I wanted to give you a little bit of an idea
of who you’d be seeing for the next six months. So,
let’s begin with the Opening Day starting lineup, as there has been a lot of
chatter about these guys already this season:
1. Jose Bautista, RF – Easily one of the best offensive performances
in Spring Training came from the 29 year old, right-hander. Most recently I
caught a clip of Bautista hitting a double off of Doc Halladay in the first match-up between
the Phillies and the Jays this season, and that was pretty awesome. Bautista
made 57 plate appearances for the Jays and led the Spring Training team in runs
(16), hits (25), and doubles (9). Bautista, who made his MLB debut in 2004 with
Baltimore, has been known as a utility player until this
season, earning a spot in right field.
2. Aaron Hill, 2B – The second baseman is now in his sixth season with
the Blue Jays and has only improved since joining the team. He was recognized
as the AL Comeback Player of the Year in the 2009 Season and was selected for the Silver Slugger Award as leading second baseman in the AL. Hill, who’s 28 years old, was the AL leading second baseman
in home runs (36), RBIs (108), and total bases (340). Hill
will play a key role in the Jays offence if he plays consistently throughout
3. Adam Lind, DH –
Two days ago, the Designated Hitter and sometimes Left-Fielder
signed a 4-year $18-Million contract with the Jays, which locks the 26 year old up
until 2013. To put it into perspective, Adam Lind is on pace to hit 162 homers, 162 RBI, 324 runs
scored and 486 hits this season and in turn is earning $6 million per hit since
signing his new contract (http://mlbastion.mlblogs.com). Lind, a native
of Indiana, received the Edgar Martinez Award and was the
second Blue Jays Silver Slugger Award recipient for his performance as a
left-fielder in the AL for the 2009 Season. Last season, Lind led
left-fielders in the AL in home runs (35), RBI (114) and batted .305 for the
4. Vernon Wells, CF
– If you were watching the Opener in Texas this afternoon (I was, read below) you would have
caught some great action out of the gate from Vernon Wells, who recorded his
first home run of the season in the first inning. Wells, after under going wrist surgery in
the off-season, is ready to go and is looking good after Spring Training.
Despite other notable players in the Majors, Wells remains one of the highest paid
players in the league and will dress in a Jays Uniform until 2014 by contract.
In 630 plate appearances last season, Wells recorded 84 runs in 164 hits and 15
homers for the Jays. Not bad, but after the surgery was a success, expect Wells
to come out much stronger this season.
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
– So, did anyone else catch the handle bar mustache? You know, as much as he
probably gets hounded for it, it makes him look a little meaner, so maybe
he’s trying to give himself an edge. A little background on Overbay: He made
his MLB debut in 2001 for the Diamondbacks, before playing a year with the
Brewers in ’04-’05 and finally signing with Toronto for the 2006 Season. His
middle name is Stefan, he is originally from Centralia, Washington, and he’s 33 years of age. Last season, Overbay led
the Jays in walks (74) and recorded 112 hits in 423 plate appearances.
6. John Buck, C – After five seasons with the KC Royals, Buck
signed with the Jays for the 2010 Season in December of 2009 on a one-year
contract. Buck, a 29 year old from Wyoming, has recorded 70 career home runs and is the father
to a set of twins, Cooper and Brody. Buck recorded 16 runs, 8 home runs, and 36
RBIs in 59 games last season for the Royals.
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B – In his second season with the Toronto
Blue Jays, the 27 year old from the Dominican Republic, was acquired by the Blue Jays last season in the
Scott Rolen trade in July 2009. Encarnacion made 293 plate appearances in 85
games and recorded 35 runs, 66 hits, and 39 RBIs. Now that he’s had some time
with the team, expect to see good things this season.
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS – The 33 year old short-stop, originally
from Venezuela joined the Blue Jays in the off season on a one-year
deal. [EDIT: After much confusion with dates and stats, there’s one thing to remember: this is the OTHER Alex Gonzalez.] After his performance
in Spring Training (3 H, 9 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI) let’s hope he’s using the Jays
forward momentum to kick start the 2010 Season.
9. Travis Snider, LF – At 22, Snider is the youngest member of the Blue
Jays Roster and took over in left-field after Alex Rios was traded to the White
Sox. Snider, a 6-foot, 235 pound southpaw from Washington, made his MLB debut with the Jays in August of 2008.
In 77 games last season, Snider made 241 plate appearances and recorded 34
runs, 29 RBIs, and 9 home runs and his middle name is James.
Pitching: Shaun Marcum –
If you caught the first bit of the game today, you’d realize what an asset Marcum
is the Blue Jays and how crucial he will be this season. After undergoing Tommy
John surgery in 2008, the right-handed pitcher missed the entire 2009 season
due to continued pain post-surgery, but is healthy and eager to get back at it with the Jays
this season. After pitching six innings in the Season Opener against the
Rangers this afternoon, Marcum’s pitching line was: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB. Not
bad at all for the first game of the 2010 season.
Last, and certainly not least,
not only is today Monday, the Season Opener for the Toronto Blue Jays, but it’s
also my very first day as an official employee of the Toronto Blue Jays! I set
up shop this morning at my desk and made myself a home where I’ll work for the
next six months. The faces I saw a couple weeks ago were re-introduced and I’ve
had the chance to meet quite a few new ones, who have been very welcoming and kind.
It was the perfect day for me to start too because the Season Opening Employee
Meeting was early this afternoon and I got to attend on my first day with the
Jays. So, picture this: When I was told there was going to be a meeting today I
assumed it would be in a board room or in some sort of theatre or auditorium; you
too, right? Well, we’re both wrong. I walked down with some of the other people
from the Marketing and Promotions department and low and behold, the meeting is
set up just inside Gate 9 in the 100’s Level Concourse. Secretly, I’m amazed
that it’s actually happening and of course, hide my excitement as I sit and
listen to the first meeting of the season, with introductions from none other
than Paul Beeston and various other members of the departments. The one thing
that resonated the most (in not so few words) is that the Blue Jays team is not
only what you see on the field but what goes into making the team on the field
happen, and for the 2010 Season, I’m a part of that! I was still trying to wrap
my head around it all and of course, there’s more! Lunch is served in the HSBC
VIP Club and just as I sit down the Video Board lights up and the sounds of
Sportsnet’s Buck Martinez’s voice is heard throughout the Club area. At 2:07pm, the very first pitch of the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays
Season was thrown and I watched it on the Video Board sitting in Rogers Centre.
Can you say awesome? I can.
As the day has progressed
I’ve been taken on a few tours around Rogers Centre (which I was told today
should never be referred to as “THE Rogers Centre” just “Rogers Centre”) I
realized just how big the stadium is and how much goes on in preparation for
the Home Opener next week. The photos below are a few phone photos from my
tour, but the best part about it was that the dome was OPEN and the place was
empty. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be here and to be sharing this and
how excited I am for the season and for this opportunity. Now, off I go to find
some vegan edibles for supper tonight, but I’ll be posting regularly; this is way
too cool not to be sharing.