I try to go to as many Toronto Blue Jays games as I can… but have to make it to at least one a year. I’m a pretty hardcore fan, so I feel I almost have to show up– it’s kind of like right of passage as a fan.
Aug 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Rogers Stadium and the CN Tower before the Toronto Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Additionally, Jays’ games are always fun to go to. Well, most of the time. When they win, they always are. When they lose, not so much. But atleast you went… you were there. I’ve been to one game this year… and they lost. It was still okay, but a loss is nothing compared to a win.
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My friends, Chris Smith and Jon Kirk, work at Brantford Honda. I was at Chris’ house Saturday evening in Brantford when I learned that as a work venture, they were all going to the game, Sunday, August 31st.
Before he confirmed this, I knew right away that this game just so happens to be New York Yankees’ legendary shortstop Derek Jeter’s final game in Canada (unless they meet in the playoffs, which is just not gonna happen. I doubt either one will make it, actually).
I’m old enough to remember when Jeter burst onto the scene as a very young Yankee. It was the perfect situation for the hot prospect coming up for the pinstripes. Jeter was always good. As a hater of the Evil Empire growing up, I was nervous every time he walked to the plate in a clutch situation. But when he got a big hit, unlike other Yankees (hello Jorge Posada, Scott Brosius… or even Alex Rodriguez), I did not hate him. He was the one Yankee who I found it very hard to hate.
Aug 29, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) during batting practice before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Back to my story… naturally, I felt inclined to ask if there was any way that Dave Ackeret (our other best friend who was down for the long weekend) and I could possibly squeeze our way into this. Chris said probably not, but he’d get us in if there was someone who backed out. He was pretty sure someone would back out though, because apparently someone always does.
I know his boss, Mike Anderson, from playing baseball. I asked Chris if I should text him, or just let Chris work his magic. He advised I let him handle it. Okay, bro…
Fast-forward to Sunday morning, gameday, we all woke up after a typically long night in that house. Jon presumably woke up Chris and they were off around 11:00am. Dave was up at a reasonable time, so we sat in Smith’s kitchen conspiring while we waited for Chris’ message. And we waited.
And we waited. Dave decided a pre-emptive strike was the best plan. I decided against texting Mike so not to undermine my friend. I hoped he was doing everything he could.
After awhile (it was getting to the point of no chance we could go), Dave simply said, “Wanna just go?”
This was music to my ears. I never thought of this, yet it was so simple.
I wondered if we could just take the bus with Honda. So what if we had to get our tickets there separately? Dave had a plan to sit with them, but I meant for getting to the game. Dave has a job for Tesla, driving around Toronto, and it seemed like he almost wanted to. And it would be kinda awkward for him and I (not employees of Honda) to ride with the employees all from Honda, although they’re good people. So whatever; I’m not gonna argue with transportation in a new Charger… just sucks you can’t have a few beers, too, Davey.
Toronto Blue Jays fan
I decided it was a good omen that we saw a lady (not this exact one on the left) with a Blue Jays hat and jersey walk into the bank after us. Dave and I were both bummed that we both have Jays’ jerseys, but didn’t have them with us. I was just happy that I had my Jays’ hat in my car that I remembered before we embarked.
We were making good time, until the Gardiner (pictured). And holy baby Jesus… we saw a sign that said 50 minutes on the Gardiner and 51 minutes on the Lakeshore. And we were almost there! So close, yet – evidently – so far.
Gardiner Expressway leading into downtown Toronto
Long story short, we were late for the game (not due to Dave’s driving choice… it was inevitable to be late, any way we went. This was still the best route). We had to buy scalpers, so we found some. Even though it was long passed first pitch and we missed the ceremony for Jeter, these guys still wanted $60 each for upper deck! We even found a guy from Laurier who we bonded with… but still he didn’t hook up his Golden Hawks :O . We walked around to the box office but they were claiming it was sold out. Dave decided to do one more pass of the stadium. Antics ensued, but he came back with two tickets, cheaper than previous estimates.
We could hear Joe Siddal’s voice outside the Dome (Rogers Centre will always be the SkyDome to me and most real fans). I was happy it was the radio play-by-play, and not Buck and Pat. However, it was not all good that it sounded like the Jays were down 3-0 by the time we were walking in.
The first batter we saw from the tvs while we were walking in for the Jays was Colby Rasmus, a player who my Dad and I joke will face three pitches and be out (by strikeout). Well, that’s exactly what happened.
We knew whereabouts the Brantford Honda crew were sitting, and luckily, right by there is a railing with a little standing area just behind the ramp going down into the seats. We stood there watching and messaged Chris and Jon between batters. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ, starting pitcher for the Jays (right), struck out the side. Were the tides beginning to turn for the Jays?
Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) against Toronto Blue Jays in second inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
At the end of the inning, we caught Chris walking down the ramp. He actually heard me and pulled an automatic U-turn and came to greet us. A few of the Honda employees had a small meeting near the concession stand while Dave and I looked on. The seats they had were really good, and it sounded like there were no seats available around them for Dave and I (yet again…).
Yankees’ pitcher Brandon McCarthy has been C.C. Sabathia reincarnated since being picked up by New York… and he’s been pitching well so far (one hit allowed so far through five). The bottom of the sixth also didn’t start well for the Jays. Two groundballs to first. Enter Melky Cabrera. I turned to Dave and said “If Melky gets on, Bautista will hit a homerun.” Jose had a hit a bomb in four straight games, so it seemed a decent projection. The Jays desperately needed a spark in the game too… not to mention for their season (which was slipping away, if not slipped away already).
Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) celebrates his home run with right fielder Jose Bautista (19) in sixth inning against New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
From where we were, it was a perfect angle to see Cabrera turn on the inside pitch. From the sound and the look, I knew it was gone. It was a no-doubter homerun. How great is it to watch a Jays’ player run around the bases with the horns and loud cheers together as a drone?
Bautista then walked up. I figured my projection was out the window with Melky’s success. But at 2-1, McCarthy thought he’d come inside, which was an error in judgment. Result of the play was another no-doubter homerun, Bautista’s fifth straight game with a homer. The Jays had life!
Not bad, Dave. We arrive and the first two out of four Jays’ batters hit a home run.
Happ is successful next inning. First batter for the Jays was Edwin Encarnacion. The coolest thing is seeing Edwin do the trademarked Ed-wing while he rounds the bases. Well, we got to see it! The Ed-wing contracted to tie the game (the fifth Jays batter we saw, the third homerun they hit– a ridiculous 60% average of hitting a homerun. Clearly Dave, we’re the good luck charm.
Jun 9, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion rounds the bases with the “Ed-wing” after hitting a three-run home run in the first inning against Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
McCarthy walked Navarro to end his day, the once so-promising start that now was a no-decision if not worse. I wasn’t holding my breath… it was only Rasmus up. Predictably, he struckout. So did Valencia, but this pitcher, now Dellin Botances, is really good… an all-star actually.
By this time, a few of the Honda employees wanted to venture into the city, perhaps to exile the $10 beers for something slightly more affordable. When they bailed, Dave and I upgraded our tickets to field level. Thanks Chris and Jon!
As we’re making our way down the stairs, Steve Tolleson entered for Navarro. Navarro, let’s just say in terms of the fable, is not the hare. Tolleson promptly stole second base. Due up was folk-hero in Toronto, Munenori Kawasaki, who is a scrappy hitter. But he’s fallen off his pace the past month or so. However, Muni got a pitch up in the zone and pulled it into right field! We had a play at the plate for the potential game-winning run!
Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Munenori Kawasaki (66) hits an RBI single in seventh inning against New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
The crowd roared as Beltran, a gold glove winning fielder three times over, came up throwing. The throw beat Tolleson to the plate but catcher Francisco Cervelli was forced to move up the baseline to field the impending outfield assist before diving back to the plate to swipe Tolleson (right). The crowd’s volume, at a game-high by far, momentarily lapsed just a tad in anticipation of the umpire’s call…
The umpire, with a clear view from close-range waved his arms adamantly, calling Tolleson SAFE!
Jul 27, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) forces out Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Steve Tolleson (18) at home during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Surely, on a play this close, the Yankees would challenge the call. The Yankees were stalling from throwing the next pitch to review the play internally to find out if it was worthy of a challenge. Somehow, manager Joe Girardi did not opt to challenge. Okay, suit yourself, Joe (he must not be aware of the Blue Jays’ season’s history with challenges…).
Regardless, score: Jays 4, Yankees 3.
To the bottom of the ninth, with the Jays clinging to their one-run lead, they brought in closer Casey Janssen. Janssen (right), normally steady, has been somewhat shaky in his last few outings. His ERA this season is the highest since 2009. In his last ten, he’s lost two games, giving up seven runs (7.00 ERA… not good).
Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Janssen (44) pitches in the ninth inning against New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Pinch-hitter Jacoby Elllsbury, always a thorn in the side of the Blue Jays throughout his career, came up and promptly hit a bloop double to right-field. That’s not on Janssen… Ichiro replaced Gardiner, whom advanced to third on the other thorn, Brett Gardner (not to be confused with the brutal Expressway) groundball to first. That seemed like a crisis averted, but the tying run moved just 90 feet away. The batter due-up was the foremost thorn for the Jays, Derek Sanderson Jeter.
Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; A fan holds a sign supporting New York Yankees designated hitter Derek Jeter (2) during the game against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
The crowd rose for his last bat in Canada and gave him the ovation he’s earned (although if you ask me, Jeter should be the one giving the Jays the standing ovation and gifts for supplying him all the ammunition). How fitting would it be for Jeter, a Jay-killer, to drive-in the tying run on a hit?
After a rousing ovation that made me proud of Toronto and Canada– including some well thought-out signs– Jeter took the box. His hit looked eerily similar to Gardiner’s double off the bat, a bloop to the right side. I swear, it was gonna find a way to drop in. But this time, the second baseman, Tolleson, easily caught the soft line-drive.
Aug 30, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) leaps to catch a high throw as Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) slides in safely with a stolen base in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Game over… 4-3 Jays win! J.A. Happ gets the win; Janssen the save; Tolleson the winning run; Kawasaki the game-winning RBI (right). Leaving the park was great. Music playing, people cheering… that’s the way it’s supposed to be!
Derek Jeter, always leaving the country of Canada completely satisfied, finally suffers somewhat of a bittersweet taste in his mouth leaving from a trip to Toronto. Maybe after his trip to Banff that the Jays gave him as a gift, he’ll leave more satisfied.
Jeter’s last bat in Toronto, from our seats in row 5 Photo credit: Mike Anderson
(As long as he brings just one on the List of Derek Jeter, that shouldn’t be an issue. Do yourself the favour and click that link. You’re gonna be left in awe… then jealousy. You will respect Jeter for this, maybe as much as his distinguished playing career. This list is magnificent… No. 10 just maybe below).
Actress Jessica Biel arrives for the screening of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry in New York on Wednesday July 18, 2007. (AP Photo/Rick Maiman)