Saturday, April 7, 2012

Baseball in the Snow

It's 12 degrees and brilliantly sunny here in Toronto on this April 7th, a Saturday afternoon in 2012. Our windows are open at home and I am looking forward to settling in shortly to watch the Blue Jays take on the Cleveland Indians in the second game of the season.

But it wasn't sunny or warm 35 years ago today. Not by a long shot.

I was at that very first game at Exhibition Stadium in the snow, sneaking out of school on a fake note along with a good number of my classmates. Alas, all the poor grandmothers that took their last breath that day, only to bounce right back that evening as if they had not been struck down by the cruel hand of fate (and bad penmanship) late on that Thursday morning.

I have recently read that the Blue Jays received over 400,000 requests for tickets for that game. I believe the old park held somewhere around 45,000 at the very best of times, so I can honestly say I have no idea how so many of us from my school were able to find ourselves in attendance for that historic occasion. I do know there was no way I was missing it, not even if I had had to scale a wall to get in.

This day was one of the very few times that I actively sought out a seat high in the left field grandstand, well up under the roof. For the next 11 1/2 seasons my friends and I regularly grabbed places in the sun; in point of fact, we sat in Section 36, Row 17 (Seat 13 for me most of the time) so often that we practically had season's tickets. We found that row to be a good blend of being just high enough up to allow us to see through the mesh at the top of the outfield wall, yet low enough for us to receive a good 4-6 innings of sunshine, depending on the time of year. But not April 7, 1977. We took the streetcar to the park in frosty slush (I don't recall it really snowing heavily until after we had arrived there, nearly two hours before the first pitch) and made a beeline for the upper reaches, well out of the direct impact of the precipitation. (I don't recall what section we were in, but we weren't far from the left-field foul line.) Having been to quite a few Expo games by that point, I was practically a veteran of live Major League ball; the same could most certainly not have been said for a vast majority of the youth that were at the park that day. But it really didn't matter: I can say with 99.9% certainty that not only had nobody else ever watched a Major League baseball game take place in the snow, but it's likely they've never seen it happen since, either.

Anne Murray with Roy Hartsfield (left) and singing O Canada

Most of the rest of the day was a blur to me. I like to think I remember a lot about the game itself, being a true aficionado of the sport, but the simple truth is that much of what I "remember" I have read about in myriad transcripts and recounts of the day's events in the 35 years that have passed. I remember Anne Murray coming out in the parka (red, I believe) to sing O Canada (the picture I have included was the only one I could find anywhere on the internet, oddly enough). I remember feeling that the very first pitch - delivered by Bill Singer to Ralph Garr - was fairly wild but was called a strike anyhow and immediately thrown out of play. I remember the same Garr walking to open the game and the White Sox eventually scoring two runs in the top of the first. And, of course, I remember Doug Ault's two homers to lead the Jays to victory in that first-ever game, 9-5. (If you have any doubts as to the veracity of any of this, here is the boxscore.)

I did not miss a single home opener for the Jays until 1994, when I simply was not able to buy a ticket before it sold out. Once the 17-year streak ended for me, I was only ever at one more - a few years ago. But it was a great tradition for me while it lasted; why, I even managed to score a ticket for the first-ever game at the SkyDome in 1989 (after attending the last-ever game at the old, broken-down Exhibition Stadium with my 2-month-old son a week earlier). I miss the old, crappy ballpark - mainly because I could get in for $2 for most of my young adult life ($1 if you had a Dominion coupon!) and sit in the sun on pretty much any day you wished, provided you got to the park early enough. I think my friends and I went to close to 60 games in the 1984 season alone.

But I never again saw them play in snow. I doubt anyone has.

A poster from that inaugural season


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