TORONTO, Ont. – As the Toronto Blue Jays’ lost season winds down, people’s attention turns to hockey and football, crowds at Rogers Centre dwindle and I get the occasional caller on The BlueJaysTalk who not only expresses disappointment and frustration with this year (if not abject devastation) but who asks why one should even bother coming down to the ballpark.
My answer always is that there’s utility in the act of simply going to see a major league baseball game. That something could very well happen that you’ve never seen before. That it should be fun and exciting to watch these athletes make you jump out of your seat with great plays and big hits, to root, root, root for the home team and hearken back to the days when fans were behind their team, win or lose.
But the other night, I was reminded of another wonderful reason to head down to the ballpark when I watched Jose Reyes lead off the bottom of the third by taking the Angels’ Garrett Richards deep to tie a game the Blue Jays would end up losing, getting swept by the Halos as part of their penultimate homestand of the season,
They're 1-5 on the homestand so far, with Sunday's loss to Baltimore all but mathematically eliminating them from a wild-card race they've been nowhere near for a couple of months now, and yet that Reyes home run on Thursday night gave at least one Blue Jays fan the night of his life - and it happened to be one of my oldest friends.
I met Walt Morose back in 1988, when he joined a baseball sim league (way better than fantasy/rotisserie) that I helped to co-found the year before (it's still going, into its 27th season, and Walt and I had an epic, down to the wire battle for the league's best record last year). He was 16 years old, I was 18, and we have been friends and competitors ever since, through his years at Trent University, then teacher's college up at Lakehead, our marriages and kids and so on. All the things in life that can get in the way and cause people to drift apart, but baseball has kept us together and been the common thread throughout our friendship, as it has been throughout so many relationships - friends, families and more - there's a very good reason the game has been so romanticized throughout the generations.
About a minute after Reyes went deep, I got an e-mail from one of the other league members. It was empty, but the subject line was "Walt caught Reyes' home run."
It was a lot more than that, though. I'll let him tell the story:
"So we're at the game, in our seats out in the 100 level outfield, when Reyes steps up, and gets a hold of one. It came at us fast, and I stood up. I remember yelling that it was coming right towards us, and then it was down in the seats on the other side of the aisle, two rows away. I started running down the stairs, and I knew once I was the first one into the aisle that the ball was mine. Watching the video afterwards I saw other people moving towards it too, but I was completely unaware of them - it was just me and the ball - I guess I was in the zone. Luckily I still move pretty fast (personal aside - sure you do)."
And it wasn't just that Walt wound up with Reyes' home run ball, he beams with pride watching his 10-year-old daughter Maya inspect the baseball.
That moment brought Walt back full circle, as it does for us all, bringing back memories of his late uncle, Ted Pordage, a Blue Jays season ticket holder from Day 1, who nurtured his nephew's love of baseball.
"He had four tickets, and I was lucky enough to often be taken down to the games. While I always enjoyed it, in 1985 I really got into it, and it's never really gotten out of my system. Baseball has always been my favourite sport, to watch, to play, to read about, listen to, simulate, even the video games. I really owe my love of the game to Uncle Ted, and it's because of him taking me as a kid that I did what I did this year."
What Walt did this year was pick up a 10-game flex pack for the first time, as many Blue Jays fans who are now frustrated, upset and disappointed with the way this season has turned out (and rightly so) did. And he did it not just to indulge his great love of the game, but to pass the baton.
"I've gone to at least a few games every year, fewer since my Uncle passed away six years ago. With small kids, it's been harder, but now as they're getting older, I was thinking the time had come, and it coincided nicely with the excitement around the team," Walt told me as the wave of euphoria continued to swell over him.
"My goal was to get my own kids out to games, and also to take both of my nephews, who'd never been. I managed to accomplish both, but Maya (since she started playing softball this year, she said "Daddy, now I really GET IT!") has been to three games with me this year"
The fourth game Walt and Maya attended together just happened to be on the elder Morose's birthday - the first time he'd ever attended a game on September 12th - and his gift was that Reyes homer.
"To say it was a thrill is beyond an understatement. I've been going to games my whole life, pretty much (somewhere between 300 and 400 in all), and I've never even been close to getting a ball before. My daughter got a batting practice home run thrown up to her from the bullpen earlier this year, and that's the closest I've ever gotten. It's always been a few rows away, or ten seats down, or just far enough away to be impossible for me to get."
And with that beyond-a-thrill, a mild-mannered middle school teacher from Scarborough has done what all of us hope to do. In that one moment, not only did he live a lifelong dream, but in the one moment, he got his daughter to fall in love with this great game. In a loss, in a sweep, in a lost season, the torch has been passed.