The Day the Blue Jays Were Born

Mike AllderContributor IFebruary 22, 2009

Wednesday, April 7, 1977, started out a sunny, mild, beautiful spring day. I remember this because I was starting my first job that day and I had to miss school. I walked about a mile from my apartment over to Dufferin Street. I then took the Dufferin bus southbound as far as it went, to  Exhibition Park on the shores of Lake Ontario.

I then walked another mile through Exhibition Park to the Stadium. I was not at all familiar with this stadium; I literally walked around the whole building before I finally arrived at gate 10 on the south side. There were a lot of teenagers like myself hanging around with a few much older men.

It seemed like everyone but me was smoking. I knew nobody and I felt like I was the only one there without a friend or someone I knew. A large overweight man named Alfie came to the door and explained that only people with passes would get in to work today.

I did not have this pass and did not know how to get one, but I was damn sure I would be working today.

“You have to go to the Versa Foods office, and I don’t think they will be able to help you, we have enough people already,” I was told by the fat man.  The office was at the north end of the stadium so another long walk.

I walked into the office and excused myself.  “I need a pass to work," I said.

Because I had come all the way and had made the extra effort, they made me a pass. Boy, I was lucky. I got my own plastic, white credit card-like pass with my name on it. This pass was like my very own season ticket and today was the first ever game of the Toronto Blue Jays.

I would now be a part of this historic event.

By the time I arrived back at gate 10, almost everyone had disappeared. I walked up the stairs and was handed an orange smock and a numbered badge. I forget what my number was that day, but I remember I was ready and eager to sell whatever they wanted me to sell.

On this day, opening day, it would be hot dogs.

They say you never forget your first time and I had never been to a baseball stadium before so this was a brand new experience for me.

I followed the rays of sunlight flooding up the gray concrete walkway from the vendors room. It was the brand new green artificial turf that I remember most. It was so green, so new, like a big fake grass carpet.

There were Chicago White Sox baseball players just milling about, some players were tossing soft, others throwing hard. A player was inside a large-fenced, domed cage hitting balls pitched to him from a pot-bellied coach standing behind a fence partition. Outfielders that were three hundred feet away would trot over and snag the balls before they hit the new turf, many balls clearing the high padded fence bouncing around the bleacher seats before coming to rest.

I remember the sound of the ball hitting the bat; it was a different sound, a unique sound. My first impression of baseball was it seemed to be a very non-strenuous sport, a sweatless sport, more of a pastime.

Could it ever be Canada’s favorite pastime, like the United States?                                                                                                        

Back to the vendor’s room, and within the hour I was in the stands selling foil-wrapped hot dogs out of my big orange Coleman cooler. I was exchanging money and handing out packets of mustard, relish, and ketchup, like I had been doing it all my life.

Then, without warning, like some great Armageddon was approaching, the skies got black, the temperature got colder, and it started to fuck'n snow.

Hot dog sales were now very brisk that day and the tips were plenty. I was trolling the expensive seats right behind home plate and around the dugouts.

There was so much excitement in the air. We were allowed to sell anywhere we wanted, but that first game I stayed as close to the action as possible—and very close to those big-money seats.

Anne Murray sang the national anthems, and I remembered to take my hat off, but I forgot that two anthems would be sung and in between anthems, I began barking attention to my overpriced hot dogs. “Hot dogs, hot dogs, who needs a hot dog?”

Ooop's, error on the vendor right under the announcer’s booth behind home plate. Talk about embarrassing.

The umpires were introduced, and the Blue Jays took to the field. The Blue Jay's PA announcer introduced the players:

“Ladies and gentlemen, here are your Toronto Blue Jays, at first base...and pitching for your Toronto Blue Jay's right hander Bill Singer."

A Chicago White Sox player walked up to home plate. “Play ball,” I heard the umpire bellow. The first pitch by Singer was a strike; even if it had been a ball, I think the ump still would have called it a strike.

It was right down the middle—fastball, for sure.

Now back to the kitchen for another cooler of hot dogs and another commission ticket for me.

The snow eventually stopped, and the skies cleared up, but the temperature remained cold. I worked until about the eighth inning. I could not even estimate the miles of stairs I had climbed that day. The Blue Jays won 9-5 thanks to Doug Ault's two home runs and I was dog tired. (nice pun, eh?)

The best thing about being a vendor was the fact you made money while exercising, and you worked in a big league sports atmosphere. It was a great part time job.

I stuck with that job for the first two seasons. Some games I ate all my profits or blew my money at the Canadian National Exhibition midway trying to double my earnings betting on the crown and anchor wheel before the long bus ride home.

That first game was very memorable, and will always be remembered by everyone that was lucky enough to attend.

I had a devastating experience while leaving the Stadium that day. A young guy was killed right at my feet outside the park when he slipped on the slippery surface and broke his neck on a huge concrete planter. 

Not to worry though, I was at the first Toronto Blue Jay's game that day. I had witnessed history.

But what I looked forward to most that day was watching my Toronto Maple Leafs in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penquins later that night on television. The Leafs lost that game 6-4.

I guess that old saying is true "you can't win em' all."