Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2009

Hi everyone:

September 1 2009 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. The event that triggered all this, of course, was the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.  When the Allies  chose to respond with a declaration of war,  it led to the bloodiest conflict in all of human history, one which would rage for the next 6 years, and not officially end until General Douglas MacArthur received the official surrender of Japan on the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay,  in September 1945.

 In solemn observance of this anniversary, I’d like to share a story with all of you that I heard at a Remembrance Day ceremony here in Hamilton a few years ago.  I had originally thought about saving this for this coming November, and then publishing it as part of a blog entry for Remembrance Day, but after giving all this some thought decided that this story is too remarkable to wait until then. This 70th anniversary is, I hope, an appropriate time to share this with all of you, my readers.

Like many of you reading this in Canada and in other countries, I make a point of going to the Remembrance Day ceremonies every November (and often also try to watch them on television – such as the national ceremonies from Ottawa every November 11).  I do this partly as a student of history, but  in particular in memory of my 2 uncles who served in the RCAF and the Canadian Army respectively. Although both Gary and Grant made it home safely in 1945, both have now since passed away. May they rest in peace.  

I find the ceremonies and related events very poignant, emotional and moving. Especially watching the military parades, complete with pipes and drums, the veterans marching by, the prayers, hymns and homilies offered at the Cenotaph itself during the main ceremony, along with all the other elements which make this an incredible and heartfelt experience every year. 

I can’t even begin to imagine what this must mean for the veterans, and in fact for anyone who lived during those years.  Made even more poignant because with the passage of time, many of our World War 2 vets are no longer with us.  Even the youngest of them would now be in his or her 80’s today.  Soon they will all be gone. Now more than ever before, it’s essential to thank them for their service, and to give them the honour and respect they so richly deserve.

I moved here from Mississauga in  September 2002,  and every November since then I have joined thousands of people at the observances at the cenotaph in Gore Park, located in downtown Hamilton and just a short walk from this apartment.  And at one such observance, the padre leading the service gave an interesting homily, and in it told the fascinating  story of visiting a veterans hospital near his parish as he often did, especially during the period leading up to November 11.

Whenever the padre visited these hospitals, his favourite question to ask the vets was something like: “If there was one person from your war years that you would like to meet again, who would it be and why?”

 One veteran answered by telling the padre about one day when his regimental unit was about to cross a river as they moved across France in late 1944 or early 1945 heading for Germany. Everything was all set to go and the operation about to commence when a man came running to their commanding officers, shouting at them to stop the operation immediately. When taken aside and questioned by the officers, the man warned them that the German units on the other side were heavily fortified and were waiting for them.  If they decided to go ahead and cross the river, they would suffer heavy casualties.

The veteran continued that apparently this was news to the commanding officers, who for some reason did not know about the Germans on the other shore. Acting on the man’s advice, they decided to halt the operation and try again at a later time with a new strategy. So the veteran mentioned that in answer to the padre’s question, he would like to meet that man again someday, shake his hand, and thank him for quite probably saving not only his life, but also those of many in his regiment.

When he finished telling this, the man sitting next to him suddenly turned to the veteran with a shocked look on his face and asked him to repeat the episode. The veteran did so. And at the end, the other man offered his hand in friendship and said something like “I am that man. Since we’re both getting older and may never meet again, here’s your chance to say thanks.”

I’m not sure at which of these Remembrance Day observances here in Hamiton that I heard this story. But it has stayed in my mind ever since as something poignant, remarkable and quite amazing.  I still remember walking back here that day after the ceremony and wondering how often someone gets to thank the person who probably saved their life.  And wondering how the veteran must have felt at the time, and the emotions that both men must have been feeling.

Thanks for reading this, and I will write again soon.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Hi everyone:

It’s late August 2009 and it has been a couple of weeks since my last blog entry. So time to return to my trusty computer and offer some further musings for all of you, my readers. Thanks to many of you who have offered positive comments on my blog entries to this point, either here in the “Comments” area, via private e-mails to me or in person. I sincerely appreciate your support and encouragement. Before we get started, another “warning” that as usual you might find this entry a bit lengthy. So if you would rather not read this, or maybe come back another time when your life isn’t so busy, I fully understand. Let’s get started.

If you have read some of my other entries, such as my salute to the Montreal Expos 40 years later, or why I don’t cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays, then you know that I am a lifelong baseball fan. And if you love baseball, then you know that we are now coming up to the best time of year. September is just days away, and for the die-hard baseball fan, that means exciting pennant races, great games with heart-stopping finishes, with the prospect of the playoffs and World Series in October coming soon.  If you’re just a casual fan, you probably don’t care much for the rest of the season – from spring training in February, to Opening Day in late March or early April, right through to the “dog days” of August. But now’s the time when I’ll wager that even you folks start to tune in as well, and get “hooked”. It’s a lot of fun.

And because I love baseball and this particular time of year, don’t be surprised if some of my blog entries between now and October or November have some kind of baseball theme. For starters, here’s something that I originally wrote in the fall of 2005, right around the time of the World Series, and which I have revised and reworked for this blog entry. As I wrote back then, and still believe today, the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is just like watching Star Wars. Before I explain why I believe this is so, allow me to take a couple of paragraphs to set this up.

As the hard-core baseball fan will tell you, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is one of the most bitter and hardfought rivalries in the game. Both teams have storied histories, proud traditions and passionate fans who live and die on every pitch. Since they both play in the American League’s East Division, and are located in cities that are fairly close to each other, there is also the tendency to “out-do” each other. The competition between the teams is fierce on so many levels, such as adding key players to their rosters. If the Sox add a “star” player to the team, the Yankees follow suit. And vice versa. It’s also no surprise that they pay these guys handsomely – both teams usually can be found in the top 5 highest paying franchises when you examine salary/payroll figures for the 30 major league baseball teams.

In the summer of 1977, George Lucas released a movie that would ultimately change the lives of millions of people worldwide, and which even today continues to impact society. That movie, of course, was Star Wars, his tribute to the Saturday morning movie serials that he used to watch growing up in southern California. Instead of the adventures of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, Lucas created his own science fiction “space opera” with a corresponding cast of characters, led by the heroic Luke Skywalker. As an aside, did you know that Lucas originally thought of calling him Luke Starkiller? Not quite the same “ring”, does it? Just as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon had battled the forces of evil, Luke and his companions fought against the Galactic Empire. And just like those Saturday morning serials, they too had to face perilous challenges, cliffhanger situations, and suspense-filled endings that left you wondering if our heroes would escape and ultimately triumph. And of course, just like Buck and Flash, they always did.

Today, over 30 years after its release, Star Wars is far more than just a movie, lovingly made by one of the most prominent filmmakers of our time as a tribute to his Saturday morning childhood memories. Same for the two sequels (and later the three prequels) that followed. In ways too numerous to explore here, it has become part of today’s culture. Especially if you’re under 40 and probably have little or no memory of the world before Star Wars. Expressions such as “may The Force be with you” are commonly used in our society. Have you “gone over to the Dark Side?” To my female readers, would you gals rather go out with Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? Guys, how about Princess Leia? Is she your dream girl? Do you wake up every morning with your clock radio or stereo playing the classic Star Wars theme? If you’re a teacher/mentor/coach, do you refer to yourself as Obi-wan Kenobi, and to your students/apprentices as Luke Skywalker? When you’re at a party, do you suddenly find yourself speaking like Yoda? Hmm. Fascinating, this subject is. Think about this more, I must. Continue with this blog entry and stop making comments about Star Wars that make this thing really long, stupid and boring to the point that my readers won’t read further, I should! Now that I have set this up, let’s look at why the Red Sox -Yankees rivarly is like Star Wars.

The Yankees are just like the Galactic Empire. George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner, is the Emperor. Manager Joe Girardi is Darth Vader. The players are all Imperial stormtroopers. And when they take the field at Yankee Stadium wearing those classic white pinstriped uniforms with the interlocking “NY” logo, they even look a bit like stormtroopers. Except for a few loyal followers, people throughout the Galaxy despise the Empire and work tirelessly to destroy it. As we learn in the original Star Wars movie, the Empire uses fear and intimidation to keep the rebel star systems in line. Same thing with the Yankees. With their proud history and winning tradition, theYankees are seen by many as an arrogant and smug bunch. Or is it really just confidence?  Either way, while I am not sure about the fear part, the Yankees can certainly use intimidation as a powerful weapon against their opponents. And just as the Empire dismissed the Rebel Alliance, the Yankees appear to do the same to their opponents, dismissing the other teams as just an insignificant and pitiful band of players who have no chance against the mighty New Yorkers.

In the Star Wars universe, the Alliance wins some minor victories against the Empire, but everyone knows who really controls the Galaxy. The real power belongs to the Emperor and his evil cohorts. Same thing with the Yankees. Sometimes other teams win the World Series, but the Yankees and their fans believe that they are really the ultimate power in baseball, and that’s only a matter of time before the World Series “comes home”. How dare the other teams even think of winning the Series. By divine rite, it belongs to the Yankees. Outside of New York, most baseball fans cheer for their opponents, and love it when the Yankees lose and ultimately end the season without a Series win. In short, the Yankees are the baseball team that everyone loves to hate. Sound familiar? That’s right – just like the Empire.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are just like the Rebel Alliance. Just as Luke Skywalker inspires and leads the gallant band of mighty warriors into battle against the Empire, manager Terry Francona does the same in Boston. In Star Wars, most people throughout the Galaxy support the Alliance who encourage them in their quest to defeat the Empire. Except for Yankee fans, most baseball fans far and wide love the Sox, and support Boston in their many battles against New York. They are everyone’s favourite team, especially when they play the mighty Yankees.To many observers, it seems like a “David and Goliath” scenario.

In 2004, the two teams met for the American League championship for the second year in a row. At first, to borrow a page from Star Wars or other movies, it seemed like the teams simply dusted off the 2003 script, when the Yankees won, and decided to replay it. The Yankees won the first two games in New York, and when the series shifted up the Atlantic seaboard to Boston, the only thing that changed was the location. The Yankees won the third game in rather convincing fashion, and had our heroes on the brink.

So in classic Star Wars fashion, we had ourselves a real cliffhanger. Just as at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back”, when Luke and his companions were in serious danger, so were the Sox. But unlike Star Wars, where you had to wait something like 3 or 4 years before you found out how things worked out, Boston and New York went at it again the next night.

The atmosphere at Fenway Park in Boston was tense. The game went back and forth, with both sides taking the lead. Now the climactic ending was here. It was the bottom of the ninth and Boston was just three outs away from the end. But then, just like our heroes from Star Wars, the Red Sox came back to life just in time. Not only did they rally to win that fourth game at Fenway, but they won the next game too. And then the sixth game back in New York. In the end, Boston fashioned one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, winning the series in seven games.

And just like the final scenes in “Return of the Jedi” when millions across the Galaxy celebrated the end of the Empire, the Sox and their supporters across New England and beyond did the same. The Empire had been defeated and order was restored to the Galaxy. The same could be said for the baseball “galaxy” too, or at least in the minds of Red Sox fans. They had finally defeated the hated Yankees and all was right in the world. A few days later Boston completed the saga by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals for their first Series win in 86 years.

That’s pretty where my original 2005 comments ended.  And if you want to see what I wrote back then –  I’m not sure if I still have it on file. But you can listen to them, via an extract from a radio broadcast done by a good friend of mine. To hear it go to my Red Sox-Yankees page as cited below and then look for the link found there to the MP3 file:

http://www.gregcbrown.com/redsox-yankees.html

Before we go, however,  let’s take a moment here and update things five years after that 2004 series. There are many baseball fans, of course, who now say that describing the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in Star Wars terms doesn’t work any more. After all, part of the charm in cheering for the Sox was precisely because they had gone for so many years without winning the Series. And with so many close calls – times when Boston really should have won and ended that long drought much sooner than 2004.

As an example, how about the classic 1975 Series against Cincinnati which many say was one of the best World Series of all time. Remember the images of Carlton Fisk’s memorable home run at Fenway in game six? He’s jumping up and down along the first base line, “willing” the ball to stay in fair territory as it travelled towards the left field foul pole. And then practically dancing for joy circling the bases when it bounced off the pole and stayed “fair”. A home run to win the game for Boston, tie the Series and force a game seven which the Reds won. 1986 in particular may be the best example of just how close the Red Sox came. One out away from beating the Mets in that year’s World Series until a seemingly harmless ground-ball went under first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove. The Mets won game six on that play and went on to beat Boston the next night to win the Series. Gee, you couldn’t help but wonder if the Sox would ever break their drought. Some called it the “Curse of the Bambino”, referring to when the legendary Babe Ruth was sold by the Sox to the Yankees, where both he and the team itself flourished. Maybe they were right.

Some might say that the Red Sox were the American League counterpart to the Chicago Cubs. The lovable losers who even when things were great would always find some way to fall short. And to bring back the Star Wars analogy, just like the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire, Boston was also seen as the underdogs fighting a powerful enemy with overwhelming odds against them. For many people, especially outside New England, this “lovable losers” image, along with so many near misses (such as in 1975 and 1986), not to mention other factors I have discussed here, would have been a primary reason to cheer for Boston.

But all that ended in 2004. And when you consider that the Sox did it again just three years later in 2007, winning the World Series against Colorado, I guess they’re not lovable losers anymore. Maybe the Cubs now take over that tag, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.

I think many ball fans out there would say there’s another reason why the Star Wars thing no longer works. In many ways Boston and New York have become mirror images of each other. It’s no longer David and Goliath. Or the Alliance against the Empire. In their quest to out-do the other, both the Sox and Yankees spend lots of money, and do everything possible to beat each other.  Baseball’s version of the arms-race I suppose. In that sense, maybe they are both Goliaths, and not unlike other teams (such as the aforementioned Cubs, New York’s other team, the Mets, or even my beloved Dodgers out in Los Angeles) who have the means to attract star players with high salaries, and do everything possible in pursuit of championships. Meanwhile, you could argue that most of the other 30 teams are Davids, and unless the current fiscal model changes, teams in cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Cincinnati or Kansas City (just to name a few) won’t have the financial resources to compete with the “big boys” such as the Yankees or the Red Sox.

But I digress, and as I noted back at the beginning, I have probably written too long a blog entry. Again. Sorry about that folks! Time to extinguish the Star Wars “light-saber”, leave the ballpark and head home. I hope you enjoyed my look at why these two storied sports teams can really be like Star Wars.

Until next time – as the Star Wars gang might say: “May the Force be with you!”

Read Full Post »

Hi everyone:

Before we start on this one – that’s right. This entry may be a bit “long” for some readers. If that troubles you, my apologies. My writing style is such that concise articles are not my thing. I tend to write rather long things, especially if it is a subject that I am really passionate about. So just as with some of my other blog articles, I won’t take it personally if you’d rather “skim” this, or just not bother reading it at all. But if you do want to read this, thanks so much for staying. And if you want to share this one with others, feel free to do so with my thanks. The same with any of my other blog articles. Ready? Fasten your seat belts and here we go.

In my last blog entry from earlier today, I wrote a salute to the Woodstock festival on its 40th anniversary. But it’s Monday August 18 1969, and things are winding down. The closing acts, highlighted by Jimi Hendrix, have left the stage. Woodstock is over. All that’s left now is for people to pack up and go home. But they will do so with many wonderful memories of a weekend that they will never forget. And leave behind a muddy farmers field and a mess of garbage and other matter that is understandable when several hundred thousand people gather in one place for three amazing days.

So now that Woodstock is over, let’s do a wee bit of time travel. We’re still in 1969, but we’re going back to the start of the weekend, to Friday August 15. And to a different place in a different country. We’re headed just a couple of hundred miles or so due north of where Woodstock took place. Join me as we journey up Interstate 87, past the state capital of Albany, followed quickly by Saratoga (home of the famous race course, as well as one of the battles in the American Revolution), through the Adirondack Mountains and then to Plattsburgh. Up the Hudson river valley and along the shores of Lake Champlain. Then a short stop at the Canadian border to clear customs and then up to Montreal. With good weather and plenty of gas, and when you factor in a couple of rest stops, probably a seven or eight hour trip north to Canada.

Now you’re in my world. Or at least the world of a 12 year old kid who, as the first act took the stage that morning at Woodstock, was looking forward to something a bit more personal scheduled for that evening, attending a major league baseball game live and in person for the first time. In 1968, the National League awarded an expansion franchise to my hometown of Montreal, to begin play the following season. The city was alive and wonderful in those days, much of it due to the recently completed Expo 67, the most successful world’s fair in history. And while our beloved Montreal Canadiens (affectionately known to fans worldwide simply as “the Habs”) had won yet another Stanley Cup that spring, there was more than just hockey on the minds of Montreal sports fans. Merchandising wasn’t nearly as big in 1969 as it is now, but in spite of that, many Montrealers of all ages could be seen wearing Expos souvenirs such as ballcaps, T shirts and jackets. The team’s red white and blue logo, as well as their tri-coloured caps that reminded many Americans of the French flag,  was an instant hit and easily recognizable all over town. They soon became “Nos Amours” and a love affair between a city and a baseball team was born.

The Expos had come to Montreal, and while we knew that as an expansion team they wouldn’t amount to much, we still loved them. You could feel the excitement all season long in 1969, from that first game on April 14 (the first major league game ever played outside the USA – which the Expos won 8-7 over the St. Louis Cardinals) to the final out in early October. And in keeping with the city itself, baseball was definitely a bilingual affair. I remember taking trips on the Metro subway system back then, and on many of the trains, you saw advertising panels that explained baseball terms in both English and French. If I remember right, the posters were called “Exposé de certaine termes du baseball”. Just imagine this fictional inning at Jarry Park outlined in both languages:

The pitcher/lanceur throws a baseball to the catcher/receveur. Was it a strike/prise, or a ball/balle? I think the umpire/arbitre missed the call. No matter – here’s the next pitch. A base hit to right field/ un coup-sur au champ droit. The runner leads off first base/premier but. Gotta watch out. Could be a stolen base/but volé. Time for the next batter/frappeur. And he wastes no time. The first pitch is hit for a fly ball out to left field/champ gauche. Man, he really got a hold of that one. Could be a two run homer/circuit de deux pointes. But  in the end, it’s not far enough and the ball is caught by the outfielder/voltigeur. One out/un retrait. Runner thinks about moving on, but decides to stay at first. The next batter again hits the first pitch. And this time it’s a great double play started by the shortstop/arret-court! Fielded the ball and stepped on second base/deuxieme but to get that runner. Then fired a bullet over to the first baseman/jouer du premier but just in time to beat the batter. Three outs/trois retraits and end of the inning/fin de la manche. No runs, one hit, no errors and no one left on base. In French, it would be something like this: “Aucune pointes, un coup-sur, aucune erreurs et aucune coureurs laissés sur les sentiers”. With apologies to my French readers if my spelling or grammar is a bit off. Written French can be a pain at times!

Just over 1 million people went to Jarry Park during the 1969 season – not bad for an expansion team. And not bad when you consider that the place wasn’t much to look at. Primitive compared to the modern ballparks of today. Little more than just some grandstands pieced together, with a small press box high overhead that provided the only shelter from inclement weather. If it looked that way, it’s probably because that’s what it really was. When the National League decided to award Montreal a franchise, one of the major problems was trying to locate a stadium in which the new team would play. Several places around town were considered, including the old Delormier Stadium that the minor league Montreal Royals had once played in. But all were rejected as unsuitable, probably for as many reasons as the locations themselves.

It was only as a last resort and practically in desperation that Jarry Park, located in the city’s north end, was suggested and finally accepted by the National League. The original stadium on the site was hurriedly renovated and expanded so that it would seat 30,000 people, but it wasn’t hard to see that it was still a temporary home and would remain so until the team moved to the Olympic Stadium in 1977. As an aside, I also attended the very first game they ever played at the Stadium, joining something like 50,000 people who watched the Expos play the Philadelphia Phillies. It remains to this day the only home opener I have ever attended in person.

On the night of Friday August 15 1969, just as the Woodstock festival was hitting its stride down there in New York State, I was indeed one of several thousand people who attended the Expos game at Jarry Park. Almost 25,000 to be precise. In primitive surroundings. Something that I would remember for the rest of my life. Lots of magic moments on and off the diamond. With interesting music supplied by the Jarry Park organist, joined by a whole host of characters – the fans. Sound familiar? That’s right. That’s pretty much what I said about Woodstock if you go back to the first paragraph of my blog entry from earlier today.

Montreal’s opponents that evening were none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers. If any of you reading this saw my earlier blog entry about the Toronto Blue Jays, and why I don’t cheer for them, you know that I have been a Dodgers fan all of my life.  Even back on that hot August night at Jarry Park, the Dodgers were my team. So when my father told us that he had tickets for the 4 of us to see the Dodgers play the Expos, I was thrilled. Like many Montrealers, I had already fallen in love with the Expos, so when you combine that with my love for the Dodgers, it meant that I would see my two favourite teams play each other.

With the passage of time, there are many things I don’t remember about the whole thing. Such as exactly how we got to the Expos game that night. Whether we drove into Montreal and then parked near the stadium, or if we took the Metro subway system and then a shuttle bus from either the Jean Talon or Jarry stations. I used both methods to go to games many times during the eight seasons (1969 to 1976) that the Expos played at Jarry Park. I don’t remember what time we arrived, or whether I might have had a hot dog or two at the game  (I was too young for beer!). I also don’t remember all the particulars from the game itself. Fortunately, I recently found a Web site that offers the entire linescore, and even a “play by play” of sorts from that night:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MON/MON196908150.shtml

But in spite of all that, I do remember that it was a lot of fun. A warm summer night. The smell of hot dogs and beer in the air. The organist, Fernand Lapierre, and thousands of others providing a festive atmosphere. Our seats were located down the first base line, perhaps the equivalent of shallow right field. Which gave us an excellent view of the action. A large and friendly crowd was in attendance, and if nothing else we were celebrating the start of another weekend. Bear in mind, of course, that this was before the age of mascots, video scoreboards and other “entertainment” that have since turned attending a baseball game or other sports event into an experience where the game almost seems like an after-thought. Given that the Dodgers won handily that night (9-2), it wasn’t a classic by any means, but still memorable. And a wonderful way to spend a Friday night. Good old-fashioned entertainment, made memorable by 2 baseball teams and thousands of passionate fans who made their fun. Who didn’t need a mascot or a video scoreboard to tell them when to cheer. But don’t get me started!

As a wide-eyed 12 year old baseball fan, I was totally in awe of both teams. It had been four years since the Dodgers won the World Series against Minnesota, and while 1969 was not a season that Dodger fans will remember, they were still pretty good. The team featured stars such as Maury Wills, Wes Parker and Willie Davis. And a pitching staff led by Claude Osteen, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton, who as the above Web site shows,  pitched a complete game that night and earned the victory, the 15th of the season.  He would win two more that year, and wind up with an overall record of 17-18. But I digress!

The Expos were, of course, the Expos. An expansion team consisting mostly of players that the more established baseball teams had considered expendable, and thus made them available to Montreal as well as to the San Diego Padres (the other team that joined the National League that year). Like all expansion teams, little was expected from them, and so we were not disappointed when they finished up 1969 with a record of 52-110. But even though other teams didn’t want them, players like Bill Stoneman, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Dan McGinn, Coco Laboy, Gary Sutherland, Bobby Wine, Ty Cline, Floyd Wicker and Bob Bailey became fan favourites. And of course no discussion of the early years of the Expos would be complete without mentioning perhaps their 2 best known players. Left fielder Mack Jones had come from the Atlanta Braves in the expansion draft, and soon became so popular that the left field bleachers at Jarry Park were known as “Jonesville”. And patrolling right field – none other than Daniel Joseph Staub, who came to Montreal from the Houston Astros. Although we knew him better by his nickname “Rusty” in tribute to his red hair. Indeed, the French media and fans took to calling him “Le Grande Orange”, and the rest of us took up the cry too. Rusty Staub became the Expos first real superstar. When he was traded to the Mets four years later, the city mourned his departure. And was joyful when Rusty returned for one last hurrah with the Expos in 1979.

That night opened up a whole new world for me.  It was a chance to see major league baseball up close and personal. Not watching on CBC television as Hal Kelly and Jim Hearn described the action. Not listening on CFCF as Dave Van Horne and Russ Taylor performed the same duties for thousands of radio listeners in Quebec, eastern Ontario, New York State and Vermont. No, this time I was really there watching in person. Since then I have lost track of how many games I have attended in person. But there’s nothing like the first time. That’s what they say about falling in love – among other things. And I think it’s true of baseball games too. Hard to believe that my first game was 40 years ago today.

Finally, a wee bit of trivia before I close off. Gene Mauch was the losing manager for the Expos that night. It was the 81st loss of the season for Montreal, and as I noted earlier the Expos would go on to lose 110 in 1969. Mauch was well known in baseball circles, among his many accomplishments was that he had managed the Philadelphia Phillies through much of the 1960’s, losing the 1964 pennant to St. Louis in the season’s final days. But when he was let go by the Phillies after the 1968 season, the Expos chose him to be the team’s first manager. I suppose the ownership and management wanted Mauch because the team had many veteran players who would respond well to a veteran manager. He stayed in Montreal until the end of the 1975 season, when the team dismissed him. I had watched him manage many Expos games, but little did I realize that I would see him manage again.

In July 1977, as part of my first trip to the West Coast to visit relatives and friends, I stayed in Seattle for several days with one of my aunts. As a thank-you to her, I took her to a Seattle Mariners game at the Kingdome in downtown Seattle. Just as the Expos had been in 1969, the Mariners were an expansion team, with similar qualities. But wouldn’t you know it, the Mariners beat the Minnesota Twins that day. And the Twins manager? You guessed it. Gene Mauch.

I cite this because that 1977 game in Seattle was the first time I had attended an American League baseball game. Gene Mauch had been the losing manager in my first National League game on that 1969 night in Montreal. Eight years later, he’s the losing manager in my first American League game in Seattle. As Mel Allen, the legendary Yankee broadcaster and former host of “This Week in Baseball” might say – “How about that!”

That’s all for now. To bring all this full circle and back to my original entry this morning about Woodstock,  once I publish this entry on my blog, I may just watch that Hendrix video again, or listen to a Jefferson Airplane CD on my stereo. Or other music from that era that is part of my music collection. Sure, a fun tribute to Woodstock and the 1960’s. But while I am listening, I will also think of that long ago night at Jarry Park with my family, watching the Expos, with all the memories that go along with it.

Play ball!!

SPECIAL BONUS COVERAGE: Ever noticed that sometimes when a ball game is supposed to be on television and it goes into a rain delay that the station will switch over to another one until the first game is ready to go? It’s sometimes referred to as “bonus coverage”.

Well I have just the thing for all you Expo fans who read my entire entry. It’s now August 2010. One year after writing the above. And recently I learned about a wonderful video tribute to the team that is on You Tube. Now I must confess that I am not a big “rap music” fan. But this one is great. The narrator does a “rap” about the Expos over the “This Week in Baseball” theme. The video closes with the wonderful words of Dave Van Horne, who just happened to be in Montreal for the Expos final game in 2004 as part of the Florida Marlins broadcasting team and offered some final Expo memories of his own.

Here’s the video:

A Video Tribute to the Montreal Expos – on You Tube

I’ll bet it will bring a tear to your eye and bring back some great Expos memories.

Until next time/a la prochaine!!

Read Full Post »

Hi everyone:

It’s Saturday August 15 2009, and this is the 40th anniversary of a wonderful event. Something that you shared with several thousand people. In somewhat primitive surroundings. With interesting music and a whole host of characters. With magical moments to savour and enjoy. An experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. Now if you’re reading this and thinking about Woodstock, you would be right. And wrong.

You’re right, because today is the anniversary of one of the defining moments of the 1960’s, the Woodstock festival. But you’re wrong because for me,  it’s also the anniversary of the first time I ever attended a major league baseball game in person, between the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers at Jarry Park in Montreal. So I will publish two entries on this hot August Saturday here in Hamilton. You can read that blog article by visiting Remembering the Montreal Expos- 40 Years Later, or you can use the link found just above this text on the right side of your screen. Let’s begin with Woodstock.

Yes, the three day music festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, New York was indeed all those things I mentioned above, and much more beyond.  And it all began on the morning of August 15 1969, 40 years ago today. I am writing this entry ca. 7:00 a.m., and I will wager that 40 years ago this minute, things were getting started. People were waking up (assuming they had slept at all from the night before!) and were getting ready for the first acts of the day, which were scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m.  Or at least that’s what your ticket said.  Sound checks being done on stage.  Everything else you would expect when a crowd of nearly 500,000 people descends on one site. And so on. Speaking of tickets,  they were originally sold for $6.00 each, good for one day.  But as the promoters began to realize how popular Woodstock was becoming, the ticket system was scrapped and free admission was offered.

If you read  my blog entry marking the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 that I placed here about a month ago (July 20), I noted that there were many “seminal” moments such as the end of World War 2, or the asasination of President Kennedy that define our generations.  Woodstock could be seen as one of those ” moments” for the baby-boomer generation, especially the older “boomers” who were born during the first ten years of the post-war era (1945 to 1955) who were coming of age during that time.  Or as comedian David Letterman has noted: “If you’re over 50 and you don’t remember Woodstock, there’s a pretty good chance that you were there!”

I sometimes wonder how many people there at the time really knew just how significant Woodstock was.  Or perhaps more important, what it would come to represent in the years since then.  As I noted above,  no one would argue today that Woodstock was one of those “seminal” moments of the 1960’s. But did the people who really did attend the weekend feel that way?  Some historians, sociologists and others have noted that Woodstock may have been the final act of the 1960’s “hippie/ counterculture” movement. What began as the “Summer of Love” in 1967,  centered in the Haight/Asbury district of San Francisco, reached its zenith two years later at Woodstock. When hundreds of thousands came to a farm not far from New York City,  from across America and the world, for a weekend unlike any other before or since.

On one level, of course, it was the ultimate 3 day rock concert –  a gathering of many of the leading musical perfomers of the day including The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Santana,  John Sebestian, Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Joe Crocker, and Joan Baez, just to name a few.

And if you think that’s mind-blowing,  how about the acts who were invited, but didn’t make it.  Joni Mitchell had a scheduling conflict, and on the advice of her manager, wound up appearing on  “The Dick Cavett Show” in New York. Tommy James and the Shondells were invited, but in those days rock music festivals like Woodstock were fairly common. They heard about Woodstock while doing a tour in Hawaii. Their manager dismissed the whole thing,  calling it “some minor music festival hosted by a pig farmer”.  Or something like that. It wasn’t long before they realized they had underestimated Woodstock, and probably regretted that decision not to attend for years to come.  The Doors had been invited, but it was well known in the music industry that Jim Morrison didn’t care much for large outdoor concerts. So it was no surprise to anyone when they decided to stayed away.

Others such as Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the Moody Blues couldn’t make it because of scheduling problems, other logistical issues, or in the case of the Byrds – they just felt “burnt-out” after playing similar concerts across the country all summer  and needed a break. But as one of their group members noted not long after Woodstock, they missed “the best gig of them all!”.

But Woodstock was more than just incredible music and arguably the greatest concert weekend of all time. On another level, Woodstock was a pilgrimage, a celebration of the 1960’s and everything it represented. It was a defining moment, an event whose time had come, but which would never be replicated or experienced in quite the same way ever again.

A reporter from the New York Times who attended the entire weekend wrote several articles about how amazing it was and that when you factor in everything,  Woodstock was acutally a great success.  This in spite of  continued efforts by his editors at the Times to emphasize the negative elements of the event. Which there certainly were.  As one might expect from a 1960’s event, there were lots of drugs and other “illicit” activities (did someone say “sex”?). Traffic jams getting to and from the festival site stretched for miles in all directions.  The weather wasn’t the greatest for much of the weekend, so at times the place seemed like a sea of mud.  Sanitary and other health conditions were a concern, especially with such a large crowd.

But for that Times reporter and others who wrote about Woodstock, those negatives were far out-weighed by the positives.  For example, it was widely reported that for the most part, everyone was polite and well-behaved. It was really about “peace and love”.  Even some of the people who lived in the area, many of whom had originally been against Woodstock, warmed to it all. One local bus driver was quoted as saying the hippies were actually “good kids in disguise” .

In summation, even with the aforementioned negatives, the thousands who came to Woodstock quickly learned to work together,  and the overall consensus was that the weekend was a great success.   In short, in the words of the 1960’s, Woodstock was a “happening”,  a place where the “vibes” were clear and positive and wonderful. It was a special time for all who attended. Something that we will never see again. In short it was a “groovy” time, man!

I mentioned earlier that Woodstock may have the final act of the hippies and the whole counter-culture “scene”.  Others have noted that Woodstock may have been both a beginning and an end.  That “scene” may have reached its final climax at Woodstock, but it was also a beginning – in the sense that many of the societal changes we have seen since then could be traced back to the 1960’s, to the “boomer” generation that would go on to have a major influence on society.  And which had their “coming out” party not just in San Francisco in 1967, but also at Woodstock two years later.  Civil rights and equality for all regardless of race, religion, or gender. A world that wouldn’t be so “uptight” or “square” about life.  These and other issues that would dominate the political and social landscape, not just in America but around the world were products of the “boomers”.  One could say much more about all this, but to coin another phrase from the era, all that’s a bit “heavy”, just a bit too “far out” for me. So let’s leave that for others to debate, or perhaps for another time on this blog.

There are, of course, countless Web sites here on the Net that pay tribute to what was officially known as the “Woodstock Art and Music Fair – An Aquarian Exposition”. Among them are the following, chosen entirely at random and based on a Google search for “woodstock 1969”:

http://www.woodstock69.com/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodstock_Festival

http://www.squidoo.com/woodstock_69

http://www.celticguitarmusic.com/woodstockmain.htm

You can even watch one of the Festival’s final acts, none other than the legendary Jimi Hendrix, online at:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3981364972665945187

Here’s another one: Jefferson Airplane performing “White Rabbit” – August 17, 1969 at the Woodstock Festival

When I made some slight revisions to this posting in August 2016, a friend sent me a link to Carlos Santana performs “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock, August 1969 This is some superb music, and deserves to be here.

I could, of course, write much more about Woodstock, the 1960’s, the 1967 “Summer of Love”, and related events. And it wasn’t just an American “scene”.  How about the role that London played during the “Swinging Sixties”. During the 1960’s, everything British was “in”. Instead of “Rule Britannia”, it was “Cool Britannia”.  Led by groups such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones,   Chad and Jeremy, Petula Clark, the Animals, and the Dave Clark Five, the “British Invasion” transformed the music world.  Carnaby Street became the fashion capital of the world.  James Bond (aka 007) was the world’s greatest spy. British, of course! Funny thing – I remember visiting London with my family in 1972. I saw Carnaby Street  and felt a bit disappointed that it was really only a few blocks long. And that such a famous location wasn’t really that different from any other street – not just in London, but anywhere else.

In future I just might write about all those things and much more. And if you want to learn more about the Sixties, why not try some online searches about some of the things I have mentioned in this article? For now, however, I think I have given you all enough for one entry. Time to exit the stage – at least for a while. I did note before that today is also the anniversary of my first major league baseball game. So I want to work on that entry and plan to publish it here later today – the second way for me to salute August 15 1969. You can read that blog article by visiting Remembering the Montreal Expos- 40 Years Later, or you can use the link found at the top of the page.

That’s all for now. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I will “chill out” here at my “pad” overlooking downtown Hamilton, and watch those Woodstock videos featuring the “hip rockin’ sounds” of Jimi Hendrix, Santana and the Jefferson Airplane, courtesy of the Web sites noted above.  To join the thousands of other “hip cats” who were present at Woodstock that day.  I’ll watch and listen to all this, which featured,  of course, Jimi’s unusual (if not a bit bizzare) rendition of the Star Spangled Banner as part of what was one of the closing acts at Woodstock on the Monday afternoon (August 18). Hard to believe it’s been 40 years. Where has the time gone?

To my all readers, especially if you’re a part of the “boomer” generation and remember Woodstock and all those other “groovy” days – peace and love to you all. Or as Mike Myers might say in his role of Austin Powers, international man of mystery, and the series of movies which in part served as his comic tribute to the Swinging Sixties: “Ya baby!”

Thanks for reading this look back at Woodstock and the 1960’s. Until next time.

Epilogue: I originally wrote this article in celebration of the 40th anniversary of one of the defining moments of the 1960’s, the Woodstock Festival. Shortly after I published it, I came across a terrific book called “The Road to Woodstock”. Written by Michael Lang (considered by many to have been the event’s prime organizer), it’s a behind the scenes look not only at the Festival itself, but also at the 1960’s decade – one of the most tumultuous times in American history. What I wrote here only scratches the surface, if you’d like to learn more, you can’t go wrong with Lang’s book. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Hi everyone:

It’s another hot and sticky August day here in Hamilton. And time for another blog entry. Sometimes it’s fun to just “rant” about something that really bothers you – things that make you wonder why people do the things they do. So from time to time I just might do this here on my blog. In that spirit, let me offer all of you, my readers, the first in an occasional series of  “rants” about things that really bug me.

Today, I want to talk about people using cellphones on public transit vehicles such as trains and buses.  Let me offer a brief prologue of sorts.  After many years of driving everywhere,  I gave up my car in 2007. My 1991 Ford Escort had simply turned into an old rust-bucket that wasn’t worth driving anymore.  As a result, because I could not afford to buy a new car (not to mention insurance, gas, maintenance…and other costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle) I had no choice but to use public transit to get around town – not just here in Hamilton, but also to other places around the region.

Yes, it did take some time to make the adjustment, but I now rather enjoy using it.  Maybe one day when I can afford to do so, I will buy another car. But there’s no rush to do that. For the most part, I find that our public transit systems here in southern Ontario, are clean, safe, efficient and affordable. Whether it’s GO Transit (the trains and buses that run throughout the GTA) or the local systems that I have used here in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto, I enjoy using them. And I have a great respect and admiration for people who work for them. The bus/subway/commuter train drivers and other staff are all great people and I salute them.

Same thing for most of my fellow passengers.  The vast majority of people I have shared those vehicles with know how to behave and there are few problems.  In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of incidents that I have seen as a passenger.  But there are some exceptions, and that’s the subject of today’s “rant”.  Now that I have written my “prologue” let’s get into it in more detail.

To be more specific,  I have a real problem with those public transit passengers who decide to use their cellphones during the trip. To the point where I have often thought that the new Ontario law banning cellphone usage by car drivers ought to be extended to public transit passengers too.

Why do I feel this way? Because in my experience, most cellphone users do not practice proper etiquette. Not to mention some discretion and/or personal privacy.  Don’t get me wrong here, I understand that the cellphone has become a vital part of today’s society. Canada in particular has one of the highest cellphone usage rates in the world. But it drives me crazy when people use cellphones on a bus or train, because in my opinion most of them don’t know how to use their cellphones properly, or to be mindful of the other passengers.

As an example of this, on a weekday afternoon earlier this summer I found myself as a passenger on the number 1 Burlington Transit bus coming back to downtown Hamilton, something which I do frequently,  if only because HAPPEN meets on Wednesdays at the Burlington Art Centre.  On this particular afternoon, I got on the bus at Mapleview Mall, found a seat near the back, and settled in for what I knew would be about a 30 minute trip.  The bus was about half full, which is typical of a mid-afternoon run, just before the evening rush hour kicked in.

A couple of stops later a young woman got on the bus, and wound up finding a seat just across the aisle from me.  It took her a moment to settle in, then she pulled out her cellphone and called a friend. Within 5 minutes, everyone on the bus knew about her entire personal life – whether we all wanted to or not.  And it was almost like watching one of the “soaps” on TV.

For starters, it seems that she had just broken up with her boyfriend, but she thinks one of her male co-workers is really “hot” and asks the other person if she ought to ask him out. And that was just the start. She kept going on about other personal stuff that I have mostly forgotten about.  She got off in downtown Hamilton a couple of stops before me, still talking on the phone without even missing a beat.

But I thought about her when I eventually left the bus, and started my walk back home. Did she realize that everyone on the bus could hear her? Did she even care? Probably not.  I’ll bet she was just off in her own little “world”, and not aware that something like 50 other people on that bus  just found out all about her personal life. Hmm! To her credit, she did not announce to all of us where she worked or name the guy she is now interested in . But if she indicated such details to the entire bus as part of the conversation, and if any of us knew this “mystery man” at her workplace, would we contact him and tip him off that one of his colleagues wants to date him? Does he like her? Should we expect to see them sharing a meal at the local pub this Friday night? Maybe they’ll be sitting in our row at the local movie theatre.  I assume the guy is single and available. OK – let’s not go there, back to my “rant”.

What happened on that recent bus trip from Burlington back here to Hamilton is only one example. I have lost count of how many times this has happened.  I’ll bet that I have heard many such cellphone conversations on public transit, perhaps much more “personal” than what this young woman discussed with her friend.  As I noted before,  I understand that cellphones are an important communication device, and that for some people it’s a way to “kill” time while on the bus, subway or commuter train.  I also fully realize that transit vehichles make lots of noise. Bus engines. Brakes. Train wheels screeching on the tracks. And you feel you need to talk louder to compensate for that and to make sure the person at the other end can hear you. But please folks, use some discretion. Yes, vehicles do make noise, but keep your voice at a reasonable volume and be mindful that others can hear you. If you’re going to discuss your love life or other personal stuff, why not do that at home, or in another location that is much more private than a bus, commuter train or subway car.

Do cellphones and public transit mix well? For the most part they do. But like many other things in life, cellphone usage requires some etiquette, common sense, and respect for your fellow passengers.  If people follow these simple steps they can make the journey far more pleasant for all of us. Not to mention avoid potential embarassment if another passenger learns all their personal stuff by listening in on the conversation and uses it against them.

Oops – gotta go. My phone’s ringing. But at least I’m here at home and I have some privacy. Bye for now!

POSTSCRIPT!! It’s November 2012 and it seems that things never change. At least they don’t when it comes to cellphone usage on buses and other forms of public transit. Seems that it is almost impossible to get on a transit vehicle without someone starting a cellphone chat along the lines of what I talked about above. And the other day I discovered a very interesting survey all about cellphone etiquette. You can access it by using this link

It’s a fascinating article and tells me that little has changed since I first wrote this entry over three years ago. If anything, it seems to me that many people just don’t get it. Their cellphone etiquette is just awful and they see no reason to change it. To be fair, however, there are some folks who do get it. Sometimes I do see people who use their phones, but they talk very quietly and are respectful of their fellow passengers on the bus or train. Sad to say, however, but I think these folks are in the minority.

At the risk of turning this into a completely different article, I wonder if much of this is a generational thing. As sociologists and others who study demographics and other elements of society could also note, my generation (as in the so-called “Baby Boomers”) are the final generation of history where using a computer is optional and we can easily recall a world where personal computers, laptops, cellphones and other “gadgets” of today did not exist. For anyone who is 30 years old or younger, they find it hard to believe. They take today’s technology for granted because in some form or other it has always been there. So being able to communicate with people anytime from anywhere (including a public transit vehicle) is no big deal for the younger crowd.

Look at how some commonly used terms in society have changed meaning through the years. When I was a teenager back in the 1970’s, a “cellphone” might refer to calling your parents from the local jail asking them to bail you out after the police arrested you and your buddies after a wild night of partying. “Surfing the Net” probably referred to some dude on a surfboard in Hawaii or southern California who while riding the perfect wave back to the beach carried a fishing net to scoop up his evening meal. We all know that today, those terms have very different meanings.

In further support of all this, I recently came across a fascinating study that talks about “digital natives” and digital immigrants”. According to this concept, anyone who is 30 or younger would be considered a “DN” for the reasons I described earlier. Those of us older than that would be a “DI” because we grew up in a world without the technology of today. Many seniors (such as my parents) have embraced today’s technology while others aren’t so sure.

It’s not just technology. The same thing has happened with many other aspects of society – if you want more proof about the world around us, how it has changed from one generation to another, and what we tend to see as normal aspects of our lives, have a look at The Beliot College Mindset List. It’s a real eye-opener. Now of course I could keep going about all this, but perhaps it’s best to examine all this as part of another blog entry for another time.

I wanted to include the “generational” thing within this discussion if only to show that our young people today have whole new ways of communicating from what my generation did many years ago. But no matter what devices we use, or how old we are, I think what we all share is that we have a sense of responsibility for one’s actions and knowing that not all forms of communication are appropriate in every place. Just as you must be careful what you put online on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter (or even what I write in these blog entries for example), I think the same is true for cellphone conversations, text messages, e-mail and other forms of electronic etiquette.

To go back to the episode I mentioned earlier, does the whole world need to know that the young woman on my Burlington Transit bus that day had broken up with her boyfriend, or that she thought one of her co-workers was a “hot” guy? I don’t think so. Just as in other aspects of life, I think cellphone users ought to practice discretion, respect for others personal space, and personal privacy.

I could go on, but I think it’s time to wrap up this postscript. Thanks for reading both the original edition of this blog and this revision. Hope you all have a great day – until next time!

Read Full Post »

This blog entry was first published in August 2009, in the context of a special Reunion weekend to celebrate the 1992 and 1993 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays. And gave me a good reason to tell people why I don’t cheer for the team. Stay tuned for “EXTRA INNINGS” immediately following this posting for an update!

Hi everyone:

A brief warning for my readers: Some of you may find this entry a wee bit lengthy. If you’d rather not read this, or only wish to “skim”, that’s fine. I understand and won’t take it personally. Thanks for stopping by, and let’s get started.

This is a special weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and their fans. It’s called the “Back2Back Weekend” – a celebration of the team’s 2 World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Last night (August 7), the team held a special ceremony prior to their home game against the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre (aka the Skydome). Not only was it designed to celebrate the achievement, but many of the players from those 2 great teams came back to Toronto to share some wonderful memories. During the game itself, the present Blue Jay players wore the same uniforms used back then in tribute to the team. I suppose the only thing that went wrong from a Toronto perspective was that Baltimore won the game 7-5. Although last night was the “focal point”, festivities are continuing throughout this weekend, and it all brings back many nice memories. And I do give credit to the team for this initiative and an acknowledgement of arguably the best two years in Blue Jays history.

As I sat here at home last night watching the pre-game ceremonies, followed by the game itself, I was reminded why although I did cheer for Toronto back then, I no longer do so today. As a baseball fan who lives in southern Ontario, I have no choice but to hear about the Blue Jays, since they are the “home team”, and the vast majority of fans in this region cheer for them. But I’m not one of them, and I doubt that I ever will be again.

So I want to talk in this entry about why this is so. For starters, it’s primarily because the Jays are not the same organization they were back then. Yes, it was a great tribute to the team’s past by honouring the 1992 and 1993 champions last night and throughout this weekend. Bringing back the players. Wearing the uniforms. But to me that was just a “one night stand”. Or a “one weekend stand”. The team and the organization are very different today from those early years – and that leaves me very disenchanted and without any desire to be a fan of the team.

Part of the underlying cause for all this, I think, is the ownership – how that has changed over the years, and how they have chosen to run the Blue Jays franchise. For roughly the first 20 years of their history, the team was owned by a consortium led by Labatt Breweries and the CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce). When Toronto was awarded a franchise to begin play in the American League in 1977, they decided to build the franchise based on successful models developed by two excellent organizations – the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals. It meant having an overall plan and purpose. An underlying structure and philosophy that could be seen throughout the organization from top to bottom and that served as a yardstick for everything from the boadroom right down to the ticket takers at the ballpark entrances, the ushers in the stands, even the hot dog and beer vendors. Doing it right, with class and respect. A commitment to excellence and being the best in everything they did. Developing a winning tradition and a proud history. It’s what they call in Los Angeles the “Dodger Way”, and dates back to when Walter O’Malley took over the team in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. The Dodgers may have moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and the O’Malley family no longer runs the team. But “the Dodger Way” is still proudly used today as the guiding principle of the entire organization, and it’s one of the many reasons why I bleed “Dodger Blue”, why I have been a passionate Dodger fan all my life, and probably always will be.

That model of excellence adopted by the Dodgers, then used by the Royals when they entered the American League in 1969, came to Toronto. Call it “the Blue Jay Way” if you like, but it worked. Even if it did take time for the seeds to germinate. Like all expansion franchises, Toronto was terrible during the early years. But led by people such as Peter Bavasi, Roy Hartsfield, Pat Gillick and Paul Beeston, the Jays continued with the “plan”. By 1984 it was starting to bear fruit. That year, everyone was left in the dust by the Detroit Tigers. They were 35-5 after 40 games and Detroit was off and running. No surprise that Motown went on to win the World Series that year against the San Diego Padres. But the runner-up team in the American League East division that year was another team based in the Great Lakes region, just a short trip down the road from Detroit. That’s right – the Blue Jays. The team was on the rise, and people began to take notice.

The following year (1985), it happened. Toronto won its first division title, and entrance into a playoff to detemine the American League championship against one of the very teams that had provided the blueprint for the franchise, the Kansas City Royals. A team that actually had a Toronto connection. The Royals were owned at the time by Ewing Kauffman and his wife hailed from Toronto. Things started off well for the Blue Jays. To the point where they built up a 3-1 series lead. Only one game left to win and Toronto would have its first ever pennant. But it was a seven game series, and to their credit, the Royals came back to tie it. Then the dramatic deciding seventh game in Toronto. It was a microcosm for the entire series. The Jays came out flying and held the lead for most of the game. But in the late innings, KC came back to win it. And then beat the Cardinals in an all Missouri World Series. After many years of trying, the Royals finally had won their first World Series. Maybe it’s ironic that the Jays had in part modelled their franchise after the Royals because Toronto would follow a similar path to their Series victories.

Just as the Royals had won several division titles before reaching their first World Series in 1980 (losing to Philadelphia), Toronto would have its share of post-season heartbreak before finally appearing there. They should have won the division in 1987, only to lose out to the Tigers on the final weekend. Division titles followed in 1989 and 1991, but the team lost to Oakland and Minnesota respectively. At long last, in 1992 and again in 1993, Toronto finally won the elusive prize. World Series champions. And the toast of baseball fans in Toronto and across Canada.

In all that time, the “Blue Jay Way”developed back in 1976 and 1977 and then adapted as necessary continued to be followed. But that began to change in the mid to late 1990’s. CIBC bowed out of the consortium, and Labatt was sold to Interbrew, a Belgian brewery that had little or no interest in baseball. That would lead to changes in ownership – eventually to Rogers Communications. Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston and others who had guided the team left for other jobs. After the 1996 season, the team abandoned the uniform and logo they had used for the first 20 years and which had become so identifiable with the team. These and other factors caused my interest in the team to decline, and eventually to be abandoned altogether.

In 2009, 17 years after that first Series win, I don’t see much of the Blue Jays from those glory days, in today’s organization. From where I sit, there is no overall plan or philosophy. The “Blue Jay Way” doesn’t appear to exist any more. If anything, it’s almost like the team’s current general manager (J.P. Riccardi) and his assistants change their tack frequently, and seem to make up things as they go along. There is no evidence of any long range plan or vision for the team. The current owners seem to be more interested in the business side of things, than in cultivating a relationship such as the original ownership group did where treating people with respect,  and the importance of doing things right really counted.

Witness the departure of long-time favourites such as Murray Eldon, the legendary public address announcer who had been with the team almost right from day-one, and who was dismissed just before the start of the 2005 season.  Some of you reading this who are closer to this situation may tell me that Mr. Eldon’s departure wasn’t as controversial or negative as I am indicating. But I recall the media was not so kind to the Blue Jays when it happened. And noted that other long-timers had gone through similar experiences. The fans weren’t impressed either, as at least a couple of Web sites representing fellow “bloggers”  noted: http://www.torontomike.com/2005/03/we_need_murray_eldon_now_more.html

http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20050314155231634

Now of course, some things are beyond our control. As an example, we also lost the immortal Tom Cheek to cancer. I still miss him, and the way he called a baseball game – he was one of the best ever. I think he was to Toronto what Ernie Harwell was in Detroit, or what Vin Scully has and continues to be for my Dodgers in Los Angeles.

For the first 20 years the Blue Jays had a wonderful uniform design, and a logo that was timeless and, classic. But the current uniform design and logo are just awful, and painful to look at in every way. I know of kindergarten art classes that could do much better. I also don’t like the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre. It’s all about entertainment, as if the game itself is an after-thought. Loud music blasting in between innings and even during pauses in play just to cite one example.  And then there are “in-game” announcers who just go on and on… It’s just awful. The whole thing is horrible, a real assault on the senses that detracts from the experience. Maybe things like the game atmosphere, the current Blue Jays logo, uniforms et al are supposed to attract a younger “hipper” demographic. But it alienates people like myself who love baseball and feel the game itself should be the prime reason for attending.

Let me offer some final thoughts on all this. If anyone from the Jays organization, or even the fans themselves read this, I am sorry folks. You have lost me as a Blue Jays fan. I sincerely doubt that I will ever cheer for the team again – at least not the way I once did. But here are a couple of suggestions on how you can “stop the bleeding” and restore some pride to the organization. And maybe even get some fans like me back in the process.

First, get rid of that silly logo and uniform design the team now uses. It’s great that the team has returned to their original classic logo and the “powder blues”uniforms that the team once wore on the road for the “Flashback Friday” home games. And that they used the white home uniform from 1992 and 1993 with the classic blue and white caps last night. But I hope the team will seriously consider going back to that design full time. Or at the very least, return to the logo and the caps. If you want to design another uniform style that uses the logo, the wonderful ‘striped’ Blue Jays lettering and so on, that would be great. Interesting that you now see the original logo more and more around town on a wide variety of clothing and in many other creative ways. That’s fantastic! I’ll bet a lot of Blue Jays fans would welcome its return on a full time basis once again. I know it’s probably too late now for next season, but how about 2011?

Second and finally, I urge the organization to go back to the “Blue Jay Way” as I have called it several times earlier in this entry. The blueprint/philosophy that the original ownership came up with back in 1976 and 1977 as a guide to running a sports franchise was based on principles and ideas that never go out of style. I realize that people like Pat Gillick and others from those days are gone and won’t return. But the philosophy of doing things right, with class and pride, a passion for excellence, respect for tradition, with an overall plan and purpose, and other elements that I noted earlier is the way to go. It’s not just my beloved Dodgers that do this. So do other teams like the Phillies, Braves, Cardinals,Yankees and Red Sox. As do teams in other sports like the Detroit Red Wings or the Montreal Canadiens in hockey. The Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers in basketball. And that’s why those organizations are successful. They know how to win. They have a plan and a purpose for getting there which guides everything they do. They are class acts and do it right.

The Blue Jays can do it too. I believe today’s organization has lost touch with its roots. Use the guiding principles and overall philosophy from that time to design a new plan that can work for years to come, and restore the Blue Jays to their past glory. We have “the Dodger Way” in Los Angeles. Toronto once had “the Blue Jay Way”, and it can and should have it again. Baseball fans here in southern Ontario who love the team deserve no less. So do former supporters like myself who have fallen away, but under the right circumstances could come back.

I could say more about all this, but I think it’s time to finish up. To put this entry on my blog and see if I hit a home run with my readers. Although I don’t cheer for the Blue Jays any more and probably never will, I have no animosity for the team. In fact, I really don’t feel anything for them, positive or negative. So I neither wish them well, or wish ill of them. I’m just totally disillusioned with the entire organization, and am completely neutral. Sorry folks, but like the classic Bruce Hornsby song said back in the 80’s; “That’s just the way it is”.

 Let’s close with some immortal words from Blue Jays history: “OK BLUE JAYS, LET’S PLAY BALL!”

Until next time – here’s a tip of my cap (the original blue and white Blue Jays one, please) to one and all. Bye for now!

EXTRA INNINGS: It’s August 2011, some two years now after I wrote the above words. Sad to say, but my feelings for Toronto’s baseball team haven’t changed all that much. I still have an intense dislike for the current logo and uniform design.

But there may be hope for those of us who feel this way – and there are many. Such as the members of a Facebook group I belong to who believe the team should bring back the original Blue Jays logo. Because it may actually be happening!! There are many rumours, stories and other coverage out there that strongly point to signs that the Blue Jays are very close to announcing a major uniform and logo change for the 2012 season. And these sources seem to indicate that this will indeed involve the return of the original logo. Uniforms? I don’t think it has to be an exact duplicate of the threads they wore up to 1996, but if they could do something very similar that would be wonderful.

I will provide an update when I learn more about these proposed changes. And instead of overhauling this blog entry – I just may write a brand new one about all this. I sure hope all this is true. Will it make me a diehard Blue Jays fan again (as I was during those “glory days”? Maybe not, but at the very least I may be more inclined to take some interest in the team instead of being totally bored, apathetic and uninterested, as I am today. We’ll see!

Read Full Post »

Hi everyone:

On the afternoon of Saturday August 1 2009, I published an entry in my blog called “Why I Hate the Summer” (and later changed to call it “Why I Don’t Like the Summer” – “hate” is a strong word and offensive to some, so I felt it might be wise to tone it down a bit. Although I think the long URL link still includes “hate” because that was its original title). It generated a lot of responses from my readers. All were very supportive and encouraging. I was even invited to join an online group catering to Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Thanks to all of you who commented – I appreciate and respect every response. Among those comments was a suggestion that perhaps what I had written was much too long and complex for one entry. That although in essence I was writing a cry for help, those who might be able to do so might not read something so long, and/or not take me seriously. It’s an excellent and well considered suggestion, one which I acted on a few days later. 

So on August 6 I decided to withdraw that posting and instead re-work it as a two part blog entry. In doing so, I have kept the essence of that original entry as intact as possible. And in keeping with the above suggestion, part 1 talks about why I don’t like summer in general terms. Part 2 looks at this from a much more personal and intimate level. I also revised this in June 2017 and as part of doing that, added some musical titles. For example, I borrowed the classic song “Summertime”, written by George Gershwin for his 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess” and made famous by many artists, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, Annie Lennox and Willie Nelson. I love Willie’s version of the song, you can hear him singing it by clicking on this link There’s also a very sweet instrumental version of the song, have a listen by clicking on this link, love it! For part two, I decided to borrow a classic song “There Aint No Cure for the Summertime Blues”, co-written by the great American rockabilly singer Eddie Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. It was first released in August 1958 and just like “Summertime” it has recorded with great success by many musicians other than Cochran, including The Who, Australian rocker Johnny Chester, Brian Setzer, The Stray Cats and The Beach Boys. And while I don’t know if he ever recorded it, I know that Jimi Hendrix sometimes sang it in concert. My favourite version is by Alan Jackson, which should come as no surprise when you consider that I love country music. you can listen to Alan do his thing right here! To all of you reading this, thanks for supporting me and encouraging me. No matter how much or little you wish to read, I wish you all the very best. Let’s now continue with part 1, which I revised in June 2017. I hope you enjoy it. 

It’s  Saturday August 1 2009, and for my latest blog entry,  I want to direct my comments to a certain season of the year. One which I suspect the vast majority of people absolutely love. But I don’t. That’s right. Summertime. The time of year when the sun shines brightest, the temperatures are at their hottest, the humidity is at its stickiest…,  you get the idea! 

So why write today, of all days? I guess it’s because I seem to have encountered one of those “perfect storm” situations where things just seem to line up in alignment. First, because it is indeed a hot, humid and very sticky morning out there. And as I start this entry, it’s not even 10:00 a.m.! But then again, it is August. The so-called “dog days of summer” are here again. 

Second, because for the most part this year, summertime has been rather cool and rainy, with temperatures below normal. Not what one might expect for the summer. And very much the same as one year ago, the summer of 2008. Which has people complaining and wondering where the “real” summer has been. I noted above that I chose to revise this article in June 2017 – and as another summer begins, we are coming out of a spring not unlike what we went through back in 2008 and 2009. A spring when for the most part here in the Toronto area it was rainier and cooler than normal. Weather that I was very grateful for, and yet caused much complaining from the majority of people who long for the hot, humid stuff we have today. I will concede, however, that the cool rainy weather did have some unfortunate side-effects. Such as flooded basements (as a couple of my friends here in Hamilton have experienced). Closure of the Toronto Islands and other tourism areas due to high water levels in Lake Ontario and other rivers and lakes in the region. I do feel for those who were affected by these conditions, and wish them well.

But for those people out there who moaned and complained when it wasn’t as warm as normal, let me say this. My my, what a fickle bunch you people are! You complain that times like summers 2008 and 2009 along with spring 2017 (just to cite a couple of examples) have been cold, rainy and just plain miserable.  But you’re also all the same people who will soon complain that it is hot and sticky. This is the very weather you asked for, but now it’s too much the other way and you don’t like that either.  You’ll also be the same ones to complain next January or February, when winter brings the cold weather and snow that I actually love and long for all year round. Yes, you people really are a piece of work. Fickle to the core! 

Third, because I have recently read a couple of newspaper columnists lamenting this cool and wet weather. The first one came from the Toronto Sun that was published in July 2009.  In it, Rachel Sa talks about how she misses the summer heat and longs for its return. It’s an interesting piece, and in a pleasant and unexpected surprise, when I worked on revising this article in June 2017, almost eight years later, I noticed it was still available. Here it is: 

http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/rachel_sa/2009/07/26/10264241-sun.html 

When I first published this article in the summer of 2009 I had also cited a couple of other columnists back then who offered similar sentiments to the lovely Rachel (which is why I said what I did in the above paragraph). But as one would expect eight years later, these columns are no longer available. No worries. In fact I fully expected that our friends at The Sun would have removed that one too. But articles like Rachel’s are all over the online world. And are written every time the weather seems cooler, wetter… or just not the ideal hot summer stuff. It’s in the media too. How many times have you turned on your local radio or television station and been greeted with something like: “OK everybody. It’s 7:42 am in downtown [name of your hometown]. Time for the weather. And you’re gonna love this forecast! Today will be sunny and warm with a high of 29 degrees Celsius (or let’s say 83 degrees Fahrenheit for our American friends). It’s gonna be hot, hot, hot. So get outside, slap on the sunscreen. Hit the beach, go for a walk… it’s go time folks, enjoy the day!” Some of you may tell me I slapped on a little more than just the sunscreen, and exaggerated a little. Maybe so. But these media folks paint this “siren call” in your brain. That you absolutely must love the summer. It’s our default setting, and if you’re someone like me who dreads this time of year, you must be some crazy weirdo who just dropped in from a distant planet. Trust me, there are many times when I hear or watch forecasts like the one above and feel like that. Hmm – did I lock up the spaceship when I landed earlier today? And did I put my keys in the lower left pocket of my shorts so I can get back inside my trusty ship and fly back home when I’m done?

I’ll bet, however, that many of you are reading this and saying they are right. Indeed, I will beat you any amount you like that if you did a poll and asked people what their favourite season of the year is, the overwhelming majority will say the summer. You love this time of year. You enjoy these warm days because they are so fleeting in this northern climate.  Especially if you live here in the northeastern part of North America, where as I noted before, 2009 is actually the second summer in a row where it has been mostly cool and rainy. You could be excused if you thought all this talk about “global warming” is really just a myth. As an aside, the whole “global warming” or “climate change” stuff is always a heated debate (pardon the pun!), but let’s talk about that another day. So like Rachel and other media types who complain when this time of year doesn’t live up to expectations, you say “bring it on, summer!”. You want the hot and steamy days. Sitting outside on the patio, beer in hand. Skateboarding at the park. Taking a dip in the pool or lying out there working on that suntan. As an aside, when I first wrote this in the summer of 2009, my mother and step-father had just returned home from Newfoundland. Where the standing joke about summer is that it lasts for a few hours – a day or two at the most, and then leaves for other parts of the globe.

And you’re probably reading this and wondering why I don’t like the summer. Why just as you long for this weather on cold January days, I long for the winter days now and can hardly wait for winter’s return. Well, dear reader, the reasons are many – probably too many to fully explain here. Let’s consider things like the fact that I get depressed in warm weather. It zaps me of my energy. I get moody, anxious and afraid of living. I just wish I could die and not have to fight this terrible season every year. When those summer temps arrive starting in mid May, I start counting the days to late September when I know the fall will arrive and it can’t come fast enough.  

For those who now want to go deeper with this subject, and discover on a more personal and intimate level why I don’t like the summer, I encourage you to now continue on by reading my next entry There Aint No Cure For the Summer time Blues – Why I Don’t Like The Summer, part two Let’s take a break, especially for those who don’t want to go further. See you back here soon!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »