Wow. A 10-day absence from a blog is fairly inexcusable, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, life got in the way a bit, folks. Good to be back though. Have some catching up to do. But first off, let’s turn things over to Allen Ford. The Jays may be on the road tonight, but here’s a bit of a Flashback Friday anyway …
Allen Ford is a former member (1985-87) of the grounds crew at old Exhibition Stadium (also affectionately referred to as ‘the mistake by the lake’). He’s posted previously at The 500 Level here and here. Today, he tells us what stands out most in his memory from those days …
When I think back to my two years on the Toronto Blue Jays grounds crew, I am surprised with what I remember.
I mean, why should I remember Burt Blyleven deliberately tripping himself so he could spill a bucket of balls, yet Don Mattingly, who I thought was God in Pinstripes, barely seems to register in my consciousness?
And so when I think back to those two I wish there where things and players I remembered more clearly.
There is one memory though that I cherish more than the rest. To me, it symbolizes just how friggin’ darn lucky I was to be on the grounds crew.
Back in the day, first pitch at home games was 7:30 pm. That meant at 6:50 pm batting practice for the visitors concluded and all the equipment had to be removed from the field in order to begin prepping the infield for the game.
It was a well-orchestrated drill with every grounds crew member designated specific equipment to roll off, pick up and clear away.
And while it was a fun little team exercise because there was always an informal race to see who got off the field first—usually the guy taking the second-base screen won since he had the shortest distance to run to the left-field entrance—there were three positions that were distinct from the rest.
If you were one of the three guys who had to roll the batting cage away, you had the chance to be as close to major league baseball as the job allowed.
You see, while the other guys couldn’t actually cross the lines until BP had finished, the guys on the batting cage were allowed to be at the cage a couple minutes before 6:50 because the act of rolling up the carpets that sat under the cage to protect the home base dirt area was an unofficial signal to the players to take your last cuts as BP was wrapping up.
So, once the scoreboard showed 6:45, the three guys on cage duty made their way to home plate. And once there, you did what everyone else did: lean against the batting cage watching the players take their hacks.
For those three minutes though, there was no cooler place in the world. Listening to the players shoot the shit, hearing the smack of the ball from six feet away and admiring the arc of it as it sailed way into the bleachers was everything you could imagine it to be.
But there was one three-minute stretch where all I could do was look to the guy leaning on the cage next to me.
It was Reggie Jackson.
Sure, he was with the California Angels at the time, but he was still Reggie. He was still Mr. October. He may have asked how the weather was looking, or at what time the carpets were coming up, I honestly can’t remember. I can tell you though that leaning on the batting cage next to me watching batting practice wearing those slightly nerdy glasses and the old school batting helmet and with forearms the size of thighs was Reggie Jackson.
In our lives’ most enjoyable occasions, we can sometimes gauge the moment. You may be laughing, shouting, or deep in a conversation, but you can somehow step away from the activity and sense how much fun you are actually having. Amongst those moments though are the rare ones when you are blessed with the realization that the moment is singular, that it won’t be repeated.
For those three minutes I remember thinking, ‘this is it, this moment will not be repeated.’ And so when people ask me ‘what was it like to be on the grounds crew?’ I always think of standing next to Reggie Jackson.
Allen Ford now lives and works in Ottawa as a graphic designer and still thinks about Fred McGriff’s sweet and languid stroke.