“Let’s go Blue Jays!”

If you’ve ever been to a Blue Jays game, it’s likely that you’ve seen Rick, the “Blue Jay drummer”. I sat down with him awhile back, looking to get his ‘story’ … here’s the result …
I can’t be more than 30 yards from the CN Tower when I first spot him. In all fairness, he’s hard to miss. Besides the loud drum beats and microphone headset, Rick Donaldson wears a replica Blue Jays jersey and cap, not to mention a wide smile as he engages the passersby.
“Let’s go Blue Jays!”

It doesn’t get old. He’s been belting out the same chant since 1989, yet every game — no fail — his fan base grows. That’s because every game brings a collection of individuals that have yet to experience the ‘Blue Jay drummer’, as he is more widely known.
“When I first came here, I came with a saxophone player — the late, great Dougie Richardson,” said Donaldson during a short break from playing. “We used to play between Gate 7 and Gate 6. There was a gentlemen named George Holmes who used to be the operations manager [at SkyDome], and he saw us out there playing and he said, ‘I want this every weekend’.”
But that’s not where this story starts. Donaldson’s career as an entertainer actually began in his hometown of Chicago. Alongside three horn players, he performed at White Sox, Cubs, Bulls and Bears games, and was also a member of a five-man band that toured around North America. His first trip to Toronto, in fact, came while on a Canadian tour.
“I did pretty well doing this in Chicago,” said Donaldson. “We had a very entertaining group. This type of entertainment has always been a part of me, and it’s something I realize I can’t ignore.”

Soon, Donaldson realized something else he couldn’t ignore: that the city of Toronto would soon be his new home. That was because the drummer met his future wife in Ontario’s capital in the middle of the band’s Canadian tour. In fact, Donaldson returned to Toronto for good following the tour’s last leg.
It was on his way out east that Donaldson first spotted the SkyDome. “On my way back to the airport, the Rogers Centre — well, the SkyDome back then — wasn’t even finished yet,” he noted. “And when I looked at that building I said, ‘that’s gonna be mine’.”
And so it was, as Donaldson and Richardson began playing as soon as the SkyDome opened up for business in June of ’89. But it wasn’t too long before it became a one-man show. “A year later, Dougie got married. We came into the All-Star game and we were doin pretty well. We won the division. And after that, when Dougie left, they said, ‘Well, just keep it the way it is. You’re doin great’. So I’ve been doin it myself ever since.”
For Donaldson, it’s simple. “I love doing it. You gotta put the love first, and then the money will come. When you focus on money, you don’t make money. It’s really easy. Have fun.” He’s certainly not the only one who has fun. As I sit and watch him play, you can see the enjoyment from the fans as they make their way into the stadium — youngsters especially. There’s a particular little one on this day who had been hoping to see Donaldson play (as told to us by his father).

“Hey, that’s a neat popsicle you got,” says the drummer, as the boy’s face lights up. “Let’s go Blue Jays!”
It’s not hard to see that Donaldson loves interacting with kids. Fortunately, he gets the chance to do so on a regular basis as a music teacher at Selwyn Public School in Toronto. “I teach a lot, so a lot of my focus is on my students. I’ve got students in grammar school that are preppin for high school. I’ve got students goin to high school that I’m preppin. Teaching is a big part of my life. That’s my bread and butter,” said Donaldson, who took music education at Eastern Illinois University.
Donaldson’s arrival on the scene in Toronto also coincided with the beginning of the Blue Jays’ ‘glory years’, which brought a lot of joy to the city and to the country as a whole. In 1991, the year before the club made its first appearance in the World Series, Toronto played host to the MLB All-Star game, which brought some of the game’s finest to the city.
It was then that Donaldson enjoyed one of his most memorable moments ever as the ‘Blue Jay drummer’. While playing his set, he noticed a familiar face in the crowd. It was Hank Aaron, the most prodigious home-run hitter of all-time. “I met Hank Aaron right here,” said Donaldson, whose face immediately lit up — not unlike the young boy just moments before. “He stood right here and watched me play drums. I just went and shook his hand. I was like, ‘I don’t even know what to say’.”
He knew what to say last year, though, when he met Ferguson Jenkins, his childhood hero. “He was signing autographs,” said Donaldson. “I shared with him me bein a kid, growin up in Chicago, how he was my idol. We used to try and sneak into the games at Wrigley Field. Fergie was amazing. We got into a good conversation. He was quizzing me. He got really excited talking to me. It was really fun.”
Among Blue Jays players, Donaldson has had a lot of favourites come and go. Currently, he’s a big Troy Glaus fan, which makes sense. After all, they both own World Series rings. Donaldson would have a pair of them, in fact, had he not lost one a few years back. “I was doing a lot of acting years ago,” he started. “I was doing an audition for a detective part. I came here. I had to jump into a taxi, and when I jumped out it must have fallen out onto the ground.”
That won’t happen again, he insists, noting that he only wears the other ring when going out on the town with his wife. As for his thoughts on being one of only a handful of people left in Toronto with a World Series ring, Donaldson is quick to point out how appreciative he was to get one. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen to me.”

Though a shaky start to the 2007 season has done nothing to evoke thoughts of a World Series for Blue Jays fans this year, Donaldson remains optimistic. “It feels rough,” he admits. “But I think we can prevail. You never know. We just need a little more pitching, a little patience, and I think some other things will start happening for us.”
One thing’s for sure: win or lose, Rick Donaldson will be outside the Rogers Centre leading the cheers. Which reminds me — I have taken up far too much of the man’s time today. So, without further adieu …
“Let’s go Blue Jays!”
With special thanks to amchow78, here is a glimpse of Rick doing his thing …

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One Response to ““Let’s go Blue Jays!””

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