Baseball Nostalgia at SkyDome

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (June 7) – Mother Nature provided an absolutely perfect evening on Friday for Toronto Blue Jays to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first baseball game at SkyDome – now Rogers Centre. The defending National League-champion St. Louis Cardinals were in town for a rare visit and the hottest Major League club east of the continental divide prevailed, 3-1, to the delight of more than 33,000 fans.

My own delight was three-fold: Having my son, Shane, with me; visiting the Sportsnet-590 radio booth and Rogers Centre press box before the game, and watching a reprisal of the first pitch thrown in the ballpark on June 5, 1989, which I covered. I had my trusty NIKON with me to record the occasion and several moments from the Toronto-St. Louis game:

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THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS HAVE BRILLIANT COLORS AND ARGUABLY THE BEST JERSEY LOGO IN ALL OF PROFESSIONAL SPORT. HERE, FIRST-BASEMAN ALLEN CRAIG STANDS IN FRONT OF BLUE JAYS COUNTERPART EDWIN ENCARNACION.

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ON MY WAY INTO THE BALLPARK, THE C.N. TOWER BLOCKED OUT LATE-DAY SUNSHINE.

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REMEMBERING THE “TOUCH ‘EM ALL” GUY: SHANE (TOP-RIGHT) AND I SPENT A FEW MOMENTS WITH MY LONG-TIME PAL AND FORMER COLLEAGUE JERRY HOWARTH – CO-RADIO VOICE OF THE BLUE JAYS SINCE 1982. IT WAS TEN YEARS AGO THIS WEEK THAT JERRY’S INITIAL PARTNER – TOM CHEEK – HAD TO MISS HIS FIRST BLUE JAYS GAME AFTER 4,306 CONSECUTIVE BROADCASTS. TOM’S FATHER HAD DIED OF A HEART ATTACK IN MONTEREY, CALIF. WHILE THE JAYS WERE IN OAKLAND. TOM WAS BACK THE FOLLOWING NIGHT BUT HE’D BEEN MAKING AN UNUSUAL NUMBER OF MISTAKES WHILE CALLING THE PLAY. ONCE BACK AT THE RADIO BOOTH IN TORONTO, JERRY NOTICED THAT TOM WAS REPEATEDLY CLUMPING UP PIECES OF YELLOW PAD-PAPER AND TOSSING THEM ASIDE. WHEN HE ASKED WHY, TOM SAID HE COULDN’T GET PAST THE FIRST LINE OF HIS BROADCAST OPENING. THAT STARTLED JERRY AND WHEN TOM – LATER – MENTIONED HE DIDN’T KNOW HIS HOME PHONE NUMBER, JERRY IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE BLUE JAYS’ CLUBHOUSE AND ASKED FOR TEAM DOCTOR, RON TAYLOR, WHO HURRIED UP TO THE BOOTH. TAYLOR ACCOMPANIED CHEEK TO MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL THAT DAY AND A C-T SCAN OF TOM’S HEAD REVEALED A DEVASTATING BRAIN TUMOR – MALIGNANT AND VERY AGGRESSIVE. TOM UNDERWENT SURGERY BUT HIS PROGNOSIS WAS POOR. HE SURVIVED A SECOND OPERATION AND A DAY AT SKYDOME DEDICATED TO HIM, DURING WHICH HE MADE AN EMOTIONAL, HEART-FELT SPEECH, KNOWING THAT TIME WAS RUNNING OUT. TOM DIED ON OCT. 9, 2005, LEAVING HIS WIFE SHIRLEY; CHILDREN JEFF, LISA AND TOM JR. HE WAS 66 AND WILL FOREVER BE REMEMBERED FOR HIS LEGENDARY CALL OF JOE CARTER’S WALK-OFF HOME RUN THAT WON THE 1993 WORLD SERIES AT SKYDOME OVER PHILADELPHIA. “TOUCH ‘EM ALL, JOE,” TOM EXULTED, “YOU’LL NEVER HIT A BIGGER HOME RUN IN YOUR LIFE!”

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TO COMMEMORATE THE FIRST BALLGAME AT SKYDOME, THE BLUE JAYS REUNITED 1989 MANAGER, CITO GASTON, AND THE BATTERY THAT HANDLED THE FIRST-EVER PITCH: LEFT-HANDER JIMMY KEY AND CATCHER ERNIE WHITT (ABOVE AND BELOW).

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JIMMY KEY THROWS CEREMONIAL PRE-GAME PITCH TO ERNIE WHITT.

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AFTER SLUGGING A REMARKABLE 16 HOME RUNS IN MAY, EDWIN ENCARNACION POSED WITH VETERAN TORONTO SUN BASEBALL COLUMNIST KEN FIDLIN (TOP-RIGHT) WHILE RECEIVING A CHEQUE FROM HONDA AS THE BLUE JAYS PLAYER-OF-THE-MONTH.

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AS MENTIONED, IT WAS A SENSATIONAL WEATHER NIGHT ON FRIDAY IN DOWNTOWN TORONTO, ALLOWING FOR THE SKYDOME ROOF TO BE RETRACTED. ??

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IN A CEREMONIAL GESTURE, CITO GASTON PRESENTED TORONTO LINE-UP TO THE UMPIRING FOURSOME OF JIM REYNOLDS (77), MANNY GONZALEZ (79), CREW CHIEF FIELDEN CULBRETH (25) AND BRIAN KNIGHT (RIGHT), WHO WORKED THE PLATE. GASTON SHOOK HANDS WITH CARDINALS MANAGER MIKE MATHENY.

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MORE NOSTALGIA: CITO GASTON WATCHED THE GAME FROM A BOOTH BEHIND HOME PLATE WITH HOWARD STARKMAN (ABOVE), THE BLUE JAYS FIRST (AND RECENTLY RETIRED) DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS. GASTON AND STARKMAN WERE LATER JOINED (BELOW) BY RETIRED TORONTO STAR COLUMNIST DAVE PERKINS, WHO COVERED THE BLUE JAYS DURING THEIR WORLD SERIES YEARS IN THE EARLY-90’s.

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ST. LOUIS THIRD-BASEMAN MATT CARPENTER (13) STANDS NEXT TO ADAM LIND OF THE BLUE JAYS – BOTH IN FRONT OF CARDINALS FIRST-BASE COACH CHRIS MALONEY.

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TRIPLE-PLAY: THERE HAVE BEEN THREE TRIPLE-PLAYS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SO FAR IN THE 2014 SEASON. THE MOST RECENT WAS TURNED BY ST. LOUIS IN THE SIXTH INNING OF FRIDAY NIGHT’S GAME. WITH THE BASES LOADED, JOSE BAUTISTA HIT A SHARP LINER TO SECOND-BASEMAN DANIEL DESCALSO, WHO FLIPPED TO SHORTSTOP JHONNY PERALTA TO DOUBLE OFF JOSE REYES. PERALTA THEN THREW TO FIRST BASE TO RETIRE MELKY CABRERA, WHO COULD NOT SCRAMBLE BACK IN TIME. IT WAS THE CARDINALS’ FIRST D-P SINCE MAY 5, 2005 AND THE SEVENTH THAT BLUE JAYS HAVE HIT INTO SINCE THEIR INCEPTION IN 1977. SECONDS AFTER TRIGGERING THE RARITY, BAUTISTA (ABOVE) WALKED BACK TO THE TORONTO DUGOUT WITH TEAMMATE ANTHONY GOSE (ON THIRD BASE AT THE TIME) ALSO STUNNED. THE TRIPLE-PLAY WAS NOTED (BELOW) ON SCOREBOARD WHEN BAUTISTA CAME TO BAT TWO INNINGS LATER.

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ST. LOUIS RIGHT-FIELDER OSCAR TAVERAS (18) COMES TO THE PLATE IN FRONT OF BLUE JAYS CATCHER DIONER NAVARO AND UMPIRE BRIAN KNIGHT.

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THE CROWD AT ROGERS CENTRE WAS 33,528 – STILL 16,000 SHY OF CAPACITY.

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ST. LOUIS RELIEVER JASON MOTTE (30) AND SECOND-BASEMAN DANIEL DESCALSO (33).

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IN MEMORY OF THREE CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICEMEN SHOT TO DEATH IN MONCTON, N.B., THE C.N. TOWER WAS BATHED IN R.C.M.P. COLORS OF BLUE, GOLD AND RED.

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