As a lifelong Blue Jays supporter living on the east coast, in Toronto, I’ve always had an affinity for the western road trip. The western swing: games in Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle. And as I inch closer and closer to 30 — Dirty Thirty — there isn’t much I enjoy more than a Blue Jays game that begins shortly after 10:00 pm eastern time on a weeknight, when all the duties of the day have been completed.
Tonight, the Blue Jays kick off their first western swing of the young season in Anaheim, against the Los Angeles Angels. Ervin Santana is scheduled to throw the first pitch at 10:05 pm. And tonight, along with Monday and Tuesday nights next week when the Blue Jays are in Seattle, I’ll be kicking it old school, like I used to do so many years ago — I’ll be listening on the radio.
Back in the day, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I don’t remember if every single Blue Jays game was televised, like they are today. I don’t think they were, but it hardly mattered, back then. I was young; I’m talking between seven and 12 years old. I had to be in bed. But I remember those late games. I remember catching an inning or two on the telly, if the game was on, and then retiring to my quarters, where my Walkman and headphones awaited. I remember falling asleep to the “Voice of the Blue Jays,” Tom Cheek, and his partner, Jerry Howarth. Tom and Jerry, yo. The voice of my fleeting youth. The best.
It was 1992. That most infamous year when the World Series trophy finally traveled north. And, for some reason, I remember an 11-game road trip the Blue Jays embarked upon on April 30, beginning in Milwaukee. Toronto dropped the first three of four to the Brewers, before heading further west. Two games in Oakland, two in Seattle, followed by three in California (when they were logically called the California Angels). The Jays went 5-2 out west, and 6-5 on the trip overall, and it was then that I thought the 1992 Jays were truly something special. Truly for real. The A’s, after all, were the class of the American League West, and, upon returning home from the long road trip, Toronto swept another mini two-game series with Oakland, in front of 50,000 plus each night at the SkyDome. It was a grand time to be a Blue Jays fan.
We lived in a different world back in 1992. I remember urging myself, in the dark, to stay awake as long as I could. I had to know the result before I fell asleep. Nine years old, I felt it was the least I could do for Cito Gaston’s Blue Jays. For Robbie Alomar, and Jimmy Key. For Jack Morris, and Juan Guzman. For Kelly Gruber, and Tom Henke. For Dave Winfield, Toronto’s DH, and elder statesman.
More often than not, I was asleep by 1:00 am, and the final out. It certainly wasn’t their fault, but on those late nights, Tom and Jerry put me to bed. And, looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Come morning, I’d race to the newspaper, first thing after brushing my teeth. I needed to know if the Blue Jays had defeated Dennis Eckersley and his damn Athletics. There wasn’t usually — unless my memory has completely failed me — a game story in the paper; more proof of how different things were back then. By the time the final out was made, the paper had already gone to the presses. Sometimes we — my older brother and I — would get lucky, and our edition of the paper would have a box score of the game. Jays won? High five! Let’s get dressed for school. Jays lost? Brutal. Suddenly, I don’t feel so well.
There was no Internet. I know, the horror. In some cases, when there was no game story or box score in the papers, I’d park myself in front of the television and wait patiently for Blue Jays highlights. There was no ticker at the bottom of SportsDesk, as the show was called up in the north, either. Oh, the humanity.
Times have certainly changed. Today, every single Blue Jays game, all one hundred and freakin’ sixty-two, is televised. Hell, I’ve got television access, like most of you do I presume, to every single Major League Baseball game on any given day. Life is good.
But there has always been, and there always will be, something special about baseball on the radio. Especially those late night games. So tonight, when Vernon Wells faces the Blue Jays for the first time, I won’t be watching on the tube. I’m going to let Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby paint the picture for me instead.
Image via this isn’t happiness.