Well this should at least be entertaining for everyone.
Put me in any ballpark with any team and I am just happy to be there – score, seats, obnoxious Yankee fan sitting next to me…I’m cool with all of it. I just love the game. Put me in a stadium with the Jays though and it’s like I’m 12 again. I’m right down there when the gates open and reach a dead sprint about ten steps into the stadium, just to get down to the dugout and watch BP and get a few autographs.
Last year, when the Jays were going to hold the monumental reunion in Toronto, I got a tonne of stuff to bring with me and try to get signed by my childhood heroes. Everything went great and I even managed to come back with a few spares- notably a 1992 World Series ball (I had hoped to get Jimmy Key but you can’t be everywhere at once).
This year, as with every baseball season, a bunch of my friends and I all went down to Seattle for the two days that the Jays were going to be in town. Knowing that it was going to be Cito’s last season with the club I brought that ’92 ball just in case I could get him to scribble on it.
Now, I like to think of myself as a very polite and understanding ball fan. I never get in the way of little kids, I never bad mouth anyone for not sticking around for (just one more) and I always respect the fact that these guys are busy and they have a job to do/prepare for pre-game. I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. The other years that I’ve been around ball diamonds Cito would usually give a friendly wave and a small smile and then go about his business.
I’d arrived at Safeco with a buddy early for the first game of the series. We managed to get a great spot right on top of the dugout and watch the pregame ritual. Then Cito stepped into view from underneath the dugout roof talking to one of the local media guys. Instantly the crowd of fans around me (myself included) all gave him an ovation with chants of “You’re the best Cito” and “We’re going to miss you” interwoven in the clapping. He waved and smiled, holding a coffee cup that he’d sip every so often. We all started asking if he wouldn’t mind signing “a shirt, a bat, a card.” In a clear voice I asked “Cito would you mind signing this ball I have?”
He looked up at me (first reaction – Good god, this great man of Baseball is looking at me). He raised his hand up and gave me a bit of a nod. I then gave that coveted ball a light but perfect toss straight to his hand.
His smile disappeared as he caught the ball. He looked at me and said “I’ve still got my coffee here.”
Silence, the fans on either side of me who were within earshot looked at me as my jaw dropped and my heart made a ball sized hole in the Safeco field concrete.
“You know you’re supposed to wait until I point to you.”
Apologies started spilling from my mouth frantically in a giant ramble that could hardly be considered a sentence.
“I’m so sorry I thought you were trying to get me to toss the ball down I hope you didn’t spill your coffee I didn’t mean to I’ve just been saving this ball for a while and…”
He disappeared under the cover of the roof just long enough to set down his cup and then gestured to me to toss down a pen. He looked at the ball with the official red printing and logo, gave it a bit of a smile and then gave it a well aimed toss back up to me. “Thank you so much Cito. I’m really sorry about that.” He brushed it off with a bit of a wave and then gradually worked his way through the throng that had gathered around me as he signed autographs for a good ten minutes before getting back to the business at hand.
My jaw was still on the floor. I turned to my friend “I thought he wanted me to toss him the ball.” “It’s okay dude I thought he did too, besides he smiled after.” A couple of more voices piped up that they might have made the same mistake (one of them was one of the Mariners employees stationed on top of the dugout) which made me feel a lot better.
One of the things that has always struck me throughout the years of being a Jays fan is the respect that Cito commands. He has brought out the best in his players and team as a whole, fans of the Jays and he alike, and, in some ways, he has helped bring out the best in the game in a Canadian cities coast to coast. As a result, he is sometimes revered, sometimes criticized (as all people in sports are) but always respected. For all that you’ve done to make baseball exciting in Canada, and especially for one fan, thank you Cito. The Hall is waiting for you.