After years of terrorizing our own shores, around 2000 a rowdy bunch of Bleacher Creatures decided to steer – en masse – to Toronto to bring a taste of the Stadium bleachers to our friends to the north. I made three of these annual trips, possibly four, and remember about 1.2 of them combined. Thanks to my scorecards and notes, stories told over the years in campfire fashion amongst the Creatures, around sandboxes in the park or over bleacher benches, and road trip accounts printed over the years by bleacher luminaries like Grover and MetsSuckBalls Marc (aka Balls), the tales live on. There are so many stories, so we’ll revisit Toronto and for now I will simply cover “The Lunchbox Incident, “The Wacky Wall of Death” and “The Beer Line Tragedy.”
The first time I saw the SkyDome I was agog. After years of being confined to the Yankee Stadium bleachers like a pea in a pod, even the humongous walkway behind the outfield seats was something I wanted to buy a drink and attempt to make love to. I was enamored. I’m in no way saying I wanted the Yankees to play their home games in this flying saucer instead of the legendary “House That Ruth Built,” I was simply glad I was able to get up and walk around. (Oddly enough, now this wraparound walkaway has made its way behind the bleachers in the new Yankee Stadium and I’ve about had my fill of it, but that’s a blog for another day.) I’m sure the fact that there weren’t many people at these games in Toronto as there are at your average Yankee Stadium tilt has something to do with it. (I’m not too much a fan of people.) But wow, what Toronto did with it! There were beer vendors everywhere and spacious bathrooms and guys playing bagpipes for our entertainment! I was even fascinated by the simple things surrounding the place, though some try to pass them off as “engineering marvels” such as watching the roof closing overnight from our room overlooking the playing field.
The fans were nice, at times amused by our antics, at other times somewhat befuddled. They were possibly scared, although we were full of joy, and not menace. We were pretty much a traveling road show. From Roll Call to raucous choruses of “The Saints Go Marching In” just for the hell of it, it was always a nice time in Toronto. And picture this: anywhere from 20 to nearly 60 Bleacher Creatures, tucked into the right-field seats, and then running rampant through the streets. Anything you can imagine that would happen when you transplant this sort of group to another country pretty much did. (I’m still clearing it with people what can and can’t be told, and signing contracts to that effect.)
Around this time I remember the Yankees giving away such trinkets as a cap that had a sponsor logo from Waldbaum’s on the back that was bigger than the “NY” in the front and a “care package” which contained things like tissues and hand soap. And here were the Toronto Blue Jays giving away old-school metal lunchboxes! Complete with flask! Eh, I mean thermos! Insane!
The lunchboxes were plastered with action shots of Blue Jays in losing form, but these things would have totally been all the talk in an elementary school lunchroom. And here they were, being passed around like manna from heaven, and not just to the little scamps at the game, as we rowdy Bleacher Creatures ambled our way in, we were also handed metal lunchboxes.
I know what you’re thinking: weapon! While this did indeed cross our minds, it was more in a slapstick Three Stooges sort of way than a “Let’s whomp a Jays fan” sort of way. (Though whomping the Jays mascot was certainly kicked around. Why wouldn’t it be?) But no, we found a better way to use these lunchboxes. As we all merrily held our lunchboxes aloft in triumph as we stomped to our seats, a wary security guard thought of yet another way for them to be used to seek tumult … as simple noisemakers. Thinking that was the worst that could happen he remarked, “I don’t care how you use them as long as they don’t end up on the field.” Well, they didn’t. We had other ideas.
Put these things together:
1. Seats out in the outfield expanse, facing the hitter and home plate ump.
2. Metal lunchboxes.
3. Our good friend, the smiling sun.
Well, even as some of us were still settling in, arguing about our placement in the Bleacher Creatures seating chart prepared for this venture, others were already hard at work, attempting to blind the Toronto hitters using the lunchbox. I have to give Balls the credit for conjuring up this one, although over the years, Big Baloo has tried to hone in and get some credit for it. At the end of the day, it was sweet science, really. Here’s a pack of Bleacher Creatures working the lunchboxes as marionettes to catch the sun in the best way possible in order to shoot zooming flashes of light toward the plate. But it didn’t last long.
Before another half was in the books the same security guard ambled up, a sheepish look on his face. His head was shaking slowly in bemusement as he let us in on a little something: the home plate umpire had had about enough of us. At first flash, the man in blue figured someone was simply holding up a lunchbox and telling a friend three rows back, “Hey, look at this effing lunchbox!” After the second flash, he started to get annoyed that people simply wouldn’t put the things down, as wondrous as they admittedly were, and watch the game. After flashes No. 3 through 782 he figured out what was going on and decided to put the kibosh on it. According to our new security friend, the ump waved over some security honchos, made his agitated complaint and voices crackled back and forth on walkie-talkies. This led to the lackey security guard posted in our usually staid and somber section marching back up to inform us that we were to cease and desist from flashing the lunchboxes at the batter’s box. A hearty heave-ho was threatened and possible seizure of our offending lunchboxes. So much for his permission to do anything with them, but toss them on the field. Still, at this we all had a hearty chuckle, congratulated one another on a job well done, and moved on to the next thing.
I still have this lunchbox, and it occupies prime shelf space next to my signed “You suck, too!” Bobby Higginson baseball, and a crushed Budweiser beer can that pro wrestler The Sandman crumpled on his own bloody forehead and then promptly threw to the crowd, which I went home with. Bedecked with Roy Halladay and Eric Hinske (the only two guys to make both sides of the lunchbox, Kelvim Escobar, Vernon Wells and inexplicably Joe Lawrence and Felipe Lopez. I actually took the lunchbox to work with me this week and housed my lunch in it! My bag of Dipsy Doodles never had it so good! The thermos, however, is long gone, and there is quite the blackberry brandy story behind that one. I received a healthy dose of mirth this morning as I rode the elevator up to my floor with a somber individual, who could not take his eyes off his fellow workday wonder, standing there looking all grumpy as always, while holding a metal Toronto Blue Jays lunchbox circa 2002.
I will never forget my first look at what was soon dubbed “The Wacky Wall of Death.” We were marching along a street around the SkyDome, looking for our next madcap adventure. Across the street I saw people standing about, looking at some sort of display and pointing and laughing. If I didn’t see people pointing and laughing, I never would have led the group over to investigate. People were having a great time, and leaning in and taking pictures by what appeared to be a series of plaques. I had to get in on this.
We march on over, and I was suddenly transplanted to that fine line between appalled and amused. On the surface, there was nothing funny about this thing. It was a monument dedicated to those who have fallen “in the workplace.” It’s entitled “101 Workers” and it’s considered a work of art. (I welcome you to Google it, and read more.) I respect fallen workers, their families, their legacies, and the work and tears that went into this monument and what it conveys. I just wish some of them had not died like this.
The plaques had a name, a date of their workplace demise and how this was attained. We weren’t expecting these sorts of follies, in such detail.
“FELL OFF BREWERY TRUCK.” Bleacher favorite Grover cracked, “Brewery truck, huh? We all know how that happened.”
“SLED FELL THROUGH ICE, DROWNED.”
“ENTANGLED IN TRENCHING MACHINE.”
“JUMPED FROM TRAIN THAT WAS ABOUT TO COLLIDE WITH ANOTHER TRAIN.”
“FELL OFF TRUCK WHEN HIT BY POLE OF TRUCK GOING OPPOSITE WAY”
And the absolute belle of the ball, in which a poor sod was … “CRUSHED BY BEING PINNED BY THREE DIFFERENT THINGS.”
How the hell does one manage that? I have only ever been pinned by two. Well, actually, a gang of five girls jumped me on the F train once, so make that five.
So yes, this monument was bringing on the wrong sort of attention to these fallen workers. Trust me, it was not just a raucous bunch of bleacher people, there were tourists in Bermuda Shorts and Niagara Falls T-shirts and kids holding balloons and blowing bubbles while finding the “funniest plaques.” I even saw one guy make a phone call right there to let one of his friends in on a plaque he found amusing. Entire families were passing their cameras to locals walking by so they could pose together in front of the monument, bedecked with smiles, throwing devils horns, giving thumbs ups and winking like they were “in on it.” Every damn time we went back to Toronto, the same scene unfolded. It got to where I even wanted to write a letter suggesting they station a guard at this thing to shoo people away if they find anything funny. While to this day I feel a little sketchy laughing about all this, as Balls succinctly pointed out when I cast these reservations this week while recounting this stuff, it screams slapstick, and on trips like this, personal and real-life tragedies are put aside.
Consider this line that has survived the ages that came from one of these Toronto trips. At one point during one of the games out there, I was cracking wise about a sad story in the papers at the time. Gang Bang Steve said with a hangdog look, “But Tom, that is a tragedy.” I then looked at him, took what was left of my beer, dumped it on the floor beneath me and deadpanned, “No, Steve … that is a tragedy.”
Most beer line stories are sad, downright Shakespearean Tragedies when you really think about it, with beer prices being what they are. Well, I fell in love there at the SkyDome and her name was beer. Her friends called her Labatt Blue. Guys like me ended up calling her often. I was so enamored I ended up logging quite a lot of time in the beer line up there in Canada. To this day, when I’m stuck in a line, I simply pretend I’m waiting for a Labatt in Toronto, and I calm down. Though one trip went very, very wrong, but since the good guy always wins in the end, it had a happy ending.
The wonder of it all was that they sold these frothy wonders in 22-ounce cups, which was unheard of to this crew used to drinking warm cups of slop in the Yankee Stadium bleachers in our youth, only to see even those banned by this time in our section. (Much more to come on that.) In Yankee Stadium the beers were generally sold in these plastic wax cups, which would leave slivers of wax floating in your beer that looked like rice if you were generous with your descriptions, and maggots if you were not. Beer plus wax cups plus sun equals warm swill, akin to holding a cup of butter used to baste your seafood lunch. Here in Toronto we had good Canadian beer, served in a solid cup complete with structure and foundation, and it was cold at that. Yay!
So one fine afternoon there I stood in the beer line, regaling my new Toronto fans with the sort of stories you read above. At some point I catch the eye of the beer vendor, a true MVP in my book to this point. He surely sees me since I have always been hard to miss. This is key to the story. This line creeps along, which is why one must always go back to the beer line when they still have about half a beer left so you have something to drink while you wait.
I slowly make my way to the front and I’m a few stories in by this point. And then my card is pulled. Though it’s my turn and I have the “Kid at Christmas” look, I’m told I’m to be served no more. The vendor freely admitted I didn’t seem intoxicated, and added that he personally found me very entertaining. However, they keep a count of sorts, and I had reached the limit on 22-ounce beers at this venue. At this point I’m quite irked, mainly due to the fact that this guy saw me in line a full 10 minutes before and could have waved me up and informed me of this news, so I didn’t waste half an inning telling stories that my new friends will never forget only to not get a drink. But no, he waited until I got up to the front and made me a martyr. I blame my Yankee cap and Yankee shirt and obnoxious Sheriff badge. (Basically all the stuff that got me kicked out of Fenway Park before I ever got in.) At this point I decided to make a speech. (I was always good at that when I didn’t get my way.) And then two angels came to my rescue in the form of “G.I. Jane” and “Big Woman” who were two locals and are still friends to the family to this day. (Life lesson: Help someone out in the beer line and meet friends for life.)
Poked in the back, G.I. Jane and Big Woman tell me to head left and they will handle this Labatt Blue issue for me and it will cost me nothing, but time. At the promise of free beer, I pulled to the side like a giant cane was yanking me off a stage, and the ladies obtained me a precious beer. Heroes! Friends to the North! Canada rules! Put Rush in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Actually this idiot vendor telling me I could no longer procure my wares at his booth turned out to be the best of things, as I duly reported upon my return that I was “cut off” and rounded up some volunteers to get me beer for the rest of the day, so my work was done.
I haven’t been to Toronto in over a decade and I really can’t see myself making it back there anytime soon. As stunning as this sounds, I ‘m having a hard enough time convincing my nine-year-old daughter to come with us to Yankee Stadium so a baseball game 12 hours away by car will not be looked upon with the same appeal as a Big Time Rush concert put on by Nickelodeon. The Bleacher Creature road trips have since spun off across the map, in smaller clusters, but I will never forget storming these SkyDome shores with this lusty army dozens strong. But to this day whenever the Yankees go up there or I watch a game from that ballpark on the baseball package, I remember that stadium and our times in and around it. There are more tales to tell, more names to bring in and more laughs to be had, including Eight car caravans from New York City to Toronto, border crossings, bars, the Hockey Hall of Fame, hotel room wrestling matches and pranks. I even have a handful of scorecards from Toronto that have survived the trip across the border, so those will be making the rounds as well.
It’s the Yankees turn to visit Toronto this weekend. Maybe I should grab some Labatt Blues from the distributor. G.I. Jane and Big Woman … you’re buying! Cheers!