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Welcome to Siberia 

If this is spring, I want a refund.

Temperatures remain frigid—it's so bad that tomorrow's high of 2° C is below the normal low for this time of year, 4°. This weekend's ice storm was so abominable I stayed inside for two days. I'd hoped to use the downtime to catch up on a few baseball games, but that didn't work out so well. All my favourite teams were snowed out or rained out the whole weekend, including the Blue Jays in Cleveland.

Today came the ultimate indignity. Now that the ice storm had petered out to a steady, cold rain, I thought I'd take in the Jays-Royals game tonight. After all, we're so smart up here in Toronto, prepared as we are for lousy Aprils. Our stadium has a roof. No postponements here. Take that, Cleveland!

Uh ... hold that thought. This afternoon brought chunks of ice flying off the CN Tower, with police cordoning off adjacent walkways near Rogers Centre in the interest of pedestrian safety. But Ma Nature wasn't done with us yet. A fragment of ice struck the stadium roof and tore a hole in it over the right field corner. Further flying debris caused leaks in left field. They've repaired the hole, but evidently enough issues remained with the roof that tonight's game was postponed. They'll play two tomorrow, assuming (1) they can patch up the roof in time; and (2) the ice shards stop flying (given tomorrow's balmy high, they sure as hell won't melt).

MLB is on pace to set a record for April postponements. Pretty much everywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line, it's been resolutely miserable. The White Sox and Twins were set to a play a four-game series in Minneapolis starting Thursday; three of the four were snowed out. As for the games they could get in, such as in Boston (game-time temp: 34° F/1° C) and Chicago (38° F/3° C), players resorted to ski masks, sweaters and hoodies in the futile quest to stay warm. Earlier this week, games in Denver and Minneapolis were played in the 20s Fahrenheit, which is minus single digits Celsius.

I'll give the last word to Kansas City manager Ned Yost, whose team narrowly escaped their own mishap with flying ice on the ride in from Pearson Airport: "If you come to a dome and get banged, something ain't right."

No, it ain't, Ned. Welcome to Siberia.

Yes, Sir, Let's Admire That One 

If you follow baseball in Canada at all, you know who I'm talking about. The title alone gives it away. That's how deeply and ubiquitously the voice of Jerry Howarth permeated baseball culture in this country. With last week's retirement announcement, the baseball world has lost one of its golden voices.

Stephen Brunt's warm, insightful tribute, which I urge you to read, says it best: "What will summer sound like now?" For legions of Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians, myself included, Jerry was the Voice of Summer for 36 years, especially after assuming the Jays' lead announcer role when his long-time partner Tom Cheek died in 2005.

Baseball and radio are made for each other, and as a primarily auditory person, I'm wired to lap it up. The best broadcasters keep the listener informed,  entertained and when necessary, amused. Beyond that, the cream of the crop—and Jerry is certainly one—are gifted storytellers, taking on the persona of a wise, kindly uncle who slips in a life lesson or two amidst the grand slams, gold gloves and chin music. Sometimes I think the reason I've spent so many summers with Jerry, all 162 games' worth, is more about palling around with the uncle I never had than the race for the pennant.

As we sit on the cusp of spring training and a new season of Blue Jays baseball, we don't yet know who will take the reins as lead radio voice. But we do know who we'll miss. To the man who opened every broadcast with a warm "Hello, friends," I say farewell, friend, God bless, and enjoy your well-earned retirement.

On a related note, Leo Cahill, legendary '60s and '70s coach of the Toronto Argonauts, passed away earlier this week. Flamboyant, outspoken and quick-witted, Leo was a larger-than-life personality on Argonaut teams that had more than their share of outrageous characters. I can't recall any coach or GM, save perhaps the Leafs' Harold Ballard, who so thoroughly dominated the local sports scene. Cahill's brilliance as a coach was often overlooked, and as a recruiter he had no peers. Among his many accomplishments, Leo lured Joe Theismann away from the Miami Dolphins to lead the 1971 Argonauts to the Grey Cup, a game which left quite an impression on a certain 10-year-old.

Cahill never won a Grey Cup, but as a CBC colour commentator he got to call the second half of the Argos' 1983 victory, the one that broke Toronto's 31-year championship drought. And it's somehow fitting that the Boatmen won the last Grey Cup game played during his lifetime, last November's 27-24 victory over the Calgary Stampeders, the very team that beat Leo's squad in '71. Ironically, the heavily favoured Stampeders blew the 2017 game in a manner eerily reminiscent of the 1971 Argos.

Goodbye, Leo, God bless, and thank you. We won't see your like again anytime soon, and whenever I don my Mike Eben jersey—which arrived in the mail the day you died—I'll remember you, double blue forever.

Words and Music Are Everywhere 

Now that the CD is out, I've returned to one of the things I love best: songwriting. And I'm here to tell you that songs can come from some pretty odd places.

In November I took a train trip to Cornwall, and between Via's attendants handing out Remembrance Day poppies, the music I was listening to on the way (Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1967), a piano sitting in a downtown square with jammed keys and a bit of research on the Lost Villages, I came up with a tune called "Lost Villages Wail." (It's not really about the Lost Villages—they provided me with good metaphorical meat, though.)

I generally write chords first, then melody, then words. If nothing comes spontaneously I go back to my "bits," those fragments I've recorded that on their own are little more than promising parts lasting no more than 10 seconds. If I'm lucky, I can string two or three together in the same song, but more often than not I create the music from scratch around one strong bit. And again, if I'm lucky, sometimes I get a melody so evocative that the words practically write themselves. That's what happened with December's new song, "The Lord's Glue."

This month's new song, "Let Love Strum You," springs from a truly bizarre source: a lumber outlet jingle I heard on a baseball broadcast. I pilfered the chords and melody verbatim, made it my chorus, and wrote the rest of the music around it. For the lyrics, I drew inspiration from this poem by John O'Donohue that I saw in a church bulletin. Nothing was used verbatim; I simply borrowed a few of his words, then filled in the rest. In fact, the tone of my lyrics differs considerably from that of the poem.

Words and music—they really are everywhere if you look. And all this is coming reasonably soon, I hope, on my next album, Days of Secret Seeing.

Photographs by Carol Witwicky. Instrument illustrations and GZ logo © 2017 Grinning Zone Studios.
Album and lyrics page artwork © 2017 Gabriel Altrows. Web design by Vern Nicholson.
Sour Landslide and Benvereens archival footage courtesy Neil Whitlock.
All pages and contents © 2017-2018 Vern Nicholson.