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Play Ball! 

Well, not here, not yet. But soon enough: opening day is March 28. Anyway, down in Florida and Arizona, all 30 MLB teams are playing ball in what's rather oddly called spring training. I say that because the first game took place on February 21. That's winter on any calendar, no? Regardless, I relish the arrival of spring training every year because it signifies the beginning of the end of winter.

Now, up here in Toronto, we've had more snow than we know what to do with, it's bitterly cold, and winter can hang around till mid-April. That's why I said beginning of the end. But the mere fact that baseball, that quintessential summertime sport, is being played somewhere means Old Man Blizzard and his good buddies Ice Storm and Wind Chill are on their way out. Good riddance, I say.

Baseball and radio go together like peanut butter and jam, and every year at this time I celebrate the return of my favourite broadcast teams: Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper (Giants); Dan Dickerson and Jim Price (Tigers); Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson (White Sox). As for the hometown Blue Jays crew, I miss Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth, but Ben Wagner and Mike Wilner do a decent job and their chemistry is good.

One pet peeve, and this is not confined to Blue Jay broadcasts, is the incessant use of player-specific adjectives. Examples:

  • "Three outs, all on fly balls. Now, that's an un-Marcus-Stroman-like inning."
  • "He just flailed at it. What an un-Miguel-Cabrera-like swing that was!"
  • "He's already issued five walks, which is so un-Sam-Gaviglio-like."

I've never understood this. Why invent new words when you've got old ones that work fine? It's as though they feel they must conjure up fresh adjectives for each player, because of course un-Marcus-Stroman-like is completely different than un-Sam-Gaviglio-like.

Newsflash, boys: there's an elegant, simple word that encompasses un-Marcus-Stroman-like, un-Miguel-Cabrera-like, un-Sam-Gaviglio-like and un-Insert-Player-Here-like. That word is "uncharacteristic." If it seems unwieldy, try "unusual." And you can even use "unlike" sans player name in the middle, like so: "He's already issued five walks, which is so unlike Sam Gaviglio."

I'm happy to report that things are looking up, though. Why, on a broadcast last week Wilner said of some pitcher, "He's just not himself today." Yeah! Beautiful. See? Pithiness is next to godliness.

But whatever your quirks, all you broadcasters out there, I thank you profusely for bringing the old ball game to us season after season, 162 games a year. Baseball is the sound of summer, even in these un-baseball-like frigid temperatures.

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.

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 © 2017-2019 Vern Nicholson.