My legs are shaking like a leaf and the smile will not leave my face. ‘Thank you’ seems too short, definitely not enough when meeting your favourite MLB player in person. Sure, it might look like another regular autograph session, but to this woman, it was the best night of my life.
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The Blue Jays Winter Tour would be visiting the city of London, Ontario on Friday, Jan. 17. That night, the OHL London Knights were hosting Saginaw Spirit and ticket-holders were invited to come early and meet four Toronto Blue Jays pitchers: Brandon Morrow, Esmil Rogers, Dustin McGowan and Todd Redmond. They would be signing autographs before the game.
Before Christmas, I had read about the Winter Tour and noticed the London stop. I rushed to buy four tickets to the Knights game, hoping my brother and his girlfriend would take my boys to the game. They had taken the boys to two regular season ball games in Toronto last year, and everyone were huge fans of the Jays. This was an opportunity they would remember. Luckily, my brother loved the idea and we surprised the boys with the news two weeks before the game.
Friday, Jan. 17 started out like any other day . . . until my oldest son called from school at noon, saying he wasn’t feeling well. He came home early and rested, hoping to feel better for the game. Around 3 p.m., he came out of his bedroom and asked if I would take his new Jays hat to the game and get the Blue Jays players to sign it. It was pretty serious if he was giving up his chance to meet some major league ball players. But that’s when my night officially began.
We arrived at Budweiser Gardens around 5 p.m. and stood in line, along with more than 100 other baseball fans. The Blue Jays had not arrived yet. As we look around, we see the table set up for autographs with the players’ posters behind it. Rogers. Redmond. Morrow. McGowan. Rasmus.
Colby Rasmus?!? He is my No. 2 favourite Jay (next to Brett Lawrie)…could it be true? Was he joining the pitchers for the autograph session?
And that’s when it began. My heart started beating just a little bit faster. My knees started shaking just a little bit more. How did my hands get so dry so quickly?
The line is starting to move. Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell has joined the Jays on the tour and is standing to the side of everything. My brother starts to sneak a picture of him, but Jamie notices and starts to walk over to us. My brother slowly lowers his camera and says, “Hey, Jamie. How’s the tour going?” He smiles and starts chatting with us, then offers to give us a ‘real picture.’ After a couple shots, we thank him and I tell him I’ll tweet him later (knowing he is big on Twitter). “You better!” he replies. (He later replies to my tweet: “My pleasure. No sneaking!)
The line moves forward again. The Blue Jays mascot, Ace, is preventing me from seeing Rasmus and I’m getting anxious. But soon enough there he is. A young mother has asked him to hold her baby, as she takes a picture. That is a new one. Then Dustin McGowan squeezes into the shot and the baby girl is sandwiched between two Blue Jays. We start joking about the strangeness of asking a player to hold a baby, and I turn to my almost 14-year-old and ask, “How much do you weigh? Maybe he’ll hold you!” Everyone laughs, then a Jays staff member steps up to us and says he thinks Rasmus could do it. “He’s got huge arms. You’ve seen the way he swings when he hits those homers.”
And the line surges ahead again. Then stops. Rasmus and McGowan are looking to their left. What is Brandon Morrow doing? I move as close as I can and see him colouring a bobble head. Yes, he is drawing a beard onto his own bobble head before he signs it. Funny guy.
As the line slowly moves again, I’m taking a million blurred pictures with my iPod because it just doesn’t seem real, and only photos will help me remember this night. Men, who I love watching play baseball, are three feet away from me. I’m getting nervous, though my brother calls me ‘giddy.’ I have never been giddy in my entire life…until this moment.
McGowan has been checking his phone or texting and I comment that he’s not tweeting because I haven’t seen him on Twitter. A female Jays staffer fills me in on all the details. No, McGowan isn’t on Twitter, but Esmil, Todd and Brandon are. Colby isn’t, but his wife is. But the real fun is Esmil Rogers on Instagram. “He is posting pics every 20 minutes or so. On the plane, in the buses. Everywhere!”
We are about five people away from the tables when Esmil gets up and goes to the washroom. He doesn’t come back. Another Jays staffer informs us that he has a nosebleed but there are autographed cards for us. All this waiting and we’re going to miss meeting a Jay!
It’s our turn. I move forward to Todd first, then Brandon, then Dustin. I ask them to sign my son’s hat and thank them all. Then I’m standing in front of Rasmus. I hand the hat over and ask him to sign it for my son, who is sick tonight. While he’s signing it, I stammer, “And you are my favourite Blue Jay, I was hoping you would sign this card for me.” Brilliant, I know. But he looks up at me, smiles, takes the card and says, “Sure.” I am unable to say anything else except thank you. Yes. I froze.
After we made it through the line, we had to wait for the stands to open before we could find our seats for the hockey game. I am still shaking with excitement and feeling exhilarated. What an experience!
We stand around chatting when I notice the line is short and Esmil Rogers has come back to the table. I suggest we get back into line and get his autograph. This time I feel a little more comfortable, not sure why, but I’m definitely not as giddy as I was half an hour ago.
We reach Esmil and I say, “So, you’re pretty busy on Instagram. I’ll have to check out your pics.” He looks up, nods and smiles. Todd starts nodding his head, “That’s all he’s been doing today! Everywhere we go, he’s taking all these pictures. I bet no one’s even looking at them!” Esmil just laughs.
Then I turn to Todd and Brandon and say, “Are you guys tweeting tonight?” Todd says, “You know, I made an account a long time ago, but I never tweet.” Brandon tells him he better start using it. I tell Todd I’ve sent him like 20 messages and haven’t heard back. Brandon laughs and says, “Now you’ll have to tweet something later!” I agree, saying, “I’ll be looking for your tweet!”
I feel so comfortable talking to these guys, now that I’ve gone through the line twice. And they now seem like regular, ordinary people.
My brother stops in front of Brandon and asks for some extra autographs. He says, “So, are you the ‘funny guy’ on the team?” To which Brandon replies, “Yeah, I don’t think so.” I pipe up, and say, “I heard Jose Bautista is the funniest one on the team.” Brandon stops signing, looks up at me, completely serious for a minute, then says, “No.” That was the funniest moment of the night.
I’m now only a foot away from Rasmus and even though I felt comfortable talking to the other players, I can only look at him and smile. I feel like a little girl who has met her favourite movie star and I can’t say a word. So nervous…but yes, giddy.
During the hockey game, my son searched the stands and found where the players were watching the game. I have to admit, when the game was slow, I found myself watching the Jays. Esmil was texting or playing with his phone for the majority of the game. Rasmus rarely sat down, preferring to stand. Brandon sat with a blonde woman and ordered a few drinks. When being interviewed during the game and asked to get the crowd chanting, “Go, Knights, Go,” Brandon was the one I heard most. When the wave went around Bud Gardens, Esmil was the only one to stand up and participate. I could see McGowan at all times (bald head) and smiled every time I saw Rasmus take the time to pose with someone for a picture.
I think the surprise of having Rasmus there that night, sitting at an autograph table, looking up and smiling at me — that is something I’ll truly never forget. Now, if I could only have the chance to meet Brett Lawrie…my dreams would all be complete.
Oh, as for the London Knights, they lost the game 3-1.