While I’m always excited about baseball, it took a terrific event put on by the Toronto Blue Jays to get me down to the Rogers Centre in January. I got the feeling that I only sampled a small portion of what was available at WinterFest and I still feel that the $20 was well worth the price of admission (full disclosure, I went with a press credential).
For the first time the Blue Jays have put this event on, WinterFest seems to have been birthed fully formed, with ample activities for young ones, old ones and all in between. While the crowds made lineups long as the day wore on, the opportunities to interact with players, get photos taken, tour different areas of the Rogers Centre made things a real treat for the Blue Jays fan.
I got there early enough that I could head over to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame display in the “Memory Lane” section before things would get too crowded. I grabbed an interview with Scott Crawford, the Director of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, which I’ll post on a podcast at some point soon, and got to see some of the amazing paraphernalia (like Jackie Robinson’s jersey from the Montreal Royals) that they’ve brought with them and hear about the major expansion that they’re doing to their museum in St. Mary’s, Ontario. The Blue Jays loaned the display Joe Carter‘s bat, batting gloves and shoes from his 1993 World-Series winning home run.
The area had the 1992 and 1993 World Series trophies on display as well as Marcus Stroman‘s Gold Glove from this year. Also seen was Robbie Alomar’s Hall of Fame plaque which was on loan from Cooperstown.
Nearby there was the “Spring Training Zone” that allowed people to throw in the bullpen, test out their fastball in a radar cage, and sign “Blue Jays for A Day” contracts with a real member of the front office or coaching staff. One of my favourite parts of this area was a large section penned off for playing catch (although I didn’t take part; age has ravaged my throwing shoulder).
There was also an “Offseason” section where people could skate, shoot a hockey puck and curl.
This was all on or behind the field of play. On the 100 Level, there were a plethora of kids activities, places to get autographs, have photos with players and “be a broadcaster.”
For me, one of the real highlights was the Roy Halladay Memorial. A place set up for quiet reflection of the man who was, arguably, the Blue Jays’ best pitcher ever and who passed away at far too young an age just months ago. With black drapes and a locker with his name on it and his jersey inside lit by a spotlight, the black and white baseballs that made up his number 32 were in stark and sombre contrast. There were also a couple of black and white photographs of Doc surrounded by black fields that fans could write a message on or add their signature to. I was glad I got there just after the doors opened. The lineup was quite long when I passed by again in the early afternoon. Whoever designed this tribute to Halladay should receive plenty of kudos. It was tasteful, powerful and a truly wonderful way to remember Roy.
The Blue Jays offered four tours to fans but, from what I heard, they were full up for the whole day by noon. One was of the media setup, checking out the media area and radio booth to meet none other than Mike Wilner! Another tour was the Production Tour that saw the facilities for producing the TV broadcast. The Roof Tour went up to the sky to see the roof of the dome. Finally, I took the Clubhouse Tour, checking out the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, marveling at the kitchen and lounge area and the spaciousness of the main clubhouse and gym area. These are far from the facilities I see every season when I visit the Jays’ minor league facilities!
Of course, the real highlight for most fans is the players themselves and the Blue Jays delivered players galore. Of the current club, Marcus Stroman, Teoscar Hernandez, Joe Biagini, Luke Maile, Devon Travis, Ryan Tepera, Russell Martin, Danny Barnes, Josh Donaldson, Steve Pearce, Kendrys Morales, Ezequiel Carrera, and Kevin Pillar were all in attendance.
Minor leaguers and 40-man roster guys included Ryan Borucki, Jonathan Davis, Jordan Romano, Max Pentecost, Jason Leblebijian, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Pannone, Danny Jansen, Roemon Fields, Jon Harris, Reese McGuire, Tim Mayza, Aledmys Diaz, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Sean Reid-Foley and Taylor Guerrieri.
Finally, the Jays rounded things out with a liberal sprinkling of Blue Jays alumni including Lloyd Moseby, J.P. Arencibia, Roberto Alomar, Pat Hentgen, Paul Quantrill, George Bell, Vernon Wells, Jose Cruz Jr., Jesse Barfield, Devon White, Juan Guzman and Willie Upshaw.
DeMarlo Hale, John Gibbons, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were all on hand to sign one-day contracts and Tim Leiper, Luis Rivera, Dane Johnson and Brook Jacoby were also available for autographs. Instructors Duane Ward, Homer Bush, Wayne Parro and John Hashimoto were also ther to provide instruction for the Blue Jays Baseball Academy segments.
The past, present and future players played games like “Blue Jays’ Feud” (like Family Feud), “Batter Up!” (players give clues to the other to get him to guess a word), “Teammates” (like the Newlywed Game), and “Draw a Walk” (like Pictionary) with Jamie Campbell and Hazel Mae hosting while Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler hosted four Q&A sessions throughout the day.
These games were a great way for the fans to get to know the players a little better and it let their personalities shine through in a way that isn’t easy during the season when they’re under pressure to perform on the field and answerable after the games.
While, again, I wasn’t experiencing the event the way a fan would, there always seemed to me to be enough staff on hand to answer questions, corral crowds and keep things running smoothly. The presentation of the events on stage were very slick and there was no awkwardness moving from one phase of a game to another. The graphics were all on point and there was plenty of signage to help people find their way from one station to another.
All in all, I think this was a great event that the Blue Jays pulled off with a lot of class for the first time around. Did you attend? What was your experience like?
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