By Patrick Kennedy
It’s been a happy, hellaciously hectic past two months for Eric Cowell, a manager in the ticket department of the Toronto Blue Jays. Capacity crowds every night, ducats at a premium, demand through the roof of his parent company’s domed home.
As expected, he’s been tapped for tickets left, right and centre the past while, pestered by “pals” he barely knew existed, soft-soaped by distant relations, all for a piece of paper indicating “Admit One.” All to no avail.
“I suddenly have friends and relatives I didn’t even know I had,” the 28-year-old La Salle Secondary School grad quipped in a mid-morning mobile phone interview with his hometown newspaper.
“I sold my motorcycle two or three months ago on Kijiji, met with the guy for maybe five minutes and probably casually mentioned that I worked for the Blue Jays,” Cowell recalled. “I got a random text from him recently that basically said: ‘Hi, it’s Dave. I bought your motorcycle. Got any tickets?’”
Dave the mooching motorcyclist was forced to mooch elsewhere, as were any long-time-no-hear “friends” from the Limestone City or anyone else who tried to sponge up entry to a game.
Battling nasal congestion, he’s at work nonetheless, and has been throughout this peak period of delirium and dollars for Toronto’s big league team, a rare harvest in Hogtown not experienced since 1993. For Cowell and Co., it’s been all hands on deck.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today with the sniffles -- it’s been so busy but very exciting at the same time. I’ve worked long hours but it’s been amazing. I think I took something like two days off in September.”
While studying for an arts degree at Ryerson University, Cowell landed a part-time position in the team’s box office. His half-brother Arlo, then working in the Jays “suite sales” department, arranged the interview.
Cowell eventually moved to box office supervisor and today, in his 10th year with the organization, is manager of Ticket Operations. “I’m learning new things as I go along,” he said.
There are perks, such as the odd ticket or two held in reserve. “I’ve managed to get a ticket on occasion for family, my dad, my brother, my grandparents,” he points out. “But, really, to tell you the truth, I’m so busy just getting my own work done, I’ve tried to avoid all (requests).”
Usually around this time of year, Cowell is preparing “on sale” promotions for the following season. “We push right through; it really is a 12-month cycle,” he explains.
Not this year. A playoff perfume permeates the stadium, an enticing fragrance that the Jays and the lesser-paid minions with Canada’s largest baseball company could easily get used to. Certainly no one in the building today relishes the prospect of that sweet scent dissipating into thin air before the night is out.
So on the morning after the Kansas City Royals had thoroughly humbled the hosts 14-2, Cowell has a to-do list to complete before yet another 49,000-and-change nestle into their seats for Wednesday afternoon’s fifth and possibly final game of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. (KC leads the series 3-1.)
Cowell, a faithful servant on the job with the sniffles, is nothing if not optimistic. He likes his millionaire colleagues’ chances of prolonging this memorable post-season ride.
“People are still positive, because they know we play our best when our backs are to the wall,” he said in his finest Jays-speak. “You never know; it’s been a crazy year. Don’t forget, we led KC three games to one 30 years ago and they came back,” he added, harkening back to his team’s painful exit against the 1985 pennant winners.
“We owe them.”
As for his wackiest time on duty, that might’ve been a weekend in late June 2010, when Toronto hosted the G-20 Summit.
Due to security concerns, a three-game interleague series at the Rogers Centre against the visiting Phillies had to be shifted to Philadelphia.
Ticket holders were refunded, but first Cowell and crew had to determine which tickets were bought from the Jays or from another source.
“It was crazy,” he said of the scene outside team headquarters. “Fences and barricades everywhere, no underground parking allowed.”
Worse yet, the opening tilt of that three-game set had long been marked on many a fan’s calendar: The return of beloved ex-Jays pitcher Roy Halladay to Toronto, from where he’d been traded the previous season.
“People were not happy.”
The venue change may have meant a monstrous headache for employees like Cowell, but it hardly fazed Doc Halladay. He merely took the hill and did to the Jays what he’d done for them so many times in the past. He threw a complete-game shutout.