By Bob Elliott
Texts messages lit up her phone.
Former Blue Jays Lloyd Moseby, Kelly Gruber, Ricky Romero and Casey Janssen sent messages in English, some which were blurry upon first read.
George Bell sent one in Spanish. It will likely read blurry when translated.
Current Jays players and wives took the time to write.
That’s how important a role Holly Purdon Gentemann plays in the every day role of Blue Jays players whether they be every day or extra players.
“John Gibbons sent me a text saying how the ‘team is like a second family, we spend so much time at the park we spent more time there than with our own family,” said Holly Monday night. “My baseball family was very kind to me.”
On Wednesday, June 17 Holly lost her father, Darrell Purdon from a heart attack at the unfair age of 57.
Darrell, who attended LaSalle Secondary School, had retired from the city of Kingston at age 55.
He was ready to enjoy retirement and ready to spoil Holly's son, Nathan Darrell, who arrived 16 months ago, his first and only grand child. Lori, who works at CFB Kingston, knew Darrell for 38 years and the only time she knew him to be speechless was when he learned his grand son’s middle name.
And Darrell, who worked with good pals Jim Cadue and Pete Sword who are also gone too early, was ready to explain to him the rules of the game as had done with Holly. Holly was born in late August 1980 and the first night home from the hospital she sat on her father’s lap as he watched the Jays play the Texas Rangers.
“They told the story at my wedding how dad was explaining to me what a foul ball was and how he said that the team wasn’t any good, but ‘maybe one day’ and here I was now working for the Blue Jays.”
Holly is manager, community marketing and player relations for the Blue Jays.
Darrell’s retirement party was a bus trip from Kingston to the Rogers Centre with his former co-workers and Sunday night shinny players.
And now the man who would stop by a city rink, where he used to drive the Zamboni, with a round of coffees -- his was always “double, double” -- and fresh gossip for the boys was gone.
When the Jays add for tickets would come telling customers to call 1-888-OK-GO-JAY, Darrell would say to his wife Lori with a laugh “that’s not the number I call.”
Of course he called Holly for tickets. He made every opening day and his last game was May 27 against the Chicago White Sox.
* * *
When it came time for Holly and her husband Bernd, mom Lori, sister Ashley, who returned home to find Darrell on the couch, met to discuss arrangements, Holly knew from experience what not do to.
John McDonald’s father died in 2010.
“John phoned after the services for his father and mentioned being back for Father’s Day on Sunday, I cut him off and said ‘we’d work out something else,’” Holly said. “John showed, hit the pinch-hit homer and attended the barbecue where he spoke to fathers and sons. He spoke about his father.
“No way I could have done that.”
No, nothing would be done in the Purdon household that Father’s Day. The visitation was Friday and again before the Saturday service.
* * *
Darrell’s friends, Lori’s friends, Ashley’s friends, relatives and of course Holly’s friends streamed into the funeral home.
“I looked up on Friday night, there was Mark and people from the office and I bawled my eyes out,” said Holly, when she saw Mark Buehrle and her co-workers walk into the Gordon F. Tompkins Funeral Home in Kingston.
For a few hours Doug McIlroy, Arnie Jarrell and Duke Murphy no longer had the title of the best lefty ever in the city.
While the Baltimore Orioles were at the Rogers Centre playing the Jays in the opener of the three-game, Father’s Day weekend series Buehrle was at the wake. He had permission from Gibbons to attend. “It wasn’t like he was going to need me to pinch hit,” said Buehrle, “or pinch run.”
Jays president Paul Beeston suggested a car service, but Buehrle preferred to drive with Marnie Starkman, who runs the Jays Sision board, Kristy Boone of marketing and Mustafa (Moose) Hassan from the home clubhouse.
Two more carloads of Jays front-office employees made the trip through Friday rush hour from Toronto headed east on the 401 to Canada’s first capital: Honsing Leung, Anthony Partipilo, Maria Cresswell, Shannon Curley, Sherry Oosterhuis, Rob Jack and Megan Evans.
After a stop at Jack Astor’s, the convoy headed to Toronto. Buehrle pitched Saturday afternoon allowing two runs in seven innings.
Holly’s cousin Greg Dixon wrote on Facebook:
“Sometimes we think that professional sports teams are all about the money and don’t care about the average person. I was pleasantly surprised on Friday night to see many of my cousin’s co-workers from the Blue Jays make the trip to Kingston to pay their respects for the loss of her father. I truly believe that she has a second family that really cares about her. A special thank you to Mark Buehrle for making the trip to Kingston as well. Taking the time out of his busy schedule (and missing a game) to represent the players was a surprise. This certainly goes above and beyond the expectations of his role with the team.”
Buehrle didn’t know we knew he’d been to Kingston when we asked him if he’d been to God’s Country. He replied he’d been to St. Charles, Mo. after the day game in St. Petersburg and spent the off day Thursday at home.
No, no we said, God’s Country in Canada ... Kingston.
When high school kids tell me that they are visiting Kingston or Ottawa to play ball, I’ll tell to check for my statue ... down the street from Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston or near the ball park at Hamilton Yards in Ottawa. Once William Bargel came back and in all seriousness said rather glumly “Bob I looked and looked, I think they moved your statue.”
But this was a big-leaguer, so no statue pulling legs, I asked Buehrle if he had stopped by the corner of College and Johnson ... where I grew up?
“Yep, did a yard job,” said Buehrle.
A yard job?
“That’s where you drive up onto some one’s lawn, do doughnuts with your car and tear up the lawn,” said Drew Hutchison, who stooed listening nearby.
* * *
How did Holly get so well respected? Besides being good at her job?
Holly has been part of the Jays since 2003, days after graduating the Brock University sports management course.
“Growing up in Kingston and now working for the Blue Jays I remember thinking ‘OK, what do I do now?’” said Holly, who grew up in Rideau Heights and attended Queen Elizabeth Vocational Institute before learning her craft from Jennifer Santamaria.
Holly’s job covers a lot of bases from running pre-game on-field ceremonies to honoring the military each Sunday to organizing players for personal appearances be it a fire safety programs, school and hospital visits, corporate events and the winter tour.
It is not the easiest job on the front office directory. Some players aren’t in a hurry to do anything extra, some go above and beyond participating willingly. Holly knows the difference and what approach to take. That’s why the woman is so respected.
When Darrell was in town he’d sit in his daughter’s office, talk to players, met with them near the dugout, visited a skybox or two and sat with them in the suite on the winter tour watching the Kingston Frontenacs play. Down below someone else manned the Zamboni between periods.
The only time Holly remembers her father being speechless was the night he had his picture taken with George Bell.
* * *
At the visitation Holly asked people to write a memory about her Dad so that the book could be passed along to her son Nathan. Holly wanted Nathan to have all sorts of perspective on what people were going to remember about his Grandpa.
Former shiny defenceman Wayne Keller wrote how when Darrell played goal and would yell “Trip him! Trip him!”
Cousin David wrote about playing hockey at Skeleton Park, the Wally Elmer or the Cook Brothers arenas, the Memorial Centre or where ever and always “looking to see if Uncle Darrell was working.”
From Becky McCallum, Holly’s former softball teammate when Darrell was their coach: “No matter what Grandpa told you, Becky was a good ball player!”
Bob Fairman, a former co-worker of Darrell’s “Worked with your Grand dad for 35 years. I helped him coach your mother and my daughter. He was a GREAT man and your mom was a GREAT pitcher.”
* * *
Holly can recall when the family was stuck for a baby sitter, she’d accompany pop to the rink and sit on the Zamboni as he flooded the ice between periods.
“My father was an easy-going stubborn soul who had to get the last word in,” said Holly, coaching by her father from junior mite softball to the Church Athletic League to playing in Pittsburgh Township.
* * *
Deepest sympathies are extended to the family: wife Lori, daughter Ashley, his father John and wife Gail, his mother, the late Ruby Purdon, his sister Gayle and husband Dennis, sister Bonnie Cormier, brother Larry and wife Barb and brother Mike and wife JoAnn, his nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
And Holly’s grandmother Lorraine Snider, who doesn’t have her own statue, but has her own plaque hanging in the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame after being inducted in 2000 for her five-pin bowling domination at the Circle Bowl and the Bowladrome.
* * *
When a city of Kingston vehicle would pass each other on the street the driver of each would signal out the window ... what has become known as a City of Kingston wave.
As Darrell was fond of saying when he departed with the a Kingston wave: “catch you later.”