In 5,000 Jays, Pirates games, cameraman Dahl has seen it all

Chris Dahl from high up on his first base perch at Target Field. Photo: Stenhouse and Daughters Studios.

Chris Dahl from high up on his first base perch at Target Field. Photo: Stenhouse and Daughters Studios.

By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

MINNEAPOLIS _ Tony Fernandez, Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells played the most games in Blue Jays history.

Fernandez appeared in 1,450 games, followed by Delgado (1,423) and Wells (1,393).

Yet those numbers pale in comparison to Chris Dahl, whose name does not appear on Friday’s program or in the franchise records.  

This is the Pittsburgh native’s 34th year as a travelling camera man for the Jays. He guesses he has worked roughly 5,000 games in his career. He has worked Pittsburgh Pirates home games for the past 41 years, the Jays and post-season play. 

He has been there for the Blue Jays highs, lows and tragedies, as he was Thursday night working the high first camera when the Blue Jays edged the Minnesota Twins 3-2 in 11 innings.

He follows the flight of the ball and zooms in for those revealing dugout expressions as he did Friday.

Dahl was in Baltimore the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The Jays were to play at Camden Yards that night. That was the morning the planes hit the World Trade Center in New York. The crew was setting up for that night’s game when they were told to evacuate.

“We took everything to our truck but for some reason I took a camera to the hotel,” Dahl said. 

The Jays were managed by Buck Martinez, who Dahl knew well from his broadcasting days. 

Dahl phoned Martinez in his hotel room, asked if Martinez would be speaking to the team and could Dahl film it? Martinez said yes. The cameraman interviewed a few players and called TSN, which held the rights.

“They were a little surprised that I had tape, but they were able to uplink the footage,” Dahl said.

And working the high third base camera for Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium that year he focussed in on President George Bush. Wearing a flak jacket, he stood on the top of the mound and fired a strike to the applause of the fans.

“That was probably the most electrifying moment,” said Dahl.

Upstairs in the auxiliary press area next to owner George Steinbrenner’s private booth NYPD and Fire Department of New York senior officials stood at attention in full uniform.

And wept.

Dahl was there camera in hand for the post-game celebrations Sept. 27, 1993 after Pat Hentgen, Tony Castillo, Mike Timlin and Duane Ward combined on a 2-0 shut out over the Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the American League East. Paul Molitor homered and Devon White knocked in another run.

“Buck is interviewing Jack Morris on camera while off camera Jack is pouring champagne into my shoe,” said Dahl. “I asked Jack about that once -- he said he didn’t remember.”

He’s one of four members of the Rogers Communications road show which includes: technican Tom Clark of Fairfield, Conn. graphics expert Jeff Whipple of Boulder, Col. and replay editor Mike Sparks of London, Ont.

He explains that the job is not glamorous. When assembled cameras weigh 250 pounds so they are taken apart and lugged around in pieces.

“A lot of the job is physical labour,” said Dahl, “it was difficult moving the equipment around old Tiger Stadium, old Comiskey and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

One night in Baltimore Dahl was standing doing his job when he reached out and caught a foul ball with his left hand. Rex Barney, Orioles P.A. man used to say “give that fan a contract” after a good catch. This night he said “give that cameraman a contract,” and an usher came to Dahl giving him a printed Oriole contract.

Dahl brought you images of Dave Stieb’s no hitter in Cleveland, of George Bell homering deep to left where they parked the ambulance at old Yankee Stadium, last Sunday’s fight in Arlington (“I followed Donaldson”) and Nolan Ryan’s no-no in Arlington, Tex.

“We were the only network broadcasting, none of the Texas stations had coverage,” Dahl said, “but one Dallas station pirated the feed. They thought it was worth the fine to get the viewers.”

Producer Tom McKee had a select few pictures of Ryan pumping his fist after the final out autographed by Ryan and sent them to select members of the crew, including Dahl.

Dahl recalls Alex Gonzalez stealing second on a 3-2 pitch and being “punched out emphatically” by second base ump Durwood Merrill. The pitch to the hitter was ball four but Gonzalez didn’t know, walked off the base, was tagged and Merrill called him out a second time.

One of Dahl’s favorites was the late Kirby Puckett of the Twins.

In the old days pre-game host Fergie Olver would give players $50 US to appear on telecasts.

Puckett watched Olver interview a Twins rookie who would make his first start the next night against the Jays and then said “son all the money for appearances is given to charity ... Bert Blyleven is looking after it.”

So, as the young pitcher raced to the outfield during batting practice, Puckett and everyone else howled with laughter.

“That was the thing about Kirby Puckett, he played the game with so much pure joy,” said Dahl. “I wish more players were like him.”