* Tom Cheek was excited as they left the team hotel headed for the first annual Tom Cheek Invitational Classic, organized by Michael Firestone, only to see the welcome sign at Mike's Mini-Putt. .... MLB, Brewers open workouts 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2013 Canadian collegians playing summer ball 2013 Canadians in College Letters of Intent
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By Bob Elliott
It is not a news flash that Tom Cheek was an avid, passionate golfer.
News we did discover this week, however, was that our golf writers missed covering the first ever Tom Cheek Invitational Golf Classic tournament.
And that the winner was someone who had never golfed before.
“How about that?” as Cheek would have said.
Five days before Shirley Cheek accepts the Ford C. Frick award in her husband’s name at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, some background is needed about Blue Jays golf trips on their four or five off days on the road each season.
Not that we ever went, we lost patience for golf caddying at the Cataraqui Golf Club in Kingston when a left-handed golfer fired a club at me (my fault he went out-of-bounds, out-of-bounds, out-of-bounds with his second shot on 11).
As shuttle vans or cars prepared to leave the team hotel Cheek had to make sure everyone was in the proper car ... although everyone was headed to the same course.
Before each putt, Cheek had to make sure everyone know what the score was: how much was owed, what everyone was sitting.
And not that Cheek was cheap, but he had a reputation of being frugal shall we say.
Cheek reacted with great excitement of the news Michael Firestone, a good fiend of president Paul Beeston’s was joining the club on the road to host the first Tom Cheek Invitational Classic in 1992. Entry fee was $100.
Firestone is the guy who told an Oakland Tribune writer at a post-season gala in Oakland how the Toronto event would be better, but people would need toques due to the October snow drifts. He described himself as the team pilot, which he is not.
Former radio engineer Bruce Brenner is certain that Mike’s Mini-Putt was in Chicago. Firestone said it happened in Baltimore.
The locale does not matter.
Those invited to the Cheek Classic were told by Firestone proper dress was required. Firestone explained he had to pull a lot of strings to get the group on the course, saying “we’re lucky to get on it.”
After breakfast at the team hotel the invitees were ready to head to the course.
“Out comes Tom with his golf bag, I put it underneath with a few others,” said Firestone.
They drive about 10 minutes, get off the highway and pull up to a sign:
WELCOME TO THE TOM CHEEK INVITATIONAL CLASSIC.”
“We had arrived at Mike’s Mini-Putt,” said Firestone.”
Cheek was not amused.
Broadcasters Buck Martinez, Fergie Olver and others, who laughed at the prank, lined up to pick up their putters, colored balls, readying to play angles, sneak past the wind mills and stay on the bridge avoiding the three-inch deep water hazard.
“Tom was expecting some fancy course,” said Brenner. “We’re golfing and Tom is trying to figure out transportation cost, how much it costs mini-golf.
“Finally, he says “do you know how much that Firestone is going to make on this?’”
Brenner said Cheek spent the rest of the round asking everyone ‘did you pay your $100? did you pay your $100?”
Everyone said they paid, but Cheek didn’t believe.
“Tom was angry when in fact Michael flew in on his own, paid for the lunch, the buses, the golf,” said Brenner, “but Tom thinks no one had paid beside him.”
After the round they got on the bus and presented Brenner with a plaque as the first-ever winner.
“And the $1,400 or whatever,” said Firestone, who donated the cash along with cheques to the Tom Cheek Classic from Paul Godfrey, former Blue Jays president, Paul Williams and Len Bransom of Telemedia.
“We gave the money to charity, but never, ever told Tom,” said Firestone.
And Brenner, more than part of broadcasts, working the dials for Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth, never told Cheek either. In Jeff Cheeek’s eloquent speech when his father was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys said “Bruce Brenner was like a third son in the Cheek household, alongside Tom and Jerry for almost all the ups and downs.”
So Firestone, who former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane once said was “the only man in North America who thinks he owns two clubs (Astros, Jays) and doesn’t have a dime in either,” had another notch in his practical joke belt.
“Tom knew it was gag but wasn’t sure if he was the only one who had paid, that’s what made it work,” said Firestone. “Do I remember him grumbling about it? For the two years or so?”
Firestone would ask if Cheek was ready for the second invitational and Cheek would reply “ah Firestone, pretty funny, pretty funny.”