* Ted Minden and his son Elijah, pinch hitting for Minden's good pal, made the trip south to Dunedin. .... Day VII with Team Canada, a win over Mexico
By Bob Elliott
DUNEDIN -- The trip south had been planned.
Like the old days.
Why not? Old rock bands were getting together for reunion tours
Now, however his old pal was ill, very ill, so when the call came Ted Minden dropped everything and headed to the Leaside home of Randy Echlin.
“I think for our next trip to Dunedin you should take Elijah instead,” Echlin whispered from his death bed, telling his friend good bye.
Minden gathered himself before re-telling Echlin’s final words “I’ll see you again.”
And so it came to pass Minden, accompanied by his 10-year-old Elijah, of coach Peter MacInnis’ Markham Mariners mosquitoes, was remembering Echlin, the top Jays fan, who passed Aug. 12, 2011, before the Blue Jays hosted the New York Yankees on Thursday.
The Minden-Echlin friendship pre-dates the Jays, to the mid-1970s when both were law students and unlike most Canadian college students, baseball, not hockey, was their No. 1 game.
The relationship flourished each spring from 1984, when the Jays had the best young outfield in the game when they made their first trip south, to 1997, Roger Clemens’ first year in Dunedin.
At the Cecil P. Englebert complex they were known as Randy and Ted, but the other 51 weeks a year they wore robes and were Hon. Mr. Justice Randall Scott Echlin and Mr. Justice Edwin (Ted) Minden of the Ontario Superior Court.
There were 5,559 fans there Thursday to see the Jays and Yankees set the game back 20 years (12 walks, six errors) at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Thursday afternoon.
Few if any qualify as being a fanatic like Echlin.
“I’d tell Randy people would pay to see his collection,” said Minden.
His autographs were gathered in a most creative way. Most fans come to Florida for a week of games. The Minden-Echlin duo rented a condo at East Lake Woodlands most years watch six days of workouts, attend the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce banquet, stay for the opener and fly north.
Their strict routine was to be parked inside the players lot at the complex before players arrived.
“It was dark, dew was on the grass, we had to be the first car there, ahead of everyone,” Minden said. “Some how Randy knew the make of each player’s car plus the coaches. Randy was type A, I’ve never met anyone more organized.”
So, there they’d sit in the dark. Echlin behind the wheel with his overstuffed binder of items for signing, organized in alphabetical order as Minden tried to catch 40 winks.
“JIM ACKER!” Echlin would exclaim and out of the car he’d bounce after pulling his Acker file from his briefcase.
“I’ve never see Randy move that fast, coffee in one hand, folder in the other,” said Minden. “He’d be bubbly talking away about last season, this season.”
The player would sign and the two would re-treat to the car.
Minutes later ...
“EDDIE ZOSKY! Echlin would later say in excitement.
An amateur photog Minden would take pictures of Echlin talking to players as they signed -- once the sun came up.
After watching workouts and doing the same routine as players left the parking compound, they’d head to Countryside Mall dropping off Minden’s shots. They’d go for lunch and come back in an hour so Echlin could select pictures the picture he wanted.
They’d wander the mall for another hour, return to pick up 8-by-10s he had asked to be blown up.
A pianist, Minden would stop at the East Lake clubhouse and play songs before diner while Echlin returned to his room to edit legal papers.
And the next day the cycle would continue with new art work.
About the second last year of travelling south the two had never seen the beach. Attending a banquet in Clearwater Beach, Minden pulled Echlin away from the baseball crowd, took him two to beach. There the two judges kicked off their shoes and removed their socks and stuck their toes in the sand.
Minden even took pictures. Finally, after years or travelling to Florida the baseball men had hit the beach.
Dave Stieb, as Echlin’s favorite player, received special treatment. The first day Stieb arrived he was given a large folder of cards -- Upper Deck, Donruss, Topps -- pictures -- 8-by-10 colour, 8-by-10 black and white -- programs, newspaper articles and ticket stubs.
Stieb would deliver items all signed the day before they headed north and Echlin would give him a magnum of wine or champagne as a thanks.
Stieb took time to text Echlin, head of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame selection committee, in his final days.
Leaving Echlin’s room that final time Minden noticed a white board with time slots. Minden was booked for 2:30.
Allan Rock, former Justice Minister was booked at 3:30.
“I asked Ann if that was Randy’s doing,” Minden said. “Ann said yes, he was organized until the end.”
Echlin was a collector until the end, calling son Rob upstairs and telling him it was time to get to the game. It was Robbie Alomar bobble head doll day “they were only giving one to the first 10,000 and I want one.”
Within 36 hours Randy Echlin was gone.
At the celebration of life, Echlin’s wife Ann, daughter Libby and son Rob led the throng out of Leaside United as the organist played ‘Take Me Out to The Ball Game.’ Minden is Libby's Godfather. How respected was Echlin? Former Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick flew in from Seattle to pay his respects.
Minden thought for the trip to be a success -- the way he and Echlin used to toodle around the complex -- was to get passes for Elijah and himself. He called Jays executive assistant to the president and CEO sweet Sue-Bob Cannell, to set up an appointment with Jays boss Paul Beeston.
Five minutes later Beeston returned Minden's call. An appointment was set up for the two to meet.
"We get together and talk for oh maybe 45 minutes," said Minden. "Then Paul says 'OK Minden, what's your complaint? Why are you here?"
Minden explained he didn't have a complaint, he told him of the plan Echlin and he had and how he was going to take his son and needed field passes.
"Done," said Beeston.
And it was done.
Elijah mets the likes of Anthony Gose, Emilio Bonifaccio, Mark DeRosa, Esmil Rodgers, Josh Thole, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, manager John Gibbons, Jays announcers Jerry Howarth and Jerry Howarth, plus Baltimore Oriole Chris Robinson, who caught for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
His favourite players are Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Bonifacio.
The late Harvey Trivett, president of the Blue Jays’ official fan club (we introduced Harvey to pitching coach Galen Cisco in 1990 when he replaced ailing Al Widmar and Harvey said “Galen you haven’t changed since when you pitched with the 1967 Maple Leafs”), Amersia Thompson, World’s No. 1 Jays fan and Echlin all were the Jays top fan at different times.
All are missed, especially as the start of another season.
Now, with a contending team, the title, like the American League East, is up for grabs.