By Bob Elliott
You could hear the strains wafting towards the press box.
Kevin Pillar said the singing made it feel like he was attending a World Cup game.
Seated in the third base dugout Devon Travis sang along.
At 3:22 Wednesday afternoon the song began in the left field bleachers, according to acoustic sources with an ear to the ground.
This was roughly two hours after Sgt. Darryl Casselman had had his turn at the mike.
This was Canada Day.
This was the Rogers Centre.
Both Sgt. Casselman on cue, then many in the sold-out crowd in a rare show of spontaneity without prompting sang Canada’s national anthem: Oh Canada.
That’s what you get when you mix Donald S. Cherry of Kingston, five home runs and Mark Buehrle with a sold-out crowd on Canada Day.
The singing started in left and spread and spread as Brett Cecil faced Hanley Ramirez with one out in the ninth, the Jays coasting home up 11-2.
“It was awesome,” Travis said, “it was tight. I was singing along with them. I know all the words to the anthem now.”
And when the Canada Day choir was finished it applauded itself.
During his first Canada Day experience Chris Colabello turned to someone in the dugout and asked
“Is this what playing in the World Series is like?”
Whom did he ask?
“Probably some guys who had never been to the World Series,” said Colabello.
New England born and bred Colabello knew the man who threw out the first pitch: former Boston Bruins to his man Josh Donaldson.
“With (Cherry’s) personality, everyone is drawn to him, he tells it like it is,” Colabello said. “What he did for Josh was amazing.”
On June 14, Donaldson trailed Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals by 1.6 million votes in all-star balloting at third base. Cherry began a ‘Vote Donaldson’ campaign on Coach’s Corner and Donaldson now leads by 1.4 million votes becoming the first to surpass 11 million votes.
Born in Florida and raised in Alabama, Donaldson did not grow up watching Hockey Night in Canada. When he met Cherry he told him “how highly I think of him,” and “how he didn’t have to do that.”
Cherry has reached a plateau where he does what he wants. And by showing in a mellow blue and red jacket with the map of Canada, the crowd cheered when he walked to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And again when he was shown in the TV booth with Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler.
Arrived at the park Cherry said he was nervous about his first pitch duties, as he autographed balls in the loading dock for Red Sox clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin and others. Cherry asked about Dwight Evans, former Red Sox outfielder who had visited Cherry’s son Tim in a Boston hospital and even brought a signed Carl Yastrzemski bat.
Cherry asked McLaughlin for a ball, signed it and asked him to give to Evans next time he saw him.
The crowd may have seen what looked to be a ball in the dirt, but I’ve seen worse called strikes at the Kingston’s Cricket Field and Megaffin Stadium by umpires Pete Miller or Art Keller.
Justin Smoak enjoyed his first Canada Day homering from each side of the plate.
Roberto Osuna was another first-timer on Canada Day watching teams line up on the foul lines and the giant Maple Leaf unfold in centre field.
“The people here are so friendly, it was a special day, you could feel the support,” said Osuna, who is from Mexico, which has its Independence Day on Sept. 16 ... a day Osuna has never played at home.
Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista of the Dominican Republic each homered. They never play on their Independence Day because it falls on Feb. 27.
“Winter ball is over, we’re already in Dunedin,” said Encarnacion, although George Bell always used to report after the celebrations.
Buehrle said there was more energy than his previous home start “double the crowd size, double the excitement.”
And added Dioneer Navarro “double your MPHs.”
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale was seated on the dugout bench when he turned to hitting coach Brook Jacoby and said “this is like a playoff crowd.”
Which had more energy the home opener or Canada Day?
“Opening Day you have the build up after six or seven weeks of spring,” Hale said, “Canada Day is a celebration. The fans showed how much pride they have in their country.”
Drew Hutchison had the start last year (a win over Marco Estrada then of the Milwaukee Brewers) and a month ago was figuring out who would get the ball this July 1.
Hard to believe from 2002-10 the Jays only played at home on Canada Day twice and now the game is such an event.
After Oh Canada ended Pillar waited unsuccessfully for another song.
“I thought maybe they’d sing a drinking song,” Pillar said. “Ireland has a drinking song. Does Canada have a drinking song?”
Ah, some of those relaxing on the Westjet Flight Deck might take a sip at anything from to Alabama to ZZ Top. Or from Alan Jackson to The Zac Brown Band.
“We play on the road and we hear ‘USA! USA!’ chants even though many of us are Americans,” said Pillar. “This was a celebration, like the 4th of July.
“I am a big fan of seeing all that red in the seats.”
Red in the seats, Cherry and Buehrle on the mound, five drives over the wall ... yes it was a Happy Canada Day.
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Betting windows remain open: The odds on Blue Jays winning the American League East are now 3-to-1, according to Bodog.ca. Now before you get too excited that’s the same odds as the Tampa Bay Rays, The New York Yankees are 5-to-2 faves, with the Baltimore Orioles at 11-4.
Favorites to win the other divisions are the Kansas City Royals (4-to-11), Houston Astros (10-to-11), Washington Nationals (1-to-10, St. Louis Cardinals (1-to-12) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5).
The Royals are 15-4 faves to win the AL title (Jays are 10-1), while the Cards are 7-2 faves. St. Louis and Washington are 7-to-1 faves to win the World Series (Jays are 20-to-1, down from 50-1 a month ago).
Josh Donaldson is a 9-to-1 choice to win the AL MVP behind even-money choice Mike Trout. Bryce Harper is the 3-to-1 fave to hit the most home runs this season, while Edwin Encarnacion is at 25-to-1, Jose Bautista at 28-to-1 and Donaldson 33-to-1.