By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Devon Travis popped up to right field and the Toronto Blue Jays 41st home opener was in the books.
Long after most of the 48,456 headed into the parking lots a man wearing a Blue Jays jersey reading P-A-P-A-S was spotted in front of the bank of TVs as the names of season ticket holders rolled on behind home plate at Level 100.
From holding company 1564112 Ontario Inc. to Paulina Zyniewicz -- or as we say in the sign-reading business from 1-to-Z -- names of companies and people paying for season tickets scrolled again and again.
Finally the P’s came up and Nick Papas asked his friend Kim Giles to take his picture with his name in the background.
This might be about the time when you reader thinks along like Leslie Nielsen portraying Lt. Detective Frank Drebin in the movie Naked Gun.
“Alright, move on, nothing to see here, disperse ...,” Nielsen says as a fireworks factory explodes behind him.
So, what’s the big whoop about Nick Papas and Kim Giles, first-year season ticket holders, from either Ajax or Oakville posing for pictures.
Well, as Lt. Drebin might say, just giving the facts ma’am, but Papas and Giles, are neither from Ajax or Oakville.
Born in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Ill., he attended Loyola Academy and now lives in Phoenix. Giles was born in Elk Grove Village, Ill. and also resides in Phoenix.
“I used to wear a customized Kelly Gruber jersey to high school,” Papas said. “And Cubs fans would say ‘Kelly Gruber sucks!” or ‘Who is Kelly Gruber?’”
The first game Papas ever saw at the SkyDome was July 5, 1989, the 16th game that the Jays played in their new building after leaving Exhibition Stadium. Gruber doubled off starter Dave Johnson.
“I just fell in love with the dome, remember you could get $4 tickets, go to Dominion stores and get the $2 off coupon and for 20 bucks you could load the station wagons and 10 kids could get it.”
Randy Milligan singled in a run and next came doubles by Bob Melvin and Craig Worthington for a four-run third inning and a 5-0 lead against Jimmy Key. Baltimore eventually won 5-4.
That 16th game in the history of the Jays taking their games indoors might rank in among the top 10 games in history. Left fielder George Bell caught the ball in left field, crashed into the fence ... and dropped the ball, leading to boos from 49,239. After the game I approached Bell and he declined to talk.
However moments later Allan Ryan approached Bell and he told Ryan, “Those fans can kiss my purple ass.”
That loss dropped the Jays to 38-45, 10 1/2 games behind the first place Orioles. After starting 12-26, Toronto caught Baltimore in Game 161 as George Bell knocked in a run with a run-scoring fly ball to cap a three-run eighth for a 4-3 win.
How does a sane man live in Phoenix purchase season tickets?
“I have lots of family here so the tickets don’t go unused,” said Papas, who in the past had bought six-game and 10-game packages. He does help that he works for a major airline.
No, not United.
Papas has worked in customer operations for American Airlines since 2007 and he makes sure when you connect through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix your luggage or cargo to aircraft makes the next flight.
At home, Papas has a number of uniform tops. “You know how at the end of a TV show the announcer will say ‘host’s wardrobe supplied by ...’ Well, mine is wardrobe by Majestic.”
Besides the 1989 Gruber jersey, he has two Roy Halliday uniforms (a black authentic alternate with the 30th anniversary patch and a retro powder blue), a Roger Clemens home white authentic with the Jackie Robinson anniversary patch on in from 1997 and a Joe Carter batting practice from the early 90s.
He has at least one jersey from each logo change era and has collected roughly half the Blue Jays media guides.
Betty Papas was born in Greece and moved to Toronto where she still lives.
While Papas has never seen the Blue Jays play a post-season game but was in Kansas City to see a Pittsburgh Steelers-Chiefs NFL game.
“It was the same day as Game 6 of the American League Championship Series when the Jays lost, I had bought a ticket for Game 7 -- if they had won that game,” recalled Papa. “And if they won Game 7, I had flight reservations for Toronto and the opening of the World Series.”
Giles meanwhile is a staunch Cubs fan despite the Jays jersey she wore. Both had hoped for the ideal match up in their eyes in the 2016 World Series. Giles’ Cubs won the World Series, while Papas’ Jays were eliminated by the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS.
Her first game was was a downer ... a 4-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Plus Giles was not in her seat and missed the scoreboard message missing “Welcome to your first game Kim Giles.” And Giles pointed out former Cub Darwin Barney didn’t get in the game.
“I did get to enjoy Munenori Kawasaki when he was the Cubs, just as the way Jays fans did,” said Giles.
Papas has worked part-time in the ticket department of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a media relations assistant both in the Arizona Fall League and for the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim in 2003.
While attending Arizona State University he did an internship for the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays.
* * *
The opening night loss dropped the Jays to 1-6 on the season. Not good. Only three teams in the past 39 seasons have made the playoffs after starting with the same 1-6 record.
They were Davey Johnson’s 1995 Cincinnati Reds, who won 85 times, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round and lost the National League Championship Series in four straight games to the Atlanta Braves; Charlie Manuel’s 2007 Philadelphia Phillies who won 89 games and were swept in the NL Division Series by the Colorado Rockies and Joe Maddon’s 2011 Tampa Bay Rays, who won 91 times and were eliminated in the first round by the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series.
* * *
The home opener was getaway day for reliever Casey Lawrence, the 716th player in franchise history to wear a Jays uniform. He made his debut Saturday in extras and suffered the loss at Tropicana falling to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Kendrys Morales became the 709th player to wear a Blue Jays uniform when he game flew out in the first inning opening night at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
In the second inning in Baltimore, Steve Pearce struck out to become No. 710.
Reliever J.P. Howell retired Chris Davis in the eighth inning to become Mr. Convenience Store -- No. 711. And in the next inning Joe Smith came on to work 1 2/3 scoreless as the 712th player to become a Jay.
Next, Jarrod Saltalamacchia made his debut last Friday catching lefty Francisco Liriano becoming No. 713 in St. Pete’s a 10-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
And one out into Liriano’s start Dominic Leone became the 715th.
* * *
For Papas it was his first home opener as a season’s ticket holder.
For Giles it was her first game.
And for Lawrence he is still waiting for his first.
We checked in on a few others as another season ... full of promise, but lacking hits, runs and victories as the 81-game home schedule began.
* * *
Ron Sandelli, director of team safety, 17th home opener.
A former police officer, Sandelli became the Jays new RSA (Resident Security Agent) taking over for Ian Marr in 1993. He was asked to accompany the Jays on the road to Chicago for the American League Championship Series to look after the player’s wives and girlfriends and families in the travelling party.
Fran Brown, GM Pat Gillick’s left and right hand, booked Sandelli a flight into Chicago the day before the families arrived.
“I flew with Gillick and he didn’t have to do it, but he invited me to diner, he always included me in anything and everything,” said Sandelli. “My guess is because his father was a former police officer just as I was.”
Sandelli’s biggest problem when he took over was “convincing players that I wasn’t a spy for management and the guy that helped the most was Carlos Delgado.” Over the years he has a lot of faves like Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada, Jason Grilli and Delgado.
Steve Harrington, security, 11th opener.
Harrington is the man with the magic clock. He decides when or if the big brown wooden door to the Blue Jays clubhouse opens. It usually opens around 3:30 before a night game, 10 minutes after a loss or when equipment manager Jeff Ross give the green light.
Harrington has worked the door for five years.
Jeff Ross, equipment manager, 41 openers.
Although we were only in Dunedin for four days this spring we didn’t see Ross because he was recovering from back surgery.
Ross lifted his shirt to show he was wearing a thick back brace. “How ‘bout this, I look like Ron Hunt.”
Hunt was hit 243 times, leading the majors six straight seasons (1968-73). The former Montreal Expos second baseman ranks sixth behind Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings, who was hit 287 times. Next on the list are Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (285), Tommy Tucker (272), Don Baylor (267) and Jason Kendall (254).
Paul Beeston, former president, 36 openers.
Beeston stopped by manager John Gibbons’ office to wish the skipper good luck.
Len Frejlich, visiting clubhouse manager, 41 openers.
Frejlich started in 1977 working in the ticket office before moving to the visiting clubhouse.
Mario Coutinho, vice president, stadium operations and security, 35 openers.
Coutinho was on his walkie-talkie and walking three hours before first pitch as he always is moving from one area to another.
Perry Silverman, visiting clubhouse attendant, first opener.
Silverman is the son of the legendary John Silverman, who runs the clubhouse of the Florida Marlins after doing the same for the Montreal Expos.
Perry Silverman was a speedy outfielder for Mike McRae’s Canisius Golden Griffs and now he is following in his father’s footsteps.
Dante De Caria, media intern, first opener.
De Caria is on loan from Algonquin College in Ottawa where he graduated from St. Pat’s high school and was taught by Mike Kusiewicz, the left-hander who spent 10 years in the minors, four more in Independent ball and pitched for Team Canada.
Last season Mike Nellis and De Caria broadcast the Ottawa Champions games as well as having a show Around The Diamond on itunes. De Caria said TSN’s Scott (162) MacArthur helped him get the job in Toronto.
Benjamin Warn, stationed at CFB Trenton, first opener.
The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Warn was easy to spot towering above the crowd. He was one of 150 military women and men who helped unfold the giant Maple Leaf ... both at 11 AM practice and just before our anthem was sung.
And where was Warn standing? “Right by the stem,” he said, who played high school football at Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School. Warn says his plan was to enter the military and then look for work in police force, but the people are “so nice” in the service he might stay.
Holly Gentemann, manager, community marketing and player relations, 14 years.
Gentemann was also walking along the concourse and looking relaxed. The new mother is on maternity leave and the home opener was her first night away from her three-month old Chloe and first time ever sitting in the stands. Her pal from Kingston, Daphne Sword, accompanied her to the game. Responsible for on field happenings pre-game, Gentemann was not the usual customer in the sold out Rogers Centre.
“I was trying to follow along, see what Marnie Starkman (who runs the show from the control room in the scoreboard) was going to do next,” said Gentemann, as Josh Donaldson was presented awards from the 2016 season, the giant Maple Leaf appeared and the anthem were sung.
Gentemann ran into Jeremy Boersna earlier. The two had not seen each other since Grade 13 at Queen Elizabeth Collegiate (also known as Kingston’s second-best HS, behind my school, KCVI). We spoke about the loss of Gary Lavallee, the legendary hockey player and how this summer Kingston is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Kingston Aces winning the OHA, the Kingston Merchants taking the intermediate title and the Kingston Ponies winning the OBA senior title (for the first time since 1932) beating the Orillia Majors.
As Jim Bouton used to write ... it was opening night not Opening Night and to some in sales with the Jays it was the Honda Home Opener.