By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The Giants and the Cardinals players straggled into Woodland Chase Park.
Each team of seven, eight and nine-year-olds came ready to smoke line drives off the new-fangled blue pitching machine.
This was early in the season for the Mississauga Southwest Twins senior rookie ball season.
“Mom!” asked one little Giant, “why are there three men holding TV movie cameras?"
“Nothing to worry about ... they are just filming a few seconds for the Mississauga Southwest website,” said his mom.
A few other moms giggled ... everyone smiled. They knew. Their kids did not.
The children and parents, no matter which way they entered the park, walked by small billboards which read “FILMING IN SESSION.”
The other two teams in the league -- the Dodgers and the Blue Jays -- were also dressed and in uniform by convenor Doug Coll.
And Aaron Thompson, Mississauga Southwest vice president, was on hand to make sure everything worked smoothly, collecting the final few waivers from parents.
Yep, this Thursday night was going to be quite unlike any other senior rookie ball game this season.
The Giants scored five in the top of the first and the Cardinals came back with a few -- sorry, we could not find the scorekeeper -- in the bottom of the first.
Now, in right field was a street called Pimlico Court. Except from home plate or second base you could not see the street. There isn’t a fence and right field had a quick drop off past the foul pole. Maybe a 15-foot gradual drop.
Suddenly in the second the players could hear music. Louder and louder.
One coach said, “Let’s go see what the noise is.” A couple of other coaches said the same.
All four teams bolted to right field, along with parents, siblings, cameras and lawn chairs in tow. Even a couple of grandparents were hustlin’ from the third base side across the infield.
Now it would have been easy to see someone from an older age group hitting the ball to right ... down the berm ... and out of sight. It reminded me of one day in Binghamton, N.Y. at SUNY Binghamton in 1980. Ottawa-Nepean Canadians right fielder Greg McNally chased the ball to the bottom of the hill and threw his relay towards the second baseman. When McNally got back up to sea level the second baseman chewed him out for his throw not being too high. “Accurate? I couldn’t even see you from the bottom of the hill,” said McNally as the hitter scored with an inside-the-park, down-the-berm home run.
* * *
And what happened when the players got to the bottom of the hill?
“Well, a bottle of mustard exploded out of a bus,” said Jayden Reeves, eight.
Wowser ... should have headed out to right field.
Said Xavier Nguyen, eight of the Cardinals “There was a band, a giant hot dog, Robbie Alomar and a bus.”
Up the hill in no particular order came
_ The renowned Burlington Team Tour Band, 55-strong.
_ An organ player twinkling the keys to “chaaaarge,” in the back of a rickshaw.
_ Four mascots: two Heinz ketchup bottles and one mustard plus a hot dog.
_ Another vendor on a bike giving away hot dogs.
_ The camera crews.
_ A Spirit Squad and some extras wore hot dog hats.
_ And ... Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter, 1993 World Series hero.
All had marshalled at the Vic Johnson arena in Mississauga and then made the short trip to Pimlico Court.
This production on a secluded diamond behind St. Rose of Lima school near the Credit Valley hospital, was the sight for filming of a 45-second Heinz Ketchup commercial. The ad will air in Cineplex theatres the weekend of June 22, when the next Transformers movie comes out.
* * *
Players returned, ex-players returned, along with the coaches and two teams there to watch all returned. At one time you could barely see the field.
Surveying the situation umpire Brett Wiltse said, “I think I have lost control of this game.”
Play resumed with the band behind the backstop pumping out ballpark prompts.
Carter, Alomar and Wiltse took their positions near the mound on either side of the pitching machine. Carter and Alomar gave out pointers to the hitters and pitchers as the game progressed. Alomar was with the Giants and Carter with the Cardinals.
We did see someone who resembled umpire Wiltse snapping a selfie of Carter and himself between pitches.
“Hey mom, mom, mom ... MOM!” asked a Cardinal hitter noticing a camera near the dugout. “Is this game on TV right now?”
Jace Harwick of the Cardinals fouled a ball straight back, which cleared the backstop and hit the hot dog mascot directly in the dog.
“Weiner down!” yelled one Dodger.
* * *
While the eight-year-olds could not be expected to know who Alomar or Carter were, their parents knew who they were.
Megan Reeves watched Game 6 of the 1993 World Series from her grandparents house in North York. They cheered, went outside and saw all the cars driving along honking horns. Husband Callum Reeves was at a Game 6 party at his parents' house when Carter went deep off Mitch Williams of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was crazy, people were honking, waving flags,” said Callum. “It was really the only thing I have experienced that ... I wasn’t alive when the Toronto Maple Leafs won in 1967.”
Parents shared memories over hot dogs supplied by the man driving the cart or burgers near the food truck set up behind the school.
Jayden Reeves’ favorite current Blue Jays player is Jose Bautista, just like his father.
Xavier Nguyen, who had both his hat and shirt autographed by Alomar, says his favourite Jay is third baseman Josh Donaldson because “he’s good, he catches the ball well and he won the MVP.” Xavier’s father Anh Van Nguyen had shown Xavier YouTube highlights of Alomar.
Beckett Ripton, a Cardinal, said that the game “was really cool” and when he returned home he’d tell people about Alomar and Carter being there.
* * *
It’s tough being a mascot. While the two ketchup and the one mustard had faces and were able to speak freely with the eight-year olds, some young uns had seen Carter and Alomar and wanted more info surrounding who was inside the Hot Dog mascot costume.
“Hey who is in there!” said one.
“Are you Kevin Pillar? C’om out Kevin, we need to see you?” said another, and then he raised his leg. Thankfully he did not boot the poor hot dog.
“I know who you are. If I guess will you come out? Are you Michael Jordan?” asked another.
Later a Dodger grabbed the bun portion of the hot dog mascot and said “this does not feel anything like a hot dog. You know what ... it feels like a mascot costume.”
The hot dog declined to speak ... not to ask what or whom was inside but to check on her or him after the foul ball plunked the dog an inning earlier.
If I heard one child tell the Mustard mascot that they did not like mustard I heard a dozen ... but everyone loved Ketchup ... and the Hot Dog.
Alomar and Carter came to the Jays from the San Diego Padres at the 1990 winter meetings in exchange for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. They are not seen together that often, but earlier this season they were in St. Louis when the Jays were there for an appearance and have done some work for Rogers.
If you shut your eyes you could imagine the two of them together that first day of spring in Dunedin in 1991: Carter smiling and Alomar shy. Things worked out ... as it was Pat Gillick and the franchise’s greatest trade.
* * *
After the game Alomar and Carter took turns signing hats and T-shirts. They sat on the dugout bench as players lined up in an orderly manner. They were better behaved than people at the SkyDome for a George Bell book signing.
Reeves, Nguyen and Ripton all said that the band, the Hall of Famer, the mascots were not at the last rookie league game.
Reeves, Nguyen and Ripton all said that they did not expect Alomar, Carter, the band or the mascots to be at the next one.
“This is a game we will remember for the rest of our lives,” said a parent to his family on the way to the parking lot.
Milton was scouted as a possible shooting location and when it did not work out the contact, Dave Santos and his son Andrew Santos, eight, were invited to be extras. When they went to board the fan bus from the arena to go to the park it was full. Tough luck. They jumped on the second bus. Young Andrew sat beside Carter, his father alongside Alomar. Not a bad day.
* * *
After the game Joe Carter stood in the batter's box. The idea was to try to re-create his "Touch 'Em All Joe" moment as Tom Cheek described the game-winning, three-run, walk-off homer.
(Ah, move back kiddies.)
After a couple of swings: ground ball, ground ball, ground ball, Carter drove a ball to left with some loft and off he went. Like in 1993 he threw he hands in the air on the way to first and did the stutter step at first -- although it was confusing since rookie ballers have two bases at first. The agencies involved were Mosaic, in charge of experiential and creative production; Edelman for public relations; Starcom: media and Taxi 2 for creative concept.
There was roughly two hours of film coming to movie theatres near you. The ad has star power in Alomar and Carter, smiling faces of youngsters, a marching band, good umpiring and as the sun went over the tree line in foul territory down the left field line it was easy to imagine it being a smash hit.
Everywhere but parts of Leamington as the ketchup wars continue.