Touring two famous Toronto ballparks on Canada Day

Jack Domenico has owned the Intercounty League's Toronto Maple Leafs for 50 years and he was there to support his team at the field named in honour on Sunday. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

Jack Domenico has owned the Intercounty League's Toronto Maple Leafs for 50 years and he was there to support his team at the field named in honour on Sunday. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

It was 9:45 a.m. today when my wife dropped me off on Front St. near the Rogers Centre after we visited her mother in a long-care home in Mississauga.

When I stepped inside the Tim Hortons and saw many people in Blue Jays uniform tops and hats, I thought they were extra early but there was a reason: the team was giving out free hats to the first 20,000 spectators on a scorching hot Canada Day.

When I approached a member of the Jays' greeting staff, I asked him what kind of a crowd was expected. He said a big gathering was expected. Later, I learned the head count was 37,445, compared to the much smaller crowds the Jays had Friday and Saturday.

As I made my way over to check out any fans dressed in Expos gear so I could drum up support for my upcoming book, I saw from a distance that former Expos first baseman and Sportsnet analyst Cliff Floyd walked incognito into the stadium for another day's work.

Not far away, I noticed John Starzynski of Kitchener, Ont., the former chair of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, standing in line with his wonderful wife Sue (Rennie). I went up to talk to them. With them was another familiar face. I didn't know the other chap's name off hand but he told me he was Ian Hamilton, a CBC broadcaster, who I had met a few years earlier at one of Bill Humber's Spring Training classes at Seneca College.

After approaching a lot of people, I headed out of the stadium grounds to complete the second phase of my visit to Toronto: a sojourn to the venerable Christie Pits ballpark now called Jack Dominico Field, named after the long-time owner of the Intercounty Major League's Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Lathered in heavy shades of sunblock wearing an Expos jersey and Jays hat, I walked several miles before deciding to hop a TTC bus. I was surprised that the seniors' rate was only $2.10, telling the driver it was years and years since I had used the city's transit system. After several transfers, I found myself at Christie Pits on Via Rail Canada Day.

I noticed a gentleman on his phone and asked him if he was a Maple Leafs' hockey fan. He said yes. To save time checking my own phone in bright sunlight on a hot day, I asked him if the Leafs had signed John Tavares. He said yes. I was relieved and happy. 

This man and I got talking and I introduced myself and gave him a postcard promoting my book. He proceeded to tell me he was Andy Orchard, father of Maple Leafs baseball infielder Zac Orchard.

Andy told me something interesting. He said a number of Maple Leafs players, who had played various levels of pro ball, were having trouble adjusting to the slower pitchers they are facing in the Intercounty, compared to what they were accustomed. Some of these hitters saw really fast pitchers in pro ball but were finding it tough to get used to slower fastballs in the Intercounty. At least that's the way Andy analyzed the situation.

I told Andy I was at the game to see Dominico, an old acquaintance I had met in the early 1980s in Sudbury, Ont. Sure enough, about eight minutes before game time at 2, the Leafs owner drove up the famous Christie Pits hill on a scooter. So I renewed acquaintances. I had not seen him for close to 10 years. I used to see him often because for years, I lived not far away from Christie Pits near Bloor and Bathurst. But now that I am living in Uxbridge about an hour northeast of Toronto, I don't get there very often.

What is truly remarkable is that Dominico and the Leafs are enjoying their 50th season in the 100-year-old Intercounty, Canada's finest adult league. The Leafs began their first Intercounty season in 1969, the same year the Expos started operations.

Dominico was busy chatting with fans and then settled into his seat in the small press box. I really wanted to tell him that he deserves to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a builder.

Imagine: 50 years as the Leafs' owner. And he shows no signs of slowing down.

Danny Gallagher's upcoming book is called Blue Monday: The Expos, the Dodgers and the Home Run That Changed Everything.