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Farewell to a Canadian sporting giant

About a decade ago, on the back of a golfing tour of Ireland in 2004, I went off to Canada to see some relatives and pals for ten days.

My hosts in Toronto took me one day to the Rogers Center, home of the Blue Jays the city’s baseball team that plays in the American League, Eastern Division.

This was my first ‘live’ visit to a baseball game – I subsequently went to one at the New York Yankees stadium upon a different North American family holiday – and I cannot pretend I understand (or even care about) the intricacies of the American version of the traditional British girls’ game rounders.

All I knew was that the Yankees were the team of the all-time great Mickey Mantle.

And you know what? the Yankees’ stadium paid full and fitting tribute to its former players – there were forty foot banner around the outside of the stadium featuring former and current leading players and you could buy a ‘Mantle’ T-shirt in the style and colours of the current team, which seemed (to me) the right way to make the most of what you’ve got.

The one thing that particularly impressed me on both these visits to baseball games, however, was the quality of North American sports stadia. In terms of slick marketing, access, seating and sheer quality of everything (no expense spared upon visual and PA sound systems), not least the fact that over that side of the Pond the paying customer is always king, they knocked anything I’ve ever seen or been to in Europe – and particularly the UK – into a cocked hat.

Sitting in both the Rogers Center and the New York Yankees Stadium, I was able to enjoy a true grandstand view of everything from the most comfortable seats you could imagine.

The quality of the information being displayed about the batters, their career averages etc., was simply outstanding and the PA system was unobtrusive but perfectly pitched so that one had the impression the announcer was speaking only to you, and just whispering in your ear.

This was in stark contrast to the PA system at Twickenham Stadium at the time – for all I know they may have improved it since, but I wouldn’t know because I refuse to go to rugby matches at Twickenham anymore in protest at the poor matchday experience – which could have been best described as ear-splittingly loud but sounding as if the announcer himself was about 150 metres underwater.

You literally could not decipher a single word he said!

In short, I loved the North American sports stadia and wondered why on earth their British equivalents were so inferior. Actually, I could hazard a guess – British sports don’t care about their spectators and have an in-built pronounced aversion about ever spending money on anything (bar the players, who are vastly over-paid).

Anyway, back to 2007, or was it 2008?

The time I went to see the Toronto Blue Jays play a home game at the Rogers Center. I cannot even recall which team they were playing against, who won, or even what the score was.

At some point before or during the game, seeking to make a touristr’s gesture, on my host’s recommendation I bought a ‘named’ Blue Jays shirt – the name on it was that of Roy Halladay, the Blue Jay’s famous pitcher.

Ever since that holiday, I’ve kept that shirt and use it regularly on my visit to the gym or going for a walk.

Only a month ago, when my Toronto host was over in the UK to play in my brother’s family golf tournament, I had a discussion about how Roy Halladay (now a 40 year old veteran) was doing. I told him I still wore Halladay’s shirt at least once a week.

Overnight when I opened my email account upon coming to my computer, there was a missive in my inbox from my Toronto pal. It simply said “RIP, Roy Halladay!”

The guy was killed in a plane crash.

Here’s a link to a piece on him in tribute – CBC SPORTS












About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts