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Inside Baseball: Having the Jays in town has been great but it's sure been different

Inside Baseball: Having the Jays in town has been great but it's sure been different

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What we miss at the ballpark

Reporters entered Sahlen Field's media seating – in the 100 level sections and not the actual press box – by this sign next to the closed Charlie the Butcher stand in the concourse.

It's been a wild seven weeks at Sahlen Field and it all wraps up Sunday. Great to be at the ballpark again in the wake of that heartbreaking June day when the minor-league season was canceled and it looked like we'd go 20 months without seeing the place.

The Yankees played here – seven times! So did the Mets, Red Sox, Rays and Phillies. (No offense to the Marlins and Orioles, but they don't move the emotion needle so much).

The Buffalo/Toronto Blue Jays, with so many guys who used to call the corner of Washington and Swan their home, wrote quite a script. It's not where any of them wanted to be in 2020, but they made the best of it by putting together an unlikely run to the postseason.

And nobody will forget the scene Thursday night. An MLB playoff spot was clinched in Buffalo. Against the New York Yankees. Mind-blowing indeed.

I saw every game in person and I don't take that for granted because I know you couldn't. So many of you have reached out to say you would have done a lot just to see one game. I'll never get so many offers to carry a laptop again.

It's been fascinating and at the same time frustrating to watch it all from Section 102, Row MM, Seat 5. Confused? The club level press box, where I've spent so many days and nights since 1988, wasn't available because of social distancing and ventilation mandates by MLB (the windows don't open). We sat at socially-distanced tables, stocked with sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, set up under cover at the top of the lower level.

The press box view and nightly banter were just some examples of something I missed. And there are plenty more.

I missed Darlene White, a 1988 Day One original, and her cohorts greeting fans and media at the Washington Street gate. Her hellos send everyone on their way to a day or night at the park.

I missed noise. Real noise, not the canned stuff MLB and the Jays piped in. It didn't seem real without Conehead walking around hawking his brew and peanuts. Superfan Mark Aichinger was in his usual seat behind the plate in cutout form – and several visiting players who once played here stopped to admire his image and heckle him back.

Mark, buddy, we really needed to hear you scream, "You stink" at the visitors and see you do the "Cha Cha Slide" during every pitching change.

Mark Aichinger cutout

Longtime fan Mark Aichinger is represented at Sahlen Field by a cutout behind home plate. 

I missed applause after the national anthems. The Blue Jays often played a wonderful group a cappella of several fans combining to sing "O, Canada" and the "Star-Spangled Banner." Those folks should get to sing at Rogers Centre next year. The place would erupt.

I missed that rhythmic two-strike applause. Imagine the noise as Rafael Dolis was working on Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks for the playoff-clinching out Thursday. 

I missed the anticipation of a home run soaring through the air. There was one afternoon where Randal Grichuk hit a walkoff against Baltimore, a dramatic two-run shot in the 10th inning. Off the bat, the crowd would have been up and roaring watching the flight of the ball.

There was nary a peep in the place when Grichuk hit it, and you were almost surprised when the ball cleared the wall. Only then did you hear the hooting and hollering from Blue Jays players streaming onto the field.

Yes, I missed the Chicken Wing race. I'm all about Beef on Weck and Blue Cheese. I abhor Carrot, an evil vegetable, and Fish Fry. Funny touch by the Bisons stashing some of them in the team office windows to watch. They were the only "fans" without a media or staff credentials.

You want to make fun of me by saying that's minor league stuff? I spent a weekend in Milwaukee last summer and one of the highlights of the night is the Sausage Race. And what do they have to cheer about in Pittsburgh, except for the Great Pierogi Race?

Speaking of beef on weck, I missed the Charlie the Butcher stand. The press box entrance was right next to it and you walked by it entering the seating area every day. It was taunting you, a stark reminder of what we didn't have.

Just like the craft brew stand across the hall that was shrouded in curtains. Truth be told, on some Friday night pregame happy hours when I wasn't working, I've thoroughly enjoyed the jelly donut beer. Seriously.

I missed walking into the Hall of Fame Room to see the latest artifacts and hear the latest stories from historian John Boutet.

I missed sticking my head into the office of Bisons clubhouse manager Scott Lesher. He's usually pained over something with his beloved Phillies. How he would have hated their bullpen this year. 

I missed seeing longtimer Bob Decker manning the door to the Bisons' clubhouse and keeping an eye on the players' family room.

I missed pregame chats in the manager's office, both on and off the record. I would have liked to have seen Charlie Montoyo's conga drums. Had so many good conversations over the years with the likes of Brian Graham, Marty Brown, Torey Lovullo, Bobby Meacham and many others. Was looking forward to them with the affable Ken Huckaby, who got a raw deal from the Jays being let go without managing a game.

In the press box, I missed the acerbic wit of Karen O'Leary. Another 1988 original who supervises the food and beverage service of the box and suites, I guarantee you she's in favor of the extra-inning rule that gets games over quickly.

I missed the Abbott and Costello routine of radio analyst Duke McGuire and official scorer Kevin Lester, who never pass up a chance to argue a scoring decision while the commercials are rolling. The joke is that the old catcher in Lester can be stingy in charging passed balls.

I missed the voices of PA announcer Tom Burns and radio play-by-play host Pat Malacaro, who we at least heard on the PA mic for the Jays' games. 

I missed Garcia and so many of the ushers, and K-Man Kevin Huber, the longtimer who hangs the Ks on the railing of the 200 level for each strikeout. How he would have gone crazy at the Blue Jays' constant bullpen moves.

The Blue Jays and Bisons did an amazing job transforming the ballpark into a fine temporary home. It looked great on TV and the high praise from visiting Yankees and Mets beat writers was noted and appreciated. It just remotely wasn't the place we've come to know.

We'll never forget 2020 at the ballpark, as different as it was. We have no idea what 2021 will bring for the world and in the volatile current state of minor league baseball. Here's hoping we get a lot back of what we missed.

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