Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

August 12, 2013

Plenty of Good Seats Available

Especially after the Kitchener Panthers' drubbing of the Maple Leafs, 19-1, in Game 2 of their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series. Ouch. Burly Kitchener DH Bryon Bell—who Mr. Stuck-in-the-'70s (me) kept calling Buddy Bell—was a one-man wrecking crew, smacking three homers and driving in nine runs.

So much for the game; I'll give you a taste of Dominico Field's ambience instead. Save for three rows of wooden benches down the first and third baselines there's no seating as such, much less reserved seating. Admission is free. Most fans seat themselves somewhere on the hill, the early birds having already procured the prime shady spots. The regulars bring all the amenities—coolers, portable lawn chairs, their trusty Leaf ball caps—and there's always just enough on-street parking to accommodate them. Your trusty reporter stows his scorecard, sunscreen, extra water and bagged lunch in a backpack, arriving by bicycle. I too always secure a parking spot, probably because most of the cycling contingent "park" their bikes right where they're sitting.

The ballpark features a rudimentary scoreboard that no spectator can see: one, it's not bright enough and two, it's attached to the press box and faces the field. Ah, well; presumably the players have a good view of it. And as for said press box, it really is a box in which I'm guessing more than one is a crowd. The field is of course natural grass, with dimensions of 305 feet down the left-field line, 355 to straightway centre and 296 in right. (If that seems paltry, consider that the new Yankee Stadium is only 318 in left, 314 in right.)

After the lineups are announced, we're asked to stand and remove our caps for the playing of the national anthem, a tinny brass-band version. As is the norm for Toronto, no one cheers until or unless something happens, and the wheezy denouement of "O Canada" hardly qualifies. As the score suggests, we had little reason to cheer at all. But a few of us let the first-base umpire have it in the top of the sixth when, after the Leafs retired the lead runner at second for the third out, the ump called the runner safe at first on the fielder's choice. Truth be told, the Leafs asked for it by throwing to first to complete the phantom double play. It was that kind of day for the home side.

Keeping score may seem the province of grizzled bleacher creatures, but it's fun, too. And with no radio broadcast available it's hard to follow along otherwise. In-stadium announcements are infrequent, with a full line score given after every three innings (i.e, twice during the game). And sure, some games are broadcast on community cable, but the only way to tune in at the ballpark is to sit beside the "booth," a glorified tent they set up beside the press box. Airwaves indeed! Transmitter range, two metres. I suspect the five people huddled 'round the booth were four more than the legion of viewers watching at home. If you're into the baseball Leafs, you're here, not glued to your TV set.

As for practicalities: when nature calls, you can hike to the washrooms the players use (far beyond the centre-field fence) or nip into one of the portable toilets behind the press box. Your unofficial scorer had no choice but the latter, and even that was a tight fit time-wise.

Concessions? They used to have a stand beyond the fence in centre, but I doubt it's still operating because the PA guy no longer announces it. Try the ice cream truck on Barton Avenue or, for a wider selection, the convenience store at the corner of Barton and Christie. As far as I know, none of the proceeds go to support the team. To do that, buy a cap, T-shirt or jersey from the guy in the press box, or if that's breaking the bank, try a $5 raffle ticket from a guy named Al. ("Al's coming around one last time, folks. Last call for our raffle. Prizes include dinner at Kingsway Fish & Chips, a pair of Argos tickets, and a CD.")

Your token teetotaller is proud to report that no alcohol is sold at the ballpark (hooray). Of course, resourceful imbibers bring their own, as evidenced by the beer cans strewn around the recycling bin. As is their wont, the police turn a blind eye to alcohol consumption in this and other public parks, but that's another rant for another day. In related news, you can smoke here. But I try to be both sparing and considerate, sitting as far from others as I can and being mindful of which way the wind's blowing.

As for the quality of play—today's debacle excepted—the IBL is semipro and roughly equivalent to Class-A ball. A handful of major-leaguers have passed through its ranks, including a few big names like Ferguson Jenkins, Denny McLain and John Axford. Ex-Blue Jay pitcher Paul Spoljaric spent six seasons with the Leafs after retiring from MLB.

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