You know that you’ve had an unforgettable weekend when you wake up Monday Morning with a ‘fun hangover’. Your face is sore from smiling so much, your legs and feet hurt from all of the walking you’ve done and your heart is full of all of the memories you’ve amassed over the previous 48 hours and your only regret is that it went by so fast and would do anything to rewind time 2 days so you could live it all over again.
That, for me, is my assessment of Winterfest 2019.
I did not attend Winterfest last year in its inaugural year. Afterwards, part of me regretted not going but the other part of me was relieved that I hadn’t. The event concluded with mixed reviews, player interaction was of course phenomenal, but logistics had left a lot to be improved. According to fans I met and spoke with Saturday and Sunday whom had gone last year and this year, Rogers and The Blue Jays took all concerns seriously and really hit this year’s event outta the park (pun intended).
To sum it up, this was the most amazing baseball event I could ever expect to attend. There was an overall sense of happiness and excitement that hung over the entire event. From the staff, the volunteers and everyone ‘working’ the two days, to the fans in attendance, you could just feel the pure love of the game and the team flowing through the Roger’s Centre. The same energy that we felt first thing on Saturday Morning when the doors opened was still felt on Sunday afternoon as the weekend was coming to an end. And you know, after such long hours with the amount of overstimulation that was present and the energy that was needed to pull off such a spectacular event, to still have everyone smiling, friendly and genuinely happy to be there, that is the mark of a truly successful fan weekend.
Afterwards, when I got home and had time to relax and really review the previous two days, it fully settled in how many players (past and present) I had met, how many TV personalities I’d been fortunate to speak with and how much of an impression this team, in all facets, has made in my life. I’m a fan who has never met, spoke to or gotten an autograph of a player before.
Day 1: Saturday
For me it was a whole new universe the moment I stepped into the Roger’s Centre on Saturday morning. There were so many activities that we could partake in, areas of the stadium that I was being granted access to that I’d never been before and thankfully I had a seasoned and experienced friend who was there to guide me and slowly ease me into this overwhelmingly amazing event. One of the first highlights of the day was when I was able to shake one of my childhood hero’s hands (Ernie Whitt, I’m looking at you) and speak to him. I was able to meet and had a photo taken with a Hall of Fame legend (Jack Morris, what’s up?) and my favourite part of being a part of that selfie station experience was watching them step back gracefully with genuine smiles as girls (and women) requested only a picture with Randall Grichuk, because … well Handsome Randy!
I can attest to the claim that Randal Grichuk is as handsome as he is claimed to be. And shy to boot! If I wasn’t a fan before (I was), I would be now (still am).
I also had the dream of signing a Blue Jays contract (even if just for one day) come true … although part of me was just as interested in those chocolate chip cookies they were giving out as meeting Joseph Sheehan and signing said contract. And if you got a chance to eat those cookies, I’m sure you’ll understand exactly what I mean! I can neither confirm nor deny I went back for seconds (and thirds). Pair that experience with touring the team clubhouse and being able to film my very first post game presser …where I was nervous but the mantra I continued to repeat to myself was “if Joe Biagini can do this, I can do this’.
In all honesty, Joe Biagini is the hero to every single person who is awkward, nervous and weird. He says strange things, acts to the beat of his own drum and gives all of us who are worried about making a fool of ourselves the courage to do so and know that hey, we’re all weird and we should embrace it. I think he is the only player I did not get to meet this weekend that I really would have liked to hug and say ‘thank you for being you and letting us all be a witness to your awesome awkwardness.’
One of the events that I hadn’t expected to enjoy as much as I did was the game show segments with Jamie Campbell on the TD Stage. To watch Alumni, current and future players all trying to play Name That Tune, (and the shade… oh so much shade thrown back and forth) was enough to have me wishing they had have done an entire day of just banter back and forth. The Newlywed game later in the day was just as fun. It is a side of the players we don’t often get to see. Relaxed, playful and letting us get to know them as they get to know each other on a different level. It gave fans a chance to watch them, relax and take a break before we headed out for more adventure and fun throughout the event.
Day one ended with me exhausted from the excitement but eager to get home and to bed so Sunday could come faster and we could get back to the fun.
Day 2: Sunday
The first thing that I noticed on Sunday was how short lineups were Saturday. I think the longest line up we waited in was at most 20 minutes and for such a huge event, so many fans and so much to do all in one place, I expected to spend most of my day in lineups for things.
Meet and Greets.
As we walked right up to coat check, I realized that no, the line up aspect of such a hugely anticipated fan event that we had expected had been a non issue. Sunday was spent catching up and doing everything we hadn’t gotten to do the day before.
The human sized snow globe was ridiculously fun. I probably could have spent ages playing in there. To which we then headed over to the Blue Jays Central desk to meet Joe Siddall and realize a dream I didn’t know I had to broadcast. Prior to this weekend, I probably would not have said that meeting Joe and speaking with him would have been a priority on my ‘to do list’ for Winterfest, but that’s the amazing part of the weekend, you have that opportunity and learn more about yourself and your team that you hadn’t anticipated before. He was absolutely wonderful. Made sitting in the chair at the desk comfortable, not at all nerve wracking and at the end of your 2-3 minutes you’re wanting to tell them to come back later and that you have more to discuss.
The broadcasting station was probably my unexpected favourite part of the weekend and just hit home how grateful I am to have the opportunity to go to Winterfest and to try things out of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t have thought ‘hey, I can do this’.
The main aspect to Day 2 for me was probably my autograph session. We had a 3:30pm autograph session and we learned when we received our wristbands that we were getting Justin Smoak’s group. I honestly would have been happy with any group, but I have to admit that was my first choice.
Because Justin Smoak!
Having as much fun Saturday watching the Name that Tune game, we were happy to see our autograph group on stage playing against Joe Carter’s. If we thought there was shade thrown Saturday, it was nothing compared to the comedy gold we got on Sunday.
Hands down, best part of the weekend. I kid you not.
Which made it even better when we were at our autograph session and let Lloyd Moseby and Fred McGriff know that they had been robbed on stage by Joe Carter and commiserated on the other team’s come from behind win. The comradery between the players and each other, and the players and fans was quite possibly the most endearing part of the experience.
To top off the weekend, I was able to meet Charlie Montoyo and take batting practice. My mind was in overdrive over the entirety of my weekend experiences. I just can’t explain how much all of it meant to me and how great it was to just experience it with wonderful friends. Friends who weren’t new to a lot of the experiences that I had, but still let me geek out over it. Who understood why I was so quiet most of the time, just soaking it all in and cataloguing it.
Everyone has had a different experience at Winterfest this year. The season ticket members had their lounge that players were in and out of throughout the day. Some fans had multiple autograph sessions and mapped out exactly who they wanted to see at what station they were at. As focused as we were, we took a lot of it as it came. We would see who was where we were and who would be there later, if we made it back we would check it out again, if not, we’d see who we saw where we were. And I don’t regret a single minute of it.
I went in with zero expectations and a confidence that no matter who we saw, what we did we would have fun. And we did. I got to meet so many fans, learned so many stories and spoke to so many people that I’ve seen online but never met in person. I had a great conversation with one of the J Force girls at the Broadcast booth and got to see the event through her eyes and her excitement. I was offered a chance to thank players (past, present and future) for being a part of Canada’s team, for coming out for the fans and let them know how much their dedication to us means to fans. I was given the chance to do things I never in my life thought I would get to do and it just fueled my excitement for baseball season to start.
Events such as Winterfest is crucial to not only the Blue Jays as a franchise and team, but the fans to have that opportunity to really connect with the team itself, the players, the administration and behind the scenes people we never really have that chance to meet or speak to but also other fans. Baseball has changed my life in so many ways that people not in the fandom could never even imagine.
I’ve met so many fans through the Blue Jays and social media that I never would have had the chance to had it not been for the team. Some of the most important people in my life right now were complete strangers to me 2 years ago before Outta the Park started and became a family. And to have this outlet for everyone to get together, celebrate baseball, celebrate this sport and this team that we are dedicated to and means so much to us is integral to who we are as a fan base.
The whole weekend was an amazing tribute to baseball, The Toronto Blue Jays, the players and the fans. I overheard a mum and her son behind me waiting in line to see George Bell on Sunday and he asked if the Blue Jays could do this every weekend. Just the thought of it made me wish so hard for it. I hear you kid, I hear you! That would be phenomenal!