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March 29, 2018

It’s Opening Day!

Tanvi Modi, an Outta The Park loyal listener, has allowed us to post her wonderful piece about baseball’s effect on her life.

Thank you so much, Tanvi!

Enjoy

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It’s Opening Day!

Baseball season is here, and realizing that, I was suddenly hit with a bout of nostalgia, reminiscing on how baseball and particularly the Toronto Blue Jays have always been such an important part of my life.

Growing up as a first generation Canadian, I struggled with trying to figure out who I really was in terms of how and where I fit in. I felt I was Canadian – I was born there, went to school there. English was my first language, the Canadian culture, values and lifestyle around me seemed the most normal and was what made sense to me. I grew up watching American television (ok, maybe a little Canadian television too) and so in that sense I felt truly Canadian, just like any other Canadian kid. But there was a catch – my parents were immigrants from India and they wanted me to be more Indian than Canadian. I think that is a dilemma that all immigrants go through in terms of adopting a new country as home, but yet wanting to remain true to the culture that they grew up with.

My struggle would always be growing up in an external environment, while my internal home environment was completely different. The internal environment was never anything like all the external environments I observed around me. That struggle continued for a very long time and in a way, still probably does. I now find myself a Canadian living in Mumbai, India. Trust me, the irony is not lost on me.

While I struggled to find that balance and figure out where I fit in and how to balance two very different cultures, baseball was my safe place, my happy place – the one place where I naturally felt a part of something. Everything about baseball – playing, watching, listening, talking, was easy for me; it was a place I felt I finally belonged without having to really explain my Canadian-Indian identity or whether I was a Canadian first or an Indian first. Baseball gave me the perfect identity to escape to – I was just a baseball fan, a Blue Jays fan. That identity needed no further explaining.

Baseball became the best escape for me, especially in the summers when I was at home. My summers did not really resemble those of the other kids in my school because, well, my family did things differently. They were still trying to hold on to the way they did things in India, while adjusting to being in Canada. But I could block all that out with baseball. I had the most amazing collection of baseball cards and any money I could save, would go towards more cards. I still remember how my excitement knew no bounds when one of my newly purchased packs revealed a John Olerud rookie card. Just a year earlier I had watched him flirt with .400 all season long. I remember opening up the newspaper every morning to see how many hits he got and where his average stood. That card became the most prized possession amongst my entire collection. I meticulously catalogued my baseball cards in a green soft cover notebook. Before the Internet and fancy computers, I used to sit and spend hours on my own, calculating various statistics of players and teams. This activity filled many of my summer days at home, sitting on the floor of my bedroom or the carpeted basement, not realizing that hours had flown by and that it was almost time for an actual Blue Jays game.

Those days, games were usually telecast on CTV and usually only a couple of games a week would even be shown. I remember going through the TV Guide as soon as it arrived, not to check which movies were on that week but rather to see what days the Blue Jays games would actually be on television.  For the games that were not, there was the radio. Every single game was on the radio. That is how Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth became the voices I would listen to almost every day for at least three and a half hours during the long season. I even listened to the West Coast games, the ones that started at 10 pm Toronto time. I would keep my clock radio on low volume and listen to the game in the dark, laying in my small twin bed, when I was supposed to be asleep. Those West Coast games were the only ones I could not score diligently because I usually fell asleep halfway through and of course also because I could not score in the dark. Otherwise I scored every single game using those scorecards I had. I loved that I was the only one I knew who scored games and that it was as though I knew this secret baseball language that no one else around me knew. But Tom and Jerry knew that language too and that was enough. Even during a bad day, after some argument at home, or after another day of that cultural tug-of-war, Tom and Jerry’s voices made me forget everything else. I could forget all that was wrong and all that was troubling and all the confusion. For those few hours, my world was perfect the way it was. My life was good. Everything else disappeared, as baseball took over.

I would look for excuses to skip the Saturday or Sunday shopping excursion with my family or pray that there would at least be a lot of traffic so that I could continue listening to the games on the car radio. I hated when any plans were made around the same time as a game.  As a teenager, I’d volunteer to wash the car, even on a scorching hot afternoon because it meant I could listen to the game on the radio without question, while completing a chore.  The car never looked cleaner than it did during the baseball season.  I honestly preferred listening to games on the radio. Those were the days of having only one television in the house and I hated having to fight someone off from changing the channel during commercial breaks or because the game was a blowout. Listening to the games meant is was just me with my radio and I did not have to worry about missing out. I’m sure it annoyed a lot of people around me that listening to the Blue Jays took priority over everything else, at least whenever I managed to get my way. I guess that is because no one truly understood why I needed baseball in my life and how Tom and Jerry made this lost kid feel like she belonged somewhere. Like she was a part of this huge community where she did not need to explain herself. She just fit in. I never met either of them, and yet I felt I knew them. They spoke to me through my radio; that was a truly special bond.  It was only much later in life that I realized that my connection with baseball and the Blue Jays taught me that passion is the only true connection you need to find your place in life. If you have a strong passion for something, you will find a community you fit in with and never feel like you don’t belong. That realization helped me find my professional calling and ensured that even when I work 14 hour days, I don’t feel like I have been working.

I lost touch with baseball for a few years when I first came to Mumbai. I didn’t know about the MLB app and when I did learn of it, I initially could not afford it. Eventually I began subscribing to the version that allowed me to hear the games but not watch them as that was a more affordable option. Hearing Jerry’s voice again made me both smile and cry that first time. Smile, because it was baseball, it was the Blue Jays, it was my happy place and I felt the best part of my childhood coming back to me; cry because it reminded me of how much I missed baseball and how I would never hear Tom Cheek’s voice again. I had lost a part of my childhood, without even knowing it. I was not in Toronto when Tom Cheek first became ill and stopped calling games and eventually passed away. I didn’t know anything about it, so when I heard Jerry’s voice, I immediately thought I would hear the other familiar voice right there with him. When I did not, I realized something was off and eventually turned to Google to learn what had transpired in those few years I had been away from my Blue Jays.  It took me a while to get used to Tom Cheek’s voice not being there but hearing Jerry gave me solace.

I have been listening to games throughout this Spring Training but I do not think it has truly hit me that I will no longer be hearing Jerry Howarth’s voice calling Blue Jays games. But I hear the season opener, I know something will have changed. Jerry’s voice connected me to those happy memories of my childhood and adolescence.  Even though I missed Tom and Jerry together, at least Jerry’s voice allowed me to feel that some things were still the same. I am going to miss that this year. More than most people will ever understand.

Over the years, many things have changed but the one thing that hasn’t is my love for baseball and the Blue Jays. This year it will take me some time to get used to the fact that I will no longer be hearing a voice calling the games that connects me to those lost days of growing up in Toronto. I’m going to miss that.  I like to believe that with every ending, there comes a new beginning. Maybe Ben Wagner, Mike Wilner and Dan Shulman will be part of a new era of baseball and Blue Jays memories for me. I certainly hope so.

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