A La Prochaine, Toronto!

The thing about Toronto’s underground walkways, which are very cool, is that you will get lost. It’s not a question of if or even when so much as how often and how badly. And remember, you will need to retrace your steps on the way back. Hint: pebbles are more effective than breadcrumbs.

After making our way through the maze of twisty little food courts, all alike, we finally reach Eaton Centre late in the afternoon. According to the literature, this mall plays host to over a million visitors each week. And although the shopping is adequate, the real attraction is people-watching.

From here we cross Edward Street to the World’s Biggest Bookstore, where I purchase several volumes on writing (always so much more to learn!). We also stumble into a record shop, where I pick up a couple CDs of The Tragically Hip. A reader recommended this Canadian band to me some time ago, and I’ve been meaning to give them a listen since. Better late than never, eh?

Eventually, with aid of neither pebble nor breadcrumb, we return to the hotel room and rest before heading over to watch the Blue Jays one final time.

We score seats directly behind home plate for Friday night’s game against the visiting Brewers. Okay, they are upper tank. But they’re front row and right behind the dish. The roof is open, which means baseballs are flying. (Neither starter survives the third inning.)

Before the contest, we buy hot dogs and Italian sausages from one of the many vendors outside the stadium. This is the way to go. No disrespect to the dogs inside, but they don’t measure up to what you’ll find in the carts along the sidewalk. And the condiments: pickles, onions, peppers, kraut, mustard, mayo, ketchup. Mighty fine, indeed.

Inside, it’s more Alexander Keith. Twenty ounces of smooth.

What I cannot recommend – and this may not be fair because I haven’t actually tried them – are the nachos, which basically are tortilla chips and a packet of processed cheese. I know that’s what nachos are at any ballpark, but most places at least try to disguise this by heating up the “cheese” and dumping it all over the chips. At Rogers Centre, there is no such pretense; there is just a pack ‘o’ cheese.

Left-hander Gustavo Chacin starts for the Blue Jays. He is the first non-Japanese pitcher with a hesitation in his delivery that I can remember. Comparisons are made to Luis Tiant, but I never saw him pitch.

Chacin is staked to leads of 6-0 and 7-1 but, with the roof open and the ball jumping, he cannot hold it and is yanked with one out in the third. A string of relievers stop the bleeding, and the Jays hang on to win, 9-5. Frank Menechino knocks a couple of homers that might’ve been doubles on another night; Eric Hinske hits a bomb to dead center that is a home run anwyhere, anytime.

Aaron Hill, Toronto’s young third baseman, has a sweet line drive stroke. He uses the entire field and isn’t afraid to hit with two strikes. He’s what you want your young hitters to look like. He reminds me a little of Mark Loretta.

Jays first-rounder Ricky Romero (Cal St. Fullerton) signs before the game and makes his first Toronto appearance. The hometown crowd greets him with a warm round of applause. I wonder to myself what, if any, effect Romero’s signing will have on the Padres’ efforts to ink their first-round pick, Cesar Carrillo.

And the Brewers have a few kids of their own that are worth watching. Rickie Weeks, first pick overall in the 2003 draft, gets the start at second base and probably can take off his coat. Actually, someone can take it off for him and hang it up in the closet. Kid is going to be here a while. Weeks sports a Sheffieldesque bat waggle at the plate and can turn on a fastball. Just one game but he looks like a scary talent.

Prince Fielder pinch hits in the ninth and strikes out swinging on a Jason Frasor breaking ball. Fielder is a big dude with a big swing. If he makes good contact, the ball is going a long, long way. I hope to see that someday, preferably against a team other than the Padres.

And the highlight of the night, or at least the most surreal moment, comes during the seventh inning stretch. First everyone sings a moving tribute to the home team (“Is that a fly ball/Or is it a seagull”). Then they kick into a double espresso version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Faster is better, right?

Soon enough the game is over and we filter back over the trains to Front Street and the warm comfort of the hotel room we’ve called home for the past several days. We’ll be flying back to San Diego the next morning, but already we’ve added Toronto to our short list of cities to visit again in the future. In my mind, I am laying down a trail of pebbles.

I will find my way back here one day.

1 Responses »

  1. Thought I’d share this viewpoint from a columnist in this morning’s SF Chronicle: “With the Giants dismantled by injuries and the Dodgers missing Eric Gagne, the Padres should feel disgraced if they don’t win the division.”