The excitement surrounding the pennant races in Major League Baseball this season has me thinking back to the good ol' days when our Toronto Blue Jays were perrenial contenders. For two October's in the early 90s they ruled these parts stealing our hearts with back-to-back World Series Championships. I lived and died with the Jays and that meant spending hours and hours with the soothing voice of Tom Cheek.
In 1983 I heard a Blue Jays radio broadcast at a cottage way up north and I was instantly hooked. The voices calling the game were Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth and they painted a romantic picture starring a young, up and coming team that was playing through five years of expansion pains. Tom Cheek, I would later learn, called the first Jays game on April 7, 1977 and didn't miss a single one until June 3, 2004 when he missed two games to attend his father's funeral. That was 4,306 consecutive regular season games and 41 post-season games, but Cheek wasn't about quantity. He was is all about quality. He combines a tremendous knowledge for the game with brilliant broadcasting instincts and a classy yet folksy demeanor. Jerry Howarth had the signature calls like "hooking...hooking..." and "there she goes..." but Cheek was Blue Jays baseball. He was my teacher, explaining the finer details such as when to hit and run and when to gamble by stretching a double into a triple. In Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, he called the biggest play in Blue Jays history with "Touch 'em all Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!" All a Jays fan has to do is close his or her eyes and hear Tom Cheek say that line and a smile is guaranteed.
This isn't my first entry celebrating Tom Cheek and what his role in the broadcast booth has meant to me. Every night, summer after summer for over a decade was spent either watching the Jays or listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth. They were my eyes. Here are previous entries about the great Tom Cheek:
- Tom & Jerry
- Tom Cheek
- Tom Cheek
- Sportsnet Choice Obvious
- Mike's Quote of the Week
- The Thrill of the Grass
- An Unfillable Hole
- Emotional Rescue
Tom isn't doing very well these days. His condition has deteriorated and some say he's in his final days. On April 4th I heard Tom call parts of the Jays' season opener, keeping alive a streak of 28 consecutive home openers he's called. I remember getting misty eyed when he exclaimed "How about that!" following Orlando Hudson's home run. Vernon Wells was next to the plate and promptly hit another out, putting the Jays ahead for good. It was as if the players knew Tom was calling that half inning, his last half inning.
I'm thinking about Tom today. I'm remembering the good times with a smile before shedding a tear at the thought I may never hear him again. I already miss him like crazy.