By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Many longtime Canadian baseball fans can recall the Toronto Blue Jays defeating the Chicago White Sox 9-5 in snowy conditions at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977 in their first regular season game, but how did the team fare in its first spring training contest?
Well, that contest took place 45 years ago today in Dunedin, Fla.
I did some research on the game and here’s what I discovered:
– On March 11, 1977, the Blue Jays defeated the New York Mets 3-1 in front of a capacity crowd of 1,988 fans at Grant Field in Dunedin. The Blue Jays still play in the same location in Dunedin, but the seating capacity of the stadium – which is now called TD Ballpark – has been expanded to 8,500.
– While Canadian music legend Anne Murray was selected to sing the national anthem at the Blue Jays’ regular season opener in Toronto in 1977, their club’s choice for their spring training debut was considerably less famous. The Dunedin High School band serenaded the enthusiastic, largely Canadian crowd with the anthem. The Toronto Star’s Neil MacCarl reported that Canadians in attendance sang the anthem “so lustily they forced the Dunedin High School Band to pick up the pace.”
– Veteran right-hander Bill Singer, who also started the regular season opener, was the first to throw a pitch for the Blue Jays in their spring debut. Future Blue Jay Lee Mazzilli greeted Singer by hitting his third pitch over the right-field wall. That homer, however, would be all of the offence the Mets could muster that day.
– According to the Toronto Star box score, Bob Bailor, the starting shortstop, was the first Blue Jay to bat in their first spring training game.
– After being shut out by veteran left-hander Jerry Koosman for three innings, the Blue Jays scored their first run off 6-foot-2, Tulsa, Okla., native Jackson Todd in the bottom of the fifth. The right-handed throwing Todd later pitched for Toronto from 1979 to 1981.
– With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth, DH Sam Ewing, a 6-foot-3 Tennessee native, socked a two-run double to left-centre field off Mets rookie Dwight Bernard to score shortstop Jim Mason and Ron Fairly to put the Blue Jays ahead 3-1.
– Thirty-four-year-old right-hander Chuck Hartenstein, who hadn’t pitched in a big league game since 1970, recorded the final three outs for the Blue Jays to register the save in a game that was played in one hour and 57 minutes.
– Vancouver native Dave McKay was the starting third baseman for the Blue Jays in their spring training opener and in their first regular season game, making him the first Canadian to suit up for the Blue Jays.
– But McKay was not the only Canadian on the field in Dunedin that day. London, Ont., native Tom Burgess, who played in the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels, was coaching third base for the Mets. Both McKay and Burgess have since been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Thanks for the great memory. Wow 45 years ago.
Thanks for the great memory of the first spring training game. Wow 45 years ago!
Thanks for your comment and support.
I became a fan in 1977 but at 6yrs old I don’t have a lot of memories of that season. We’ve all seen footage of Doug Ault’s homers in the Opener but awesome to read about the Spring game that started it all.
Thanks for your comment and kind words, Todd.
Oh the memories. I sure wish we knew someone that was there and had some items from that game.
That would be awesome if something popped up from this game. Thanks for the comment, Scott.