Becoming a Toronto Blue Jays Fan

Since this is the dead of summer, and Mennonite history feels a little distant, and even though the Toronto Blue Jays have fallen on harder times, it has caused me to reflect on how I became such an avid baseball fan. In October 2015 I wrote a blog about Mennonites and Major League Baseball, but didn’t talk about why it mattered to me.

When I was growing up in eastern Ohio on a small 80-acre farm, two of my siblings, my oldest brother and my second-oldest sister, were baseball falls, following the Cleveland Indians. In the 1950s the Indians were a competitive team, unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were about an equal distance away. (In 1954 the Indians won 111 of 154 games in the regular season, but lost the World Series in four straight games to the New York Giants; in contrast Pittsburgh won 53 of 154 games and finished in last place.)

Miss-MantleMickey_Mantle_1953In the third grade, 1954-55, I really liked my pretty, young teacher, whose name was Melva Mantle. My clear memory is that this positive association with Miss Mantle turned me into a New York Yankees fan, with their (also) young (age 22) star center fielder, Mickey Mantle.

My love for baseball means I cannot even count the number of times I read Duane Decker’s series of baseball books for boys about the “Blue Sox,” and I had my mother make a T-shirt with “Blue Sox” imprinted on the front.

On radio I was restricted to listening to Cleveland games (with play-by-play announcer Jimmy Dudley). My married oldest brother had a TV, and occasionally I’d get to see a New York game on a Saturday afternoon. On a few occasions, I saw a game in Cleveland, and saw Mantle hit one of his majestic home runs.

My interest in Major League Baseball continued at a lessened pace in my college years, but my year of poverty in Chicago in 1967-68 found me still going to several Chicago Cubs games, since seats in the bleachers were quite cheap. Leo Durocher was the manager, and Ernie Banks still played every day. Ron Santo and Billy Williams were the team stars, and Canadian Fergie Jenkins led the pitching staff, winning 20 games that year (and pitching 20 complete games) in 308 innings.

My move to Canada in late 1968 coincided with Mickey Mantle’s retirement from baseball. I remained a nominal Yankees fan, but never liked George Steinbrenner when he took over ownership of the Yankees in 1972. I was more than ready to switch my allegiances when the Blue Jays launched in 1977.

Exhibition_Stadium_before_the_Toronto_Blue_Jays_faced_the_Chicago_White_Sox_on_May_27,_1988_1

By Jerry Reuss (1988 Toronto Blue Jays Exhibition Stadium 11) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Although it was an odd ball park, old Exhibition Stadium had a kind of intimacy that the Skydome/Rogers Centre will never match. I still go to two games a year, and watch all or part of Blue Jays games when at home. I use my IPad to keep linked to statistical information at Gameday on mlb.com while watching the game.

I well remember the small group from our church meeting in our home on October 23, 1993.  After our usual sharing, we watched game 6 of the World Series. My wife, Sue, who was not yet an avid baseball fan, went to bed because she was preaching the next morning at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church. Needless to say, the small group erupted when Joe Carter “touched ’em all” to win the series. (Sue has reminded me, that she has “mended her ways” and is now an avid Blue Jays fan.)

Erik Krath, 2015.

Erik Kratz speaking on January 29, 2015. Minda Haas Wikimedia Commons.

I was also inordinately pleased when Mennonite Erik Kratz briefly played for the Jays in 2014.

If you are a baseball fan, how did it come about? What keeps you attracted? What caused you to lose interest?

Go Jays!

Mennonites and Major League Baseball

It’s the playoffs, and I’ve been a Blue Jays fan since the team began in 1977. Although baseball doesn’t show up in the book, it’s probably OK to think in October about Mennonites and baseball.

I’ll list a number of connections in more or less chronological order. I’d be happy for other suggestions to add. I would like the players to have grown up in a Mennonite home or been an active participant in a Mennonite church.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is surrounded by baseball owners as he agrees to be Commissioner of Baseball, November 12, 1920: Wikimedia Commons

I’ll immediately make an exception for Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944), the first commissioner of baseball, appointed after the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. His father was a Civil War veteran, but his grandfather, Philip Landis, was a Mennonite from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Kenesaw got his unusual name from the Civil War battlefield where his father was wounded.

Johnny Bassler

Johnny Bassler, 1924 as Detroit Tiger. Wikimedia Commons.

Johnny Bassler (1895-1979) was regarded as the best catcher in the Major Leagues for a time in the 1920s. He was born in 1895 to a large Mennonite family in Mechanics Grove, Pennsylvania. He left home (and the Mennonite church) at age 17 and moved to California where he got his chance to play ball. His best years were with the Detroit Tigers.

Dan Quisenberry

Dan Quisenberry, 1986. Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Quisenberry (1953-1998) was best known as a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals during the 1980s. He led the league in saves for five years. He graduated from a Church of the Brethren College, but also took classes at Fresno Pacific College, a Mennonite Brethren school. For a time he attended a local Mennonite Brethren church in Fresno. During his professional career, and later in life, he was a Presbyterian, but always identified with peace and justice issues.

Danny Klassen

Danny Klassen from Baseball Almanac

Danny Klassen (1975- ) was born to a Mennonite family in Leamington, Ontario, but moved to Florida with his family at the age of three. He did return to Leamington in summers to play baseball, and continued to attend the Mennonite church in those summers. He played for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998-2002, and briefly for the Detroit Tigers in 2003. He played for Canada’s national team in 2004.

Chris Heisey

Chris Heisey as a Cincinnati Red. Wikimedia Commons.

Chris Heisey (1984- ) grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and attended the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. He attended Messiah College, a Brethren in Christ school, but was selected in the baseball draft after his junior year. He played for the Cincinnati Reds 2011-2014 and was then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was briefly in the Toronto Blue Jays system in 2015, but did not play at the major league level.

Erik Krath, 2015.

Erik Kratz speaking on January 29, 2015. Minda Haas Wikimedia Commons.

Erik Kratz (1980- ) was born in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a Mennonite home. He graduated from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University. (Larry Sheets also attended Eastern Mennonite, but he did not play baseball there.) Kratz was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, but got to the major leagues as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010. He has had his greatest success with the Philadelphia Phillies. He has also played for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals. Perhaps more than anyone else listed here, he has  acknowledged his Mennonite heritage.

Brandon Beachy

Brandon Beachy, 2011. Wikimedia Commons.

Brandon Beachy (1986- ) grew up in a Mennonite home in Kokomo, Indiana. One incident that shaped his life was burning down the family home as the result of a prank gone wrong. He starred as a third baseman for his high school team, but made it to the major leagues as a pitcher. Before suffering severe injuries to his arm, he pitched for the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, 2010-2015.

Some players with “Mennonite” names have not grown up in the Mennonite church. For example, Bill Bergen and Marty Bergen who played at the end of the 19th and early 20th century were actually Irish. Jamie Moyer from Souderton, Pennsylvania, grew up in the United Church of Christ, though his ancestry was likely Mennonite several generations previously. Tommy Herr from Lancaster, Pennsylvania also had Mennonite ancestry, but seems to have grown up in the Church of the Brethren. Bruce Sutter, a hall-of-fame reliever from the 1970s and 1980s, also grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He may have Mennonite ancestry, but grew up in the United Methodist Church. Adam Loewen from Surrey, British Columbia appears to have grown up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, though his grandparents were Mennonite Brethren.

Who else can you suggest?

If you don’t want to read about baseball, turn to In Search of Promised Lands!