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Pitch Talks: Talking Baseball In Toronto

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Spending an extra day in Canada after the Cubs series proved to be very enlightening and entertaining.

Al Yellon

TORONTO -- I'm heading back to Chicago (by way of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I'm attending a wedding this weekend), but after I posted that I was going to be spending an extra day north of the border, I received an email from Minor Leaguer, one of the writers at Bluebird Banter, the SB Nation Blue Jays site, suggesting I attend Pitch: Talks On Baseball, a new series of discussions for baseball fans in Toronto with various baseball people, ranging from writers to broadcasters to fans.

As it turned out, the location of the talk Thursday night was only a few blocks from my hotel, so I spent an evening full of informative and entertaining discussions about baseball with about 100 other fans. The talks, naturally, are centered around the Blue Jays and Canadian baseball, but there were plenty of other baseball-related topics in an evening that lasted four hours but was always full of laughter.

The speakers Thursday night were:

Ruhee Dewji, a Blue Jays fan from Calgary who discovered baseball in her 20s, talking about what it's like being a woman of color falling in love with baseball in adulthood. She talked about growing up as a hockey fan and, as someone who knew nothing about baseball, learning even the basics such as why it's different for a baseball team using multiple pitchers in a game as opposed to a hockey team pulling a goalie. She was engaging and funny and the organizers of these talks say they try to get an ordinary fan to give a talk each time.

Two broadcasters from the Blue Jays system, Ben Wagner, voice of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, voice of the Low-A Lansing Lugnuts (who I met when I was in Lansing in July and who had an absolutely stunned look on his face when I surprised him by saying hello), spoke about Jays prospsects, the day-to-day life of a minor league broadcaster and how difficult it is to get into the industry. They also told stories about the biggest "promotion fails" they had witnessed. One involved someone called "Rubberboy". You can see what Rubberboy does here; suffice to say that the story involved the day he got stuck in the tennis racket.

Morgan Campbell of the Toronto Star and Arturo Marcano of ESPN Deportes spoke about winter ball and the issues and prejudices Hispanic players face when they come to English America, and also noted that many American players (including Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux, and they showed baseball cards from the winter leagues depicting those two players when they couldn't have been more than 18 or 19 years old) who used to play in the Caribbean over the winter don't do this any more, primarily due to major-league teams worried about injuries and the multimillion-dollar investments they have in many players.

The last panelists were from the two competing Canadian TV sports networks, TSN and Sportsnet, with broadcasters Jamie Campbell, Stephen Brunt, and Dave Naylor telling stories and taking questions, some of which were quite pointed. They asked that the discussion be "off the record" so I can't, unfortunately, tell you much other than these three had great insight into not only Blue Jays baseball, but baseball in general. They've had Dan Shulman from ESPN and national baseball writer Jonah Keri at previous Pitch sessions. This one was the last one for 2014, but they hope to expand in the future and also have things like this in other cities. I had a great time and would love to see something like this in Chicago.