Every once in a while, blogging about your favourite baseball team leads to an incredible opportunity. Sunday morning ended up being one of those times when I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting with Jerry Howarth, the Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Mr. Howarth was speaking at Lawrence Park Community Church in Toronto as part of their Sports & Spirituality series and one of our readers, Minister John Suk, was kind enough to extend an invitation for us to join his service.
For those who don’t already know, Jerry has been the Blue Jays radio announcer for the past 33 years. He started calling Triple-A games in 1974 after taking a permanent break from law school to pursue a career in sports. He has also coached high school basketball in Etobicoke for the past 20 years and is an active member of the community.
Jerry talked about a number of players and members of the Toronto Blue Jays organization but the person he spoke about most was former Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. He says Harwell didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve but rather showed it in his heart and spoke in very high regard of the late broadcasting legend.
He mentioned a number of former Blue Jays players as well including Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter and Vernon Wells. Fernandez, the Jays’ all-time hits leader, battled injuries much of his career but his hard work and dedication left an impression on Howarth. Tony told Jerry he lived by the following motto – “work as if everything depends on you and pray as though everything depends on God.”
When it came to Carter, Jerry talked about his general zeal for life and the joy he brought to the baseball diamond. He fondly recalled former colleague Tom Cheek’s famous call of Carter’s World Series clinching home run in 1993 and said “touch ‘em all” was jokingly drawn from Cheek’s concern Big Joe would jump right over the bases in jubilation.
However, the player I found most interesting to hear about was the much maligned ex-Jay, Vernon Wells. Howarth said he has “the greatest respect for Wells” and “he is who he is, through good times and bad”. He talked how Vernon has experienced both great highs and lows but has maintained who he is “through and through”. Fans in Toronto villainized Wells after he so massively underperformed the behemoth contract he signed in December 2006 but it was enlightening to hear that although the money seemed to affect him on the field, it did very little to impact the type of person he was off the diamond. Wells was recently designated for assignment by the New York Yankees but showed his class with a thank you tweet to the organization.
One thing I wasn’t aware of is that every team in Major League Baseball has a chapel in their clubhouse. It maintains an open door policy and proselytizing is not allowed. The Blue Jays former chaplain, David Fisher, will be visiting Lawrence Park Community Church in April.
Howarth is a devote Christian but sees his faith as “a way” and not “the way”. He also talked about all of the wonderful diversity in the city of Toronto.
He never played but considers himself a student of the game and puts in a tonne of work before each contest. He doesn’t tell his co-workers what he’s going to ask them on the air to avoid losing any spontaneity during the broadcast.
I asked Jerry if his current partner Jack Morris would be returning in 2014 after I had read in a piece by Bob Elliott at the Toronto Sun that Morris may not return to the Jays’ booth. Jerry helped clear things up and said Jack will be back and was only considering not returning if he were elected to the Hall of Fame.
Overall I was extremely impressed by Mr. Howarth and the Blue Jays couldn’t ask for a better person to represent the team. He remembered the first name of everyone who he spoke with and stayed late to answer all of our questions, even though his beloved San Francisco 49ers were kicking off as we left (Jerry told us not to worry, he had the game on PVR).