TBT: The Day I Fell In Love With Sports

Chris First Game

In honour of “Throwback Thursday”, I thought I’d share with you the story of the exact moment I became a sports fan, where it went from there, and, as my mother likes to say “was taken away from her forever”. Sorry ma, it’s all dad’s fault. Really.

So, let’s all get into our hot tub time machines and head on back to that crazy decade known as the 1980’s! Take it away Creamer, Sr.:

“We were in Cornwall, it was Easter weekend and I knew everything would be closed so I decided to buy tickets to the hockey game, I heard it was possibly the last game ever for the (OHL’s) Toronto Marlies so I decided to take Chris along even though he wasn’t really into sports”

Thanks Dad! My family and I were visiting my grandparents in Cornwall, Ontario for the Easter long weekend in March of 1989. Cornwall is a small city located close to Ottawa and, at least at the time, was known for two things, it’s pulp and paper mill (which you could smell for miles and miles) and the giant bridge across the St. Lawrence into upstate New York. To me it was just the funny smelling place where grandma and grandpa lived.

Dad wearing old NHL Jacket 1960s
A lifelong sports fan: In the 1960s, my dad wearing a jacket I really wish he still had, featuring all 6 NHL team logos.

My dad is a pretty big sports fan himself, he’s one of the few people I know who can remember exactly where he was when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup (on a train heading back from Expo 67 Montreal), I grew up hearing stories of seeing Roberto Clemente shagging fly balls during B.P. at Jarry Park, and watching a young Bob Orr wearing #27 for the Bruins at a pre-season game in Kingston in 1966. It was only natural he’d pass the sports bug onto me at some point, I guess Easter ’89 was it.

As my dad recalled above, it was indeed the last season in the history of the original Toronto Marlboros hockey team; owner Harold Ballard had announced he would be selling the team, severing their ties with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the team was going on down the QEW to Hamilton following the season and ending 85 seasons of Toronto Marlboros hockey.  Nice guy that Ballard was. We all loved him in Toronto. Totally.

Chris Creamer Blue Jays Expos 1980s
In the 1980s I wasn’t a sports fan yet, but I sure knew a good ballcap when I saw one

So here were the Marlies, down 3-games-to-2 in their best-of-seven first round Ontario Hockey League playoff matchup with the hometown Cornwall Royals, making this game a little extra-special for the fans in attendance. Wait a second… did my dad really say I wasn’t into sports?  Hard to imagine now, but at the then too-young-to-know-any-better age of six I suppose it was possible.

We had front row seats!  Sounds like a nice introduction to a live sporting event but anyone who’s ever been to a game at the old Cornwall Civic Complex can tell you that the front row there back in 1989 wasn’t exactly up against the glass like most, if not, all arenas are…

“The seats were about 10 feet off the floor with a drop to ice level” adds my father; personally all I remember was being high up in the air and back away from the ice. You know, first row.

A view of the Cornwall Civic Complex from seats very close to where we were sitting in 1989. Note that this photo was taken after the tier of red seats in the lower bowl were added. (Photo courtesy Roamingtherinks.com)

The Marlboros took to the ice for the pre-game warmup and my silly little brain thought they were the Toronto Maple Leafs, they did wear the same uniforms afterall, just a crown on the leaf instead of the familiar Maple Leafs wordmark. My keen attention to logo detail was ever-present back then, I saw the crown on their logo – I noticed it almost immediately – I told myself that “you can only see the crown when you’re in person, when you’re watching on tv you only see the words”.  It makes sense, don’t try arguing with a six year old. I told my friends these in-person, on-tv Maple Leafs logo differences when I got back to school on Tuesday; they believed me, why wouldn’t they?

My dad says I saw a player wind up to take a slap shot during those warmups and my jaw dropped as I let out an impressed “woaaaaaah!”, sounds like it was love at first sight.  A big fight right in front of us later in the game helped seal the deal. It was over. I was hooked.

The jersey matchup from my first in-person sporting event… despite my theories at the time those guys weren’t the Maple Leafs with the crown only visible in-person

While I rooted on those Maple Leafs Marlies (even getting up on my seat and yelling at them that they were skating the wrong way after they switched ends before the second period), they just couldn’t pull off the victory, the Cornwall Royals slaughtered them to the tune of 12-3, or something else equally ridiculous, advancing them through to the second round.

That was it, the Marlies were done.  History.  Off to become the Dukes of Hamilton where hockey teams go to thrive but end up getting little support.  I was a Marlboros fan for exactly one game before they relocated.  Talk about a rude introduction to the world of being a sports fan.

The Royals themselves left Cornwall a couple of years later, if I wanted to experience a re-match between these two franchises today I’d have to watch the Guelph Storm take on the Sarnia Sting… no disrespect to those teams but it’s just not the same to me.

When we got back to our house in Toronto I watched as much of the Stanley Cup playoffs as a kid who has to go to school in the morning possibly could… “Daddy, why are all those people so happy?”, “Because the Flames just won the Stanley Cup, Chris”

After hockey it was onto baseball, I was grounded and not allowed to watch the first Toronto Blue Jays game at SkyDome (and I still remind my dad about that to this day) but I was well-behaved enough to be planted in front of that TV as Tom Henke threw the final strike to win the AL East crown for Toronto. A Jose Canseco 5th deck blast in the ALCS (in which the Jays stood no chance and were tossed aside by Oakland in 5) made me a big fan of his for the rest of his playing career. Dad taught me how to score a ball game during the first game of the Giants/A’s World Series a couple of weeks later, I still score a game now-and-then and have since taught my wife how to do it.

1990 Blue Jays Tickets
Yup, I still have ’em – the tickets from my very first baseball game. Rangers/Blue Jays in 1990

We went to my first football game a few days later (Argos/Stamps), and in 1990 we were at the SkyDome a good 10 times watching the Jays in their new open-air/domed stadium. My first ball game was a Jays/Rangers tilt on April 12; Mike Flanagan on the hill for the Jays in a 7-1 victory.

Six years later I learned how to make a website and the following summer I launched one dedicated to my love of sports and logos, so here we are, it all started with that one hockey game in Cornwall. I suppose I can forgive my dad for grounding me during the SkyDome opener, afterall.

An addendum to that first hockey game my dad took me to which I always enjoy adding to this story…

Fast forward 16 years after my first game, the Toronto Maple Leafs have relocated their AHL franchise from St. John’s to Toronto and chose to re-introduce the Marlies name to the local scene, finally my Marlies have returned!

When the inaugural pre-season schedule is announced the very first game is a neutral site matchup, for some reason it’s in my re-located hometown of Oshawa, Ontario; what a coincidence! Better still, it just happens to be against Hamilton, the city the original Marlies had moved to. I had to be there.

Toronto Marlies players line-up during the National Anthem prior to their first pre-season game in 2005

Echoing the events of 1989, we snatched up two tickets only this time I’m the one treating my dad to the game…  and wouldn’t ya know it, we’re back in the front row (a real front row this time).  Sure, there may have been a gap of 16 years in there but we’re kinda going to two consecutive Toronto Marlies games together, it was a memorable moment for sure. To top it all off the Marlies don’t disappoint, beating the Hamilton Bulldogs 5-2.

Coming back to the present, earlier this year my wife and I were fortunate enough to have our first child, a son, and while he’s already been to three ball games in his short life so far, I’m looking forward to the moment when he’s a little older, and I can sneak him out of his grandparents (and my parents) house to see a hockey game, to show him how to score a ballgame, and to ground him so he can’t watch the Jays play their first in a new stadium… Ok, maybe not that last one.

But hey, you just gotta love sports!