Long regarded as one of the most poignant rituals in sport, baseball’s Ceremonial First Pitch brings honored figures from all facets. With their standing as Canada’s team, the Toronto Blue Jays have admirably utilized the First Pitch to combine distinction and celebration, stirring strong feelings of national pride.
Such sentiment takes on greater meaning in the aftermath of Canadian glories at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Inviting many of the nation’s sporting heroes to grace the field at Rogers Centre, one of the most recent occasions intersected with another proud tradition.
Considering that Opening Day signifies another pivotal facet of baseball’s heritage, the Blue Jays utilized the opportunity to full success. With a gathering consisting of 14 Olympian and Paralympian heroes, all wearing the club’s iconic powder blue jerseys, medals proudly serving as a glorious accoutrement, many of these revered figures also grew up as fans of the franchise.
Among such figures included third generation hockey star Laura Stacey. Raised North of Toronto in Kleinberg, her incredible lineage saw her great grandfather, King Clancy; win the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs. Participating in her second Winter Games, Stacey, also a Clarkson Cup champion enjoyed the jubilation of her first Olympic gold in 2022.
Among four members of the gold medal team on-hand for Opening Day, Stacey belonged to some significant star power. Joining her were Erin Ambrose, also a former teammate with the Toronto Jr. Aeros, Sarah Nurse, plus the iconic Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored the gold medal-clinching goal in Beijing.
“Opening Day for the Blue Jays was really something special. To be honoured on the field and to be surrounded by such amazing athletes was something I will never forget.
When the huge Canadian flag came out on the field and the whole crowd erupted singing the national anthem, it gave me shivers. It was truly an honour to be out there representing our team and our country!”
Throughout the first half of the Blue Jays 2022 season, another pair of distinguished Canadian hockey icons earned the privilege of an invitation to Rogers Centre. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Player at Beijing 2022, Brianne Jenner, who grew up in Oakville, brought her daughter to the event, signifying a pair of notable firsts. Not only did the event mark her daughter’s first baseball game, the First Pitch allowed Jenner, escorted to the mound by team mascot Ace, experience a new milestone.
A cornerstone of the National Team for a decade, Natalie Spooner, a fan favorite and notable figure from Battle of the Blades, also gained the exciting opportunity from the Blue Jays. Adding lustre to the event saw Spooner pose for photos with fans before the game, signing autographs, testament to her tremendous popularity.
Prior to a contest versus the defending American League champion Houston Astros, Spooner, also wearing the powder blue jersey took to the mound. With gold medal proudly draped around her neck, the result was acclaim on social media, fans highly impressed by Spooner’s successful throw while wearing the gold from Beijing.
“Throwing the first pitch is definitely a thrill. The main thing I was worried about was making sure the ball made it to the catcher!
When you finally get up to the mound to throw the first pitch it all happens very quick, and really is a blur. Yet, getting to look around and wave with so many people in the stadium while walking out was really cool.”
Worth noting, for each of her Olympic appearances (2014, 2018, 2022), a jubilant Spooner followed it up with revered recognition from the Blue Jays. As a side note, the presence of Canadian stars from the Olympic women’s ice hockey team dates back to 1998, when the Nagano Games hosted the first women’s tournament. On Canada Day 1998, an interleague matchup between the Blue Jays and the visiting New York Mets saw Cassie Campbell on the mound.
Reflecting on the jubilation of each experience, one demonstrating how the women of ice hockey are more than national heroes, but true major league athletes, Spooner’s team-first approach shines through. Ecstatic at the fact that several of her teammates have also worn the Blue Jays jersey, the common theme is one of enjoyment.
‘Having been invited by the Blue Jays to the game is always a blast. Growing up in Toronto, I have always been a huge Blue jays fan. To feel their support throughout the Olympics was awesome. Then to top it off with having lots of our team out to throw our first pitches has been amazing.”
Fittingly, Spooner and Stacey shared in a proud Blue Jays moment four years prior. Following the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, Renata Fast, Laura Fortino and Nurse, all raised in the GTA, joined the aforementioned for a special pre-game ceremony. With Spooner throwing the first pitch, it marked a proud highlight following the heartbreak of a silver.
Fast forward to 2022, a golden redemption proving well worth the wait, the return to Rogers Centre marked an exclamation point for Stacey. A sporting venue she has enjoyed as both fan and honoured guest, the Blue Jays experience in 2022 certainly provided a proud feeling of homecoming, encompassed gratitude and merriment.
“It was pretty cool to be back on the field at the Jays game four years later and this time wearing a Gold medal around our necks.
I remember when we were there last time, it was an amazing experience, and we had such a great time on the field. Yet, to be back this time after winning in Beijing was a whole different feeling and hard to put into words.
They are an amazing organization and Canada’s team. So, to be a part of their journey and the beginning of their season is always a huge honour!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”