Hector Torres had expected a day of firsts. After all, this was the first game of the first season of the team he had just joined from the Cleveland Indians in a spring training trade.
He never had a chance to play for the Indians. But he sure would play for the new, expansion Toronto Blue Jays. He was the starting shortstop that snowy April 7, 1977, because Bob Bailor had cut his hand while opening a sardine can during the final week of spring training.
"We were all excited," Torres said. "A new team, a new season. We knew there were going to be a lot of firsts. It's always exciting when you start something new."
But until he arrived at Exhibition Stadium that day for the game against the Chicago White Sox -- who wore those old-fashioned black uniforms -- Torres did not anticipate another first.
"Actually that's the first time I ever heard my teeth chatter," said Torres, a native of Monterrey, Mexico.
Torres didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long association with the Blue Jays. He is a coach with their Double A farm team, the Tennessee Smokies, who will be playing tomorrow in Jacksonville, Fla., on the 25th anniversary of the Blue Jays' first game.
"I don't think any of us expected to play because it kept snowing," Torres said. "They had that Zamboni dragging the field and as soon as they cleaned it up, it would be white again.
"So we were kind of joking around. But I guess Canadians are used to snow. They were all sitting up in the stands, all 47,000 of them. The snow didn't bother them. Coming from spring training where it's 80 degrees and then starting the season in the snow, that's a pretty drastic change."
Wayne Nordhagen of the White Sox used an upturned pair of shin guards as snowshoes before the game. Ken Carson, the Blue Jays' first trainer, remembers that Bailor had a hockey stick. Members of the grounds crew used scrapers on the infield.
And it became apparent everything possible was going to be done to get the game in. Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak said as much before the game. And actually the snow began to relent as the game progressed.
Chylak worked home plate and Toronto starter Bill Singer's first pitch was called a strike. The other umpires were Rich Garcia, Joe Brinkman and a rookie named Steve Palermo.
Before the game, Brinkman said he had never seen snow at a ballpark before. Garcia, who is from Florida, said he had never seen snow, period.
Torres also was unfamiliar with snow. "I believe I played with one of those windbreakers [underneath the uniform top]" Torres said. "I couldn't have cared less how I did it. I just wanted to get through that day."
Torres and the Blue Jays not only made it through the day, they won the game 9-5 before an official crowd of 44,649 that included then-Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey -- who wore a white-panelled Blue Jay cap and now wears the hat of Blue Jays president and CEO -- and hockey broadcasting legend Foster Hewitt.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, known for not wearing a coat, even at cold night World Series games, was in attendance -- and wearing his overcoat. Anne Murray sang the national anthem.
Before the first pitch, the fans were chanting "We want beer," and an airplane pulling a streamer with a request for beer flew over Exhibition Stadium during the game. In those days beer was not available at the ballpark in Toronto.
First baseman Doug Ault was the big hero, hitting two home runs. Torres singled before Ault's second homer. Alvis Woods hit a pinch-hit homer in his first major-league at-bat. Reliever Jerry Johnson picked up the victory and Pete Vuckovich the save.
"Everybody was so hyped," Carson said. "Especially all those guys who hadn't played in the majors before."
Carson, who is from Barrie, Ont., now lives in Dunedin, Fla. and works as the Blue Jays' director of Florida operations. Prior to joining the Blue Jays, he had been the trainer for the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins. During spring training he had noticed that baseball was a more relaxed game than hockey.
"In hockey everybody's so serious," Carson said. "If you cracked a smile on the bench you were in deep trouble."
Carson remembers that some of the hitters were using hot-water bottles in the dugout. Backup catcher Phil Roof gave one to Carson.
"It was around the fourth or fifth inning, I guess," Carson said. "And he said, 'Here, run this out to the pitcher because he needs it. His hands are cold.' Singer was in the windup and I run out. Chylak said, 'Time. Where are you going?' I said, 'I'm going to give the pitcher a hot-water bottle.' He said, 'Get your butt back in there, he's the only one out here that's warm. The rest of us are freezing.' "
Carson said he looked back at the Blue Jay dugout and everyone was laughing, including manager Roy Hartsfield.
"I figured once spring training was over that people would get serious," Carson said.
Jeff Ross, now the Blue Jays' equipment manager, ran the visitors' clubhouse then.
"We had two fire blowers for heaters," Ross said. "One of the White Sox players caught his shoe laces on fire."
"We were all having fun," Torres said. "We were a team made up of players from all different organizations. Obviously nobody picked us to win so there was no pressure."
As he shivered in the snow, Torres had no reason to believe that he would still be with the Blue Jays a quarter of a century later.
He is one of baseball's unsung heroes, the people who work in the minors helping to develop young players. He has spent two major-league seasons (1990 and 1991) with the Blue Jays since he became a minor-league coach and manager and he has worked at every minor-league stop in the club's system except Medicine Hat.
For a couple of years he lived year-round in Syracuse, where Toronto has its Triple A team. Now he lives two blocks from Dunedin Stadium where the Blue Jays play their spring training games and where the Class A Blue Jays play.
"I've seen players and coaches come and go and sometimes I feel blessed, especially nowadays," Torres said. "You don't hear about people staying with organizations too long, really. Anybody who puts on the uniform has the dream to go to the big leagues, obviously, but once the season starts I enjoy doing what I do. Coaching in the minor leagues, there's more satisfaction."
Torres played in the majors for the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos (making him one of 40 players to have worn the uniforms of both Canadian clubs) and the San Diego Padres before Toronto. He joined the Blue Jays in a trade with Cleveland for John Lowenstein nine days before the 1977 opener.
"My very first coaching job was in 1979. We had Dave Stieb, Luis Leal and Lloyd Moseby in Dunedin," Torres said. "It's amazing how quick the time goes." Opening Day, 1977 Blue Jays Manager Roy Hartsfield: Lives in retirement in the Atlanta area. Coaches Bobby Doerr: Retired, living in Oregon. Don Leppert: Retired as director of training and development for the Minnesota Twins and runs a small business in the Florida Everglades. Jackie Moore: Manager, Round Rock Express, Double A team for the Houston Astros. Bob Miller: Was advance scout for the San Francisco Giants when he was killed in a car accident in 1993. Harry Warner: Retired and living in Pennsylvania; working during winters at Camelback Ski Area. Pitchers Jerry Garvin: After his land-development business failed, he went into exporting used denim products. Steve Hargan: Independent distributor in California for Nikken, a health and wellness company. Chuck Hartenstein: Retired in Texas. Jesse Jefferson: Was working as a waste manager in Midlothian, Va. Jerry Johnson: Worked as a movie stunt man and minor-league pitching coach before going into a pin-striping business for automobile dealerships. Dave Lemanczyk: Instructor at the Dave Lemanczyk Baseball Academy in New York. Bill Singer: Scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pete Vuckovich: Scout for the Pirates. Mike Willis: Working with former Blue Jay teammate Balor Moore at Brittex International Pipe Co., in Houston, Tex. Catchers Andy Ashby: Radio analyst for Houston Astros games. Rick Cerone: President and owner of the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. Phil Roof: Coach of Triple A Edmonton Trappers of the Twins organization. Infielders Doug Ault: Was working as a salesman in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Bob Bailor: Lives in Florida and runs a tour camp in Colorado. Ron Fairly: Broadcasts Seattle Mariner games on TV and radio. Pedro Garcia: Computer professor in Puerto Rico. Jim Mason: Was selling industrial fluid sealing products in Theodore, Ala. Dave McKay: First-base coach with the St. Louis Cardinals. Hector Torres: Coach for the Blue Jays' Double A team, the Tennessee Smokies. Outfield Steve Bowling: Works in sales in Oklahoma. Sam Ewing: Retired as director of exercise science at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. John Scott: Was living in Los Angeles. Otto Velez: Coaches at the Roberto Clemente Sports Complex in Puerto Rico. Al Woods: Was working for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department. Gary Woods: Was working in sales and marketing for a telephone company in Santa Barbara, Calif.