The list of Toronto Blue Jays who have spent time on the disabled list over the first three months of the season is one of the longest in recent memory. Even the team's longtime radio broadcaster was forced out of action for an extended period.
About 4 1/2 months after undergoing successful prostate cancer surgery, Jerry Howarth was back in the booth calling games at the start of the 2017 campaign. However, a virus in late April led to laryngitis and he was forced to miss 21 games.
"It took a little while to come back," Howarth said. "Even now my voice is not 100 per cent."
Howarth has made a few minor changes to get back in top form since returning to his duties a few weeks ago. He has switched to decaffeinated coffee, is drinking more water than usual, and has been meeting with specialists at a downtown voice clinic to see if nasal polyps are an issue.
"Overall I'm happy to be back and even at 80-85 per cent (to) call games and enjoy that," Howarth said. "But I still think there is room for improvement."
Last fall, a small tumour was discovered when Howarth underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan after learning he had elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test numbers. The tumour and his prostate gland were removed and doctors declared Howarth cancer-free after the procedure.
He was back at spring training a few months later and was "starting to really feel good" in mid-April before the bout with laryngitis.
Now almost back to normal, Howarth performs a routine of voice strengthening exercises each morning. He uses music to work on his pipes during the drive to the stadium.
"My favourite song is 'Pride and Joy' by Stevie Ray Vaughan," he said in a recent interview. "(Most of) the first minute there's no singing. It's all guitar playing. And I go, 'Hello friends, this is Jerry Howarth, we're live from the Rogers Centre.' That becomes a warmup too.
"By the time I get here I've already done my opening four or five times. That's how I take care of my voice and make it strong."
Known for his meticulous preparation, Howarth is a man of routine. A thick spiral notebook is usually tucked under his arm and he scores the game using a shorthand all his own.
Howarth made his first appearance as a Blue Jays broadcaster in 1980. He was hired full-time in 1982 and has been a constant on the microphone ever since.
Now 71, Howarth's memory remains as sharp as ever. He can quickly recall game details from decades ago as if they were from the day before.
Using a warm, conversational style, Howarth also has the gift of making the listener feel relaxed and settled in for the call.
"When I come out here every day it's a fresh white canvas," he said. "I look forward to artistically rendering it the best that I can. And at the end of the night, initial (the scorecard) in the lower right-hand corner, win or lose. I think because of my love for baseball and being a Blue Jays announcer that passion comes out."
Howarth called the Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993 with Tom Cheek, who died in 2005 from brain cancer. His current broadcast partners on Sportsnet 590 The Fan include Mike Wilner and Joe Siddall.
"He's very much all about the work and all about the game and doing whatever he can to bring it to life in the best way possible," Wilner said.
Howarth, a native of York, Pa., and longtime Toronto resident, called his first baseball game with the Tacoma Twins in 1974. He spent five seasons at the triple-A Pacific Coast League level and developed his first signature call shortly after moving to the big leagues.
"We were at Exhibition Stadium and a Blue Jay hit a home run to left field in the old stands and I said, 'And there it goes!"' Howarth recalled. "As the Blue Jay went around the bases I said to myself, 'Hmmm, that's not too bad I might consider that.' Well about an inning later sure enough I had the call again and a Blue Jay hit another home run. And I said, 'And there she goes!' "I said to myself, 'That's it. That's what I'm using the rest of my career,' because it was comfortable."
Howarth credits his wife for the suggestion that he extend his scoring call to "He scorrrrres" from its original incarnation. And his father gets the nod for pitching the phrase "The Blue Jays are in flight" back in 1983, a call Howarth declared he would use for the rest of his career.
"My Dad passed away in 1994 and two years before that in '92, he came up here one more time, sat right in the booth with me," Howarth said. "And I said, 'The Blue Jays are in flight' when they scored their first run. I looked at my Dad and I said, 'That was for you, Dad.' So that was special."
With thousands of games under his belt, the joy of coming to the ballpark each day remains constant. Howarth is as upbeat and excited now as he was when he first started in the business.
"How are we going to best call this game with enthusiasm, passion and drive (while) informing and entertaining the audience across Canada and wherever they happen to be listening," he said of his mission. "That's what I enjoy every day."