Tom Cheek was always modest about his long uninterrupted string of Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts. When he was asked how many consecutive games he had done, invariably someone would have to figure it out for him.
He said he never gave much thought to it and that he was just doing his job. "And this is where I want to be," he would say.
He was there behind the microphone for the first Blue Jays game in 1977 and didn't miss a game until June 3, 2004, because of the death of his father, Tom.
He had broadcast 4,306 consecutive regular-season Toronto Blue Jays games and all of their 41 postseason games, including both their World Series. Cheek, 66, died early yesterday in Oldsmar, Fla., where he had been convalescing.
The funeral will be held Friday in Florida.
He had surgery for a brain tumour on June 13, 2004, his 65th birthday. The surgery came 10 days after the death of his father caused him to miss the Blue Jays' game against the Athletics in Oakland, Calif.
His father joined the U.S. Navy in 1935 and was a Second World War combat pilot, involved in the Battle of Midway, was awarded the Navy Cross and became a U.S. Navy commander.
Cheek returned to work several home games in the 2004 season and there were hopes he could return to the booth for some games this past season, but it was not possible.
Until then, Cheek had covered every Blue Jays game since the first one, April 7, 1977, at a snowy Exhibition Stadium.
Cheek said the first game, won by the expansion team over the Chicago White Sox, ranked as his top Blue Jays memory.
There were plenty to choose, from the first American League East title in 1985 to the two World Series championships in 1992 over the Atlanta Braves and in 1993 over the Philadelphia Phillies. The one against the Phillies was ended dramatically by Joe Carter's three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the sixth game. Cheek's call is entrenched in baseball lore: "Touch 'em all, Joe. You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."
Cheek was a strong family man and his wife, Shirley, who is from Hemmingford, Que., was at all the home games and also attended some road games. He also leaves his daughter, Lisa, and sons Tom Jr. and Jeff and seven grandchildren.
And Cheek admitted to feeling pangs on a Sunday afternoon when he saw families going on outings while he was going to do another baseball game. "To me, that was always a Sunday feeling," he said as he sat in the radio booth one day last year.
"Going to the ballpark, I'd see a family go by and a wagon going to the beach or something and say to myself those are the things you really should be thinking about on a day like today. But then I would get to the park and be around our own crowd [and]those feelings would kind of go away and you'd be back into a baseball frame of mind."
He also expressed regret at missing his daughter's college graduation to do a baseball game, even though all in the family approved of his decision.
Cheek remembered some happy childhood days. For instance, when he was 8, he developed a business selling crabs on Solomon's Island in Maryland.
"Another kid and I dug an old boat out of the sand and patched it up," he once said. "We'd pole along in the shallows and scoop up blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay.
"We'd sell these to navy housewives for a dime each, a nickel for the small ones. That was back in 1947. It taught me that if you wanted a little surplus, a little mad money, you had to work hard to get it."
He was honoured at the Rogers Centre, known at the time as the SkyDome, on Aug. 29, 2004, and there were tears in his eyes as a banner with his name was placed on the wall above the right-field stands between banners honouring former pitcher Dave Stieb and former general manager Pat Gillick. He didn't know until that day that he was becoming the seventh member of the club's Level of Excellence.
The plaque unveiled during the ceremony has his name and the number 4,306 for the consecutive games he broadcast, believed to be the longest string by a baseball broadcaster.
Earlier this year, Cheek was a finalist for the Ford C. Frick Award. The award is presented annually by the U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame for major contributions to baseball broadcasting.
Cheek said in February when the award was announced that the big thing for him was being nominated. "There are some names and some things that guys on that list have done that blows me away," he said. "And I understand that. Just having my name on that list is pretty nice, pretty nice."
In August, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, working with the Blue Jays, announced the creation of the Tom Cheek Media Leadership Award. The award will recognize from time to time an individual from the media who, in the opinion of the board of governors of the Hall of Fame, has played a vital role in promoting Canadian sport in an extraordinary and enduring way. Cheek was the first recipient of the award.
Cheek was born June 13, 1939, in Pensacola, Fla. He attended the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston and began in radio in Plattsburg. N.Y. He later did play-by-play in basketball, football and hockey for the University of Vermont. He was the swing man for the Montreal Expos' radio broadcasts on the nights the team was on television from 1974 to 1976.