My Brother in Christ
The 2019 season was not a great one for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, but their management has called it a “rebuilding time”. Trading great players like Kevin Pillar and Marcus Stroman made watching the games more painful, but I am still a fan.
One reason is that I gained a special Catholic friend from the Blue Jays. His name is Jerry Howarth and many Canadian baseball fans will know him as the “Voice of the Blue Jays”. For 36 years, Jerry was the radio announcer for this team until his retirement in 2018.
On February 13, 2018 Jerry surprised even the team manager at that time, John Gibbons, by announcing on radio that he had given his notice and was walking away. Jerry had survived prostate cancer the year before and with grandsons now in his life, he felt the timing was right for retirement.
My first encounter with Jerry happened in 2009 when I left a copy of one of my books at Guest Services for him. He later admitted to me that he did not recognize the name on the cover and so the book was never read.
Then in 2016 I took my two grandchildren to Toronto for a Blue Jays game and left Jerry another book; the story of my journey of faith. This time I received a thank you email, and the promise of a field level visit the following spring for my grandkids. I sent Jerry my thanks and we began an email friendship. He wrote to me that fall as he read my book and shared some of his own faith experiences with me.
On one occasion, I suggested to him that he might consider writing a book about his life in baseball. He responded that this had been suggested before but he did not feel called to it. I told him he could write his story with a spiritual slant, and a few weeks later, his email said: “I am writing a book and enjoying the process.”
Jerry had studied journalism in university and having been a great storyteller during his radio career, this book began to pour out of his heart.
The completed manuscript titled: HELLO FRIENDS! was published by ECW press in the spring of 2019. It tells the tale of his early years in radio, as well as his personal life with his wife of 48 years, Mary and their two sons, Ben and Joe. One of my favourite passages in the book is this story about starting his broadcasting career in 1974:
“During that season I experienced a moment that still resonates with me today. I called a foul ball down the left field line and paused. Right then, I heard a voice in my head say, “Without me, this is meaningless.” I called the rest of that game and went home that night with those few words echoing in my head. The next morning I got in my car and went downtown. I went into a quiet and empty church and dropped to my knees, thanking God for speaking to me the night before. I made a promise to myself that for the rest of my career, wherever it took me, I would offer up my broadcast to Him. It’s a promise that I continue to honour.”
Jerry used his off-season time very well, coaching high school basketball in the Etobicoke area for 25 years. Now during his retirement he is an avid and successful duplicate bridge player, and still visits batting practice whenever a new series begins at the Rogers Centre. He and Mary are enjoying their time with their newest grandson, Wesley who lives nearby; two older grandsons live in Chicago.
Scripture states that Our Lord promised to provide us with a special family if we followed and believed in Him. Jerry Howarth has become my ‘brother in Christ’ and we continue to encourage one another through our emails, and especially our prayers.