My high-school graduation gift (provided by my loving mother) was a trip north of the border to see my beloved Toronto Blue Jays square off twice against the Boston Red Sox. I was as excited and wide-eyed as a child in a candy shop, but little did I know that the World Baseball Classic MVP Marcus Stroman would be meeting and signing for fans on my first full day in the beautiful city of Toronto, Ontario. I was in for a special surprise that Friday morning…
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I awoke around 9:30 AM to a deserted hotel room, motionless and soundless. My mother and sister had gone out to run a few errands. I tried going back to sleep, attempting to prepare for a long day of tourist attractions and sightseeing. I just couldn’t. I don’t know how to describe it, but something was telling me to check my Twitter feed. I picked up my phone and turned my screen on. My Josh Donaldson wallpaper felt as if it burned holes through my eyes, due to the fact that I forgot to turn my brightness down the previous night. As I clicked the home tab and refreshed my feed on the app, 2 Jay’s super fans and friends of mine, Liz and Antoinette, had provided me with some of the most exhilarating news I had received in a very long time: Marcus Stroman would be having a meet-and-greet at the Toronto Eaton Centre.
I couldn’t describe to you how rapidly I jumped out from under the covers and sprang into action. I got dressed in a record-breaking fashion, went through my morning routine of personal hygiene, and preceded to exit the hotel. It was 9:35 AM. The event did not begin until noon. Call it dedication, love of the athlete, or just downright crazy, but I wanted to beat anyone and everyone to the Eaton Centre to get a chance at meeting one of my favorite athletes of all time.
From where I was staying, the Eaton Centre was a good 22-25 minute walk. But, whoever had the thought of me casually walking to one of the most memorable moments of my life, you would be a fool. I jogged, power-walked, and even sprinted (at times) my way through the vast metropolis that is Toronto, and made sure to take in all of the city’s essence. I enjoyed every second of that race to Eaton Centre.
I arrived at the Eaton Centre right around 9:50 AM. To my liking, the massive shopping mall was surprisingly empty. I got to the designated waiting area where I was within the first 20 people in line. My heart was racing, partly because of workout I had just participated in, but mostly because I was just THAT anxious to meet him, even though there was still a little over two hours of waiting patiently left to go. While in line, I met Melissa and Daniel, who were from around the area. They both were extremely friendly and welcoming. We exchanged not only our contact information to keep in touch, but participated in conversations discussing differences between Canada and the United States as well. I will never forget the time I spent with Melissa and Daniel, as they were some of the most welcoming people I have ever met.
Finally, the time had come. The clock had struck 12. I continued to wait. I made it to the front of the line, which brought me to the entrance of the Rogers store, where the meet-and-greet was taking place. I saw him and my heart started to race. I continued to think what exactly I was going to say to him, considering I was remarkably star struck. I practiced talking in line as if I was an actor reciting lines for an upcoming performance. Finally, it was my turn to meet the great Marcus Stroman.
I approached him, almost trembling, and shook his hand. At that point in time, I distinctly remember feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.
“Hey, Mr. Stroman,” I said as my voice continued to tremble. “My name is Jeep. I really appreciate this opportunity. It is truly a dream come true.”
He looked up at me, smiled, and said, “No problem, man. I’m happy to do this.”
As one of the Rogers’ employees snapped several pictures of us, I continued to think about the Blue Jays “40th Anniversary” baseball that was in my pocket. I kept wondering if he would sign it for me, considering the fact that anyone who entered the store was not allowed to bring in any foreign objects, and that Rogers has provided signed pictures. I said to myself, “The worst thing he could say is no, so what is the big deal?”
Once the photo shoot was over, I managed to stammer through the question, “Would you be able to sign this ball I have in my pocket? A good friend of mine gave it to me as a gift.”
Once again he looked up at me and said, “Absolutely. That’s no problem at all.”
A sigh of relief was let out as he placed his signature on my coveted and prized baseball. I felt honored. He returned the ball back to me. I thanked and shook his hand once more as I wished him the best of luck for the remainder of the season.
As I made my way out of the store, I received my phone back. I quickly went into my photo gallery. There it was: A picture of Marcus Stroman and I. After analyzing the photos, I carefully placed my phone and the autographed baseball into my drawstring bag. I was still in complete shock, and to this day, I still cannot believe that it even happened. I met the Great Marcus Stroman, and I will hold on to that memory until the day that I die.
It has been about 2 months since that day, but I still remember it as vividly as yesterday. Marcus, if you ever get the chance to read this, I want to thank you again for being a role model and for being extremely gracious towards me and the rest of the fans in attendance that day. Through watching you play, meeting you, and reading your inspirational tweets, I have learned to always be myself, no matter the situation of place that I am in. Even though our time with each other was slim, it will be imprinted in my mind forever.
James “Jeep” DiCioccio