Take a stroll down memory lane with me, if you will. The date was April 20th 1984, and a young blond mullet sporting Texan had earned a roster spot on your Toronto Blue Jays. If you look at him, you know he likes to party. I mean, dude looks like that alcoholic chain smoker from high school who never grew up, or moved out of his home town. The same guy who is at the local bar every Friday night just talking about the time he went 4 for 5 with 8 RBI in that game against (Insert High School here) in front of a packed to the rafters stadium. He also looks like the type who may enjoy a "left handed cigarette" if you pick up what I'm laying down. Yes, Kelly Gruber holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Toronto sports fans, the way few others do. And I don't really understand why. I mean, Gruber could walk down the streets of Cleveland and no one would even recognize him. But in Toronto, if he shows up a bar near the SkyDome (yes I said it, SkyDome, not the fucking Rogers Centre) he draws quite a crowd.
Flash forward to June 5th 2009. Toronto Blue Jays vs Kansas City Royals, Grienke vs Romero. Grienke was rolling at this point in the season with an ERA still under 2.00, but the Jays opened up a 7-0 lead going in the 7th inning. Grienke gave up 5 earned runs and only struck out three. This game was special because it honored the 1989 American League East Champion Toronto Blue Jays. And in attendance was most of the players from that team including Mr Kelly Gruber.
I tell you all this as a back drop for what happens later that night. Myself, The Man With The Golden Arm and two of our buddies, Ike Stake and Jimmy Triggs (names have been changes to protect the innocent), were at the Dome taking in the game. We were trying hard to heckle Grienke without mentioning the fact he has "trouble" with the public. Needless to say, we were into the brown pops and may have exceeded our limit. There may or may not be a video clip on youtube. I'm not telling you to go there or anything, but if you do, I never told you to look up a clip called Blue Jay Belly Top. It has nothing (everything) to do with this story.
finger his asshole. So, we start cracking up, and I gotta admit, Gruber was a great sport. I believe at one point Jimmy looks at Gruber and says "look at the hair, you gotta enjoy the pot!"
So finally, Gruber is around our table and I walk over to present him with a baseball that I wanted him to sign. He looks down, shakes my hand says "of course", he had a little chit-chat and out of the corner of my eye I see Jimmy walk over. He reaches into Gruber's chest, and slowly begins to unbutton his shirt. Very calmly Jimmy grabs a permanent marker and begins to autograph Kelly Gruber's chest. Gruber looks at me, I look at him, we look at Jimmy, and he looks back at me and say "Is this your friend?" I said "yes of course." Gruber pauses, lets Jimmy finish, takes a look at the autograph that reads "Jimmy Triggs.", laughs and signs my baseball.
Needless to say Gruber was the rock star that night. After the permanent marker incident, we retired back to the table to discuss and laugh about what just took place. I'm not positive how the night ended but I believe we were kicked out of the bar. Kelly Gruber remains one of the most mediocre third baseman in MLB history, but he was funny and engaging and remarkable patient. He laughed at Jimmy signing his chest and made himself available for pictures and autographs all night. Maybe this is why he remains a fan favorite in Toronto, this city equates to the high school slugger who never left, this is where he can sit and reminisce about tagging Deion Sanders' foot on the tail end of the triple play that never happened, and everyone will sit and listen. This night however, not only did we sit and listen, we autographed his chest.