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May 3, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Why I won’t be in Toronto this weekend

Believe me, I was really looking forward to covering the Mariners in Toronto this weekend, given how the team is finally playing the way many people envisioned coming out of spring training. I had flown in to Montreal to visit family for a few days and then was planning to drive to Toronto and begin covering the series against the Blue Jays tonight.

Well, reality has intruded. My mother has been hospitalized and will have emergency open heart surgery first thing this morning. It’s a blessing, really, that I was already here in my hometown.

The Seattle Times has been great and if everything goes well, I will resume covering the Mariners in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. We will be covering the Toronto series by using freelancer Larry Milson, a (semi)-retired, longtime baseball writer for the Globe and Mail national paper in Canada and who I got to know for nine seasons on the Blue Jays beat. One of my favorite stories involving Milson had the two of us being the last to leave the pressbox in Atlanta after a game in 1998, hauling our hefty computer laptops on our shoulders in bags.

The area around Turner Field on the city’s south side isn’t always the safest and I know of at least one writer robbed at gunpoint. As we looked around in vain for a cab that night on the deserted, dark, streets, a homeless man came walking over to us from the shadows of a nearby overpass.

“Hey! Hey!” he said, as we quickly stiffened and braced for the worst. “You guys need a cab? Follow me.”

Against every instinct in our bodies, we did just that — looking at each other every five seconds as if to say “We just know we should not be following this guy around a darkened bend.”

But just when we were prepared to break away and run, what do we see just around the corner? Yep, a cab. Our homeless guy had brought us directly to one we’d have never seen and we gladly paid him for the service, our faith in humanity restored.

You folks are in good hands with Milson. He’s been around and knows his stuff.

I wanted to write this just to let you know that the Times had every intention of covering this series and had already paid to fly me out. My circumstances have left them scrambling at the last minute to do the best they could to staff the game and it was important to me that I communicate that to you. They have been great in my time of need and we remain committed to covering this team, which I will do on the latter half of this trip.

As for my mother, there was, obviously, no decision to make.

Back when I was 15, I tore my ACL, partially tore my MCL and my mensicus in my right knee during the football pre-season. About a month or so later, my season long done, I was getting pretty depressed hanging around the house on crutches. It was obvious to me even then that dreams of making it to the CFL or NFL at that point were going to be a severe longshot at best and it was a pretty big blow at an age where you don’t know any better.

My parents were divorced and my brother and I were living with my mother at the time and one night, she came to me and said “Let’s go to the hockey game tonight.”

In Montreal, the NHL is a big, big deal. Our family wasn’t the wealthiest and all the games were sold out.

She knew I knew how to buy scalped tickets on the street and so we went, drove the 25 minutes to the Montreal Forum where the NHL’s Canadiens played and I stood and negotiated the ticket buy outside on the street with her standing nearby and piping up every now and then. At one point, we pretended to walk away, as we’d discussed prior, and the scalper relented and gave us some pretty good seats in the “whites” (middle) section.

It was September 1984 and only an exhibition game, but it was on a Saturday night (the big night for hockey in Canada) against the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers. We were a bit disappointed to see the Canadiens weren’t starting their first string, or even second string goalie, but some minor leaguer we’d never heard of.

Anyhow, the game was great and the Canadiens — forming a pretty good team at the time — went on to win it in overtime. The minor league goalie played great, even though he’d appear in only one game that season and was still more than a year away from really getting his chance. Hey, he might have a shot someday, my mother and I told each other as we left the arena that night.

His name was Patrick Roy.

My mother was always a hockey fan. Back in the early 1950s, she was bedridden for nearly a year as a child with rheumatic fever. It’s a big reason she is now undergoing surgery, her heart damaged over the long-term, at age 70. But back then, with time on her hands, she wrote to the players of all the Original Six NHL teams and received autographed photos from each and every one in the entire league.

Anyhow, that night we spent together at The Forum in Montreal in 1984 sticks out in my mind because of how my mother — all five-feet or so of her — was there for me and standing in the street helping me haggle with scalpers for tickets to a sold out NHL game.

I figure the least I can do now is be there for her.

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