Th el oad e d gun t hat slowed every­one down

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON smil­ton@thes­pec.com 905-526-3268 | @mil­to­natthes­pec

It was a bizarre sea­son for the Toronto Blue Jays — ac­tu­ally, not all that dif­fer­ent from this one — but the weird­est day in it was one very few peo­ple re­mem­ber.

It was the first cou­ple of days of sum­mer in 1989, a promis­ing pitcher (Al Leiter) was out with blis­ter and shoul­der prob­lems, the Jays had re­placed Jimy Wil­liams with Cito Gas­ton as man­ager, the big stars were play­ing in­con­sis­tently, and the Blue Jays had just climbed to .500 on Fri­day June 23 for the first time since the sec­ond day of the sea­son but would fall be­low the break-even mark the very next day. They did go on to win the AL East, though.

On the day they were about to fall be­low .500 again they de­cided to send a young (22) out­fielder named Kevin Batiste back to their dou­ble-A team in Knoxville af­ter a six-game look in the ma­jors.

Batiste would never play another game in the ma­jors, and played just one and a half more years in the mi­nors be­fore giv­ing up base­ball and switch­ing to foot­ball.

He spent a sea­son as a 25-year-old safety for the Univer­sity of Hous­ton.

But not be­fore he dis­rupted the ca­sual bor­der-cross­ing rou­tine for an en­tire ma­jor­league base­ball team and its en­tourage.

Dur­ing the Satur­day mati­nee game in Oak­land, Jays’ trav­el­ling sec­re­tary John “Rude Dog” Bri­oux got a phone call from Oak­land air­port po­lice who said that they had dis­cov­ered a con­cealed, and loaded, hand­gun in Batiste’s lug­gage, and he’d been ar­rested. He spent about 12 hours in an Oak­land city jail be­fore the Jays paid his $13,000 bail about mid­night that Satur­day.

But in mid-af­ter­noon, Bri­oux ar­ranged for Batiste to talk to the small Jays’ me­dia corps (Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor) by phone through what is known in the in­dus­try as a “pool re­porter.” That means one me­dia representative asks the ques­tions and the re­sult­ing an­swers, all of them, are made avail­able ver­ba­tim to the oth­ers.

We chose Al­lan “Bear” Ryan of the Toronto Star. Bear is a very, very funny guy and like all good hu­morists has a great sense of tim­ing. Sit­ting in the press box at the Oak­land Alameda County Coli­seum he chose to re­peat the an­swers out loud, with an im­pec­ca­ble, slow, de­liv­ery so we could all be in real time with the con­ver­sa­tion.

No, Batiste replied, he didn’t re­al­ize car­ry­ing a con­cealed gun was il­le­gal and def­i­nitely no, he didn’t re­al­ize it had been stolen. It was given to him be­fore spring train­ing by a friend in his home­town of Galve­ston, Texas for “per­sonal pro­tec­tion.”

“You never know what’s go­ing on these days, es­pe­cially where I come from.”

But the stinger came when Bear asked Batiste if he’d ever car­ried the gun with him be­fore. Ob­vi­ously, he’d had it on the Jays’ char­ter from Toronto to Cal­i­for­nia.

“You also had it with when you came into Toronto from Knoxville (two weeks ear­lier)?” Bear said slowly and clearly, ob­vi­ously re­peat­ing Batiste’s an­swer. The rest of us nearly fell over. A Blue Jay had brought a loaded gun through Cana­dian cus­toms in Toronto and had not been caught. That ac­tu­ally wasn’t sur­pris­ing — the not-get­ting-caught part, not the gun part — since the Jays’ char­ter plane group was of­ten whisked through a cur­sory cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion check in a re­mote part of the Toronto air­port gen­er­ally re­served for busi­ness and sports char­ters, and the play­ers, team of­fi­cials and me­dia weren’t con­sid­ered se­cu­rity risks.

Re­mem­ber, this was a half-gen­er­a­tion be­fore 9/11.

“And when the team flew to Mil­wau­kee from Hamil­ton, too?” Bear re­peated, wide-eyed.

In those days there was a late-night anti­noise by­law at Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port so when they were leav­ing or ar­riv­ing af­ter mid­night, the Jays used Hamil­ton In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

I don’t re­mem­ber — and can’t find it on an in­ter­net search — whether Batiste was even­tu­ally con­victed of the gun charges, but I do re­mem­ber the ar­rest’s short-term ef­fect on our trav­el­ling car­a­van.

Cus­toms of­fi­cials on both sides of the bor­der don’t like be­ing shown up, let alone hav­ing been lax in polic­ing. So the rest of the year and much of the next we were sub­ject to more se­cu­rity checks than even passengers on reg­u­lar flights were. Even at 3 in the morn­ing in Hamil­ton. To­day, we might even find our­selves on the no-fly list.

A month or so af­ter the in­ci­dent, on a short flight from Toronto to Detroit, ev­ery mem­ber of the Jays trav­el­ling party, in­clud­ing the inkstained wretches (writ­ers from the four ma­jor pa­pers trav­elled on the Jay char­ter un­til the late 1990s), was sub­jected to a phys­i­cal check and his pa­per­work was run through the se­cu­rity com­puter. The de­lay was con­sid­er­ably longer than the one-hour flight it­self.

And although Batiste’s days as a Jay farm­hand wouldn’t stretch past the end of the sea­son, a num­ber of Jays pitch­ers said tongue-incheek that they hoped he got in­vited to spring train­ing in 1990 … just so they could throw at him.

,

A young BlueJay dis­rupted the­ca­su­al­bor­der-cross­ing rou­tine­for an en­tire team and its en­tourage.

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