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LIFE: A baseball ironman of a different sort (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

Making the rounds with Alan Ross, the Toronto Maple Leafs ticket vendor extraordinaire

“Al the Ticket Man,” (Alan Ross, left) sells raffle tickets at a Toronto Maple Leafs Intercounty Baseball League game at Christie Pits. The team is the only one in the IBL that doesn’t charge admission. R.S. KONJEK/GLEANER NEWS

By R.S. Konjek

It’s a Sunday afternoon in July at Christie Pits Park.  Standing near the baseball diamond, Alan Ross leans back and casts his gaze around the field.

“I want you to make a note that I’m doing this under protest,” he says with tongue in cheek, in response to a request for an interview. “I’m not an interesting person.”

Baseball fans at the Pits would beg to differ.  To many, “Al the Ticket Man,” is a living legend.

Ross, 69, can be found at every Toronto Maple Leafs home game selling raffle tickets to fans.  

The draw happens midway through the seventh inning and prizes are modest – usually a regular rotation of t-shirts, oil changes and restaurant gift certificates.  

The proceeds help keep the club operational, as the Leafs do not charge admission to games.

From pre-game warmups to the top of the seventh inning, Ross walks around the entire ballpark with his roll of raffle tickets. 

He moves at a gentle pace, circling the diamond and hiking up and down the hillsides.  

Along his meandering path, he exchanges a few ducats for a bit of hope, and stops to chat with familiar faces in the crowd. 

You could say he has racked up more walks at Christie Pits than any ballplayer.  

He’s a lifelong Torontonian and baseball fan, even though he admits he was never a great player.

“I couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, and couldn’t play the outfield, but other than that I was okay,” says Ross.

One day in the early seventies, he was invited by his friend Sheldon Plener to watch a game at the Pits.  Back then, the Leafs were the only baseball team in town.  

“I followed him to a game and fell in love with it.”

His enthusiasm for baseball, people and sales made him a perfect fit, and in 1973 Ross became a club employee, selling raffle tickets. 

When the Toronto Blue Jays began operations in 1977, Ross moved up to “the big leagues” and got a job in the Jays’ ticket sales department. He spent the next 22 years there, and was with the organization when they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.  As an employee, he received the same elaborate championship rings as players do. He gifted one to a nephew and sold the spare.

When his career with the Blue Jays wrapped up, Ross immediately returned to his ticket selling gig at Christie Pits.

“I came back like Minnie Minoso,” he says, referencing the Cuban ballplayer who, in 1980, made a brief return to major league baseball at age 54.

Ross says he hasn’t missed a game since 2006.  The community atmosphere at Leafs games is a strong pull.  Most raffle tickets are bought by the same people, week after week.

The allure of Leafs baseball is so strong that Ross makes road trips to follow the team. “I much prefer driving to Kitchener or Guelph than taking the subway to a Jays game,” he says.

Like most fans, Ross was thrilled to hear that his beloved Leafs would return to action this summer and he resumed his duties selling raffle tickets.

However, time and a year-long absence from the park have taken their toll.  “This is my final year, the hills are getting too steep,” he says, immediately adding: “I say it every year.”

Ross will celebrate his seventieth birthday later this summer.  He knows, like every ballplayer, he will have to hang up his cleats someday, but perhaps not just yet. “I’m like a camel, give me a little water and I’m fine.”

This summer, the Leafs have neither flown nor stumbled out of the gate.  At the end of July, they were playing .500 ball.  Win or lose, Ross will be there. Buy a ticket and join him for the ride.

The Maple Leafs’ complete 2021 season schedule can be found at www.mapleleafsbaseball.com.

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Tags: Annex · Sports · Life