Tom Cheek died today at his home in Oldsmar, Florida at the age of 66. For those of you who grew up in Toronto or Southern Ontario in the 70's, 80's and 90's, Tom Cheek was the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcasts from 1977, the year the Jays entered the league, until 2004 - an amazing 4,306 consecutive games.
But Tom's voice was more than simply that of a baseball announcer; it was synonymous with the promise of summer, even while the snow still lay on the ground at the start of the baseball season in April. Just as the previous generation came to love the voice of Foster Hewitt with his Saturday night greeting, "Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States...", those of us born in the late 60's into the 70's will always remember Tom's affirmation that it was indeed, "a great day for baseball..."
He introduced me, and thousands of others, to this game that was so popular with our neighbours to the south, but was a whole new experience for those of us in the land of sticks and pucks. From Bill Singer’s first pitch in 1977 to Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run in 1993, Tom was our constant companion and a kid’s best friend in the long, hot days of summer.
Just this year I started listening to baseball on the radio again. There’s a certain tranquility that comes from listening to the play-by-play and the familiar, old-fashioned lingo unique to the baseball diamond. But this time, it was different. With Tom unable to call the games anymore, I had a very real sense that the world had changed. The voice that had so often reminded me of lazy summer afternoons in Toronto had been silenced and along with it, was my ability to go back to a more innocent time when all that mattered was the ballgame and what time I had to be home for dinner.
Baseball is an old game; a game of traditions that should be respected and not easily exchanged for the unfamiliar. While the new broadcast team does a fine job, Tom Cheek was the voice. He will be greatly missed.