A clutter of deep blue shirts and jerseys inhabited Dunedin Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Fans eager to watch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Atlanta Braves during their spring training campaign filled the ballpark, anticipating the regular season by watching preliminary at-bats from their favorite stars like Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar.
For fans confused about where they’re supposed to sit, or too excited to properly read their tickets, a slender man with sleek white hair drives all the way across the country to solve those nagging issues.
Larry Blackwood is an usher at Dunedin Stadium. He’s worked for the Blue Jays during spring training for years, making the 3,000-plus mile journey from his home in Oregon to Dunedin to work with the team.
For Larry, Spring Training means more than just new rosters. It’s a sense of rejuvenation.
“After a dead winter, when everything is just cold and there’s no baseball at all,” Blackwood said. “It’s for us true baseball fans…it really is the pastime for our country.”
Blackwood has been around baseball for nearly his entire life. Growing up in Chicago, he went to his first ball game when he was six years old. After the experience, he was hooked. He began working at Wrigley Field and watching the Cubs as a teenager, further cementing his love for the game.
While the revitalization of baseball is enough for Blackwood to adore his job, watching impressive youngsters at the plate and on the mound is a nice addition to the job.
Blackwood recalls times working at the ballpark and witnessing players that no one knew showcase talents that would eventually turn them into household names.
One such player is New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who broke the rookie home run record last season.
“Every time the Yankees played here, three different times, there was like 17 hits on the board,” Blackwood said with a smile. “They were just hitting like you wouldn’t believe…so we knew something was up.”
As the new year rolls into February, Blackwood halts his landscaping and farming businesses in the Pacific Northwest to make the long journey south.
But he doesn’t make the trek alone. He has his wife, Carol, right by his side.
Carol Blackwood works at the Jay’s Shop just underneath the stadium.
“When they called us to give us the jobs, she started crying,” Larry said. “We don’t do it for the money, we look forward to doing this.”
Larry and Carol are from the same area in Illinois, and Carol grew up watching the Chicago Cubs with her father. The emotion connection she has with the game stems from those early memories watching the game with family.
Now, she feels that same sense of closeness and family whenever she enters the stadium to work.
“It’s like a family here,” Carol said. “You don’t see anyone for a whole year, and you come back for Spring Training, and everyone is asking ‘how was your winter and summer?’. It’s like being with family.”
And getting to work alongside her lifelong partner makes it all the more worthwhile.
“We do everything together,” she said. “We have the same interests, and it just continues with the job.”
While the season is just getting started for MLB players across the nation, Larry and Carol are in the thick of their work for the game that has helped shape their lives.
And they’re enjoying every single second of it.