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An errant throw and a dead seagull put one kid in the spotlight

March 18, 2021   ·   0 Comments

He got his dream job as a teenager, but little did he know he would soon be thrust into the international spotlight as part of an incident that made headlines through the sports world.

Jeff Pinchuk was a 16-year-old bat and ball boy working for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1983. His job was to assist visiting clubs when they arrived to play a game against the Jays at the old Exhibition Stadium down by the lakeshore in Toronto.

He was just a kid when he attended a Blue Jays game with his dad and watched the bats boys scurrying about on the field. Thinking that must be the greatest job in the world, to be down there with the pros, he started a campaign to get hired by the Club.

“The home team always supplied the visiting side with a bat and ball boy,” Jeff explained. “One day I’d be a bat boy, the next day a ball boy. For three years I was continuously writing letters (to the Jays) and following up with phone calls. Finally, it was Gord Ash (Assistant Director of Stadium Operations) who hired me in 1982. I still have my first pay cheque from the Blue Jays – it was $36.”

As a bat boy, he was responsible for making sure the bats were where they were supposed to be. He had a responsibility to the on-deck players to make sure their bats were available.

As a ball boy, he would play catch and warm up with the right field players between innings as well as snag any balls that came down the right field line in foul territory.

It wasn’t all glamour. He was also responsible for cleaning up the club house, cleaning out the spittoons, and cleaning up the club house.

It was that warm-up between innings in 1983 that caused the now famous seagull incident.

Exhibition Stadium was notorious for the amount of seagulls that flew overhead and landed on the field.

The gulls were attracted by the fact that thousands of fans would be munching on hotdogs, popcorn, and other treats during the game.

It became such a joke that one enterprising entrepreneur created a T-shirt that looked like it was covered in seagull droppings just so people could wear it and blend in with the crowd.

It was August 4, 1983, when the New York Yankees were in town.

Jeff was throwing the ball with Yankees right fielder Dave Winfield between innings.

“There was a seagull that was on the field,” Jeff explained. “At the end of the warm-up the fielder will say he’s had enough and give you a motion, like a wave of the arm. They would either throw the ball to you or give it a hop. It was a one-hopper off the turf.”

That hop managed to hit and kill the seagull – in front of thousands of fans.

Even thought it was an accident, a police officer on the sidelines decided it was animal cruelty.

Winfield was hauled off to a police station and charged with cruelty to animals. That made headlines around the sports world.

Yankee manager at the time, Billy Martin, quipped, “It’s the first time he’s hit the cut-off man all season.”

Although the charges were dropped, Winfield tried to make good by donating some paintings that were auctioned off for an Easter Seals campaign.

Winfield eventually joined the Blue Jays and became one of their most popular players.

For Jeff, he attained instant stardom as the bat boy who went onto the field to retrieve the offending and now dead seagull. There were front page photos of him in the national newspapers draping his towel over the deceased gull.

He now lives in Alliston, and almost 40 years later people still ask him about the incident.

“There are a lot of people who love the whole story and never forgot about it,” Jeff said. “I love it. It was my 15 minutes of fame that never went away. No one forgets the Winfield seagull incident.”

Jeff is still in contact with members of the Jays organization and thanks to an errant throw and a seagull with slow reflexes, he’s part of their history.

By Brian Lockhart
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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