Heckler gets his fill at The Jake
Blue Jays center fielder shows sense of humor in Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- Vernon Wells playfully covered his ears, feigned a yawn and brushed off his shoulders.
The relentless heckling from Jacobs Field bleacher denizen Jeff Raycher and friends was proving a success.
"Any time you get a response, it's pretty cool," Raycher said. "Of course, it always ends at that."
But on this particular night, May 2, in Cleveland, it didn't end at that. Seven innings of taunting the Toronto center fielder yielded Raycher one of history's wackier souvenirs.
Before the bottom of the eighth inning, Wells tossed the 28-year-old Raycher a ball inscribed with this gem of a message:
Dear Mr. Dork,
Here is your ball! Can you please tell me what gas station you work at, so when you are pumping my gas, I can yell at you. Now sit down, shut up and enjoy the game!!!
Your favorite center fielder
For Mr. Dork, a lifelong Tribe fan who in reality works as an accountant for a computer technology company, the scene could have been scripted in heckling heaven.
"I couldn't believe this was happening," Raycher said. "People were just dying laughing. It was the funniest darn thing ever."
And it's about to get funnier. Raycher and a few of his buddies plan on reuniting with Wells when Toronto visits Detroit for a Sept. 10 makeup game. This time around, Raycher says he'll be sporting a vintage gas station attendant uniform emblazoned with the name "Mr Dork."
Wells can only laugh.
"It's funny," Wells said. "Whatever comedic value you take out of [heckling] or how much fun you have with it, go for it. They've had fun with it and that's all that matters."
And to think, this great moment almost never happened. Raycher and his buddy from work, 27-year-old Tom Montague, decided on a whim late that Wednesday afternoon to exchange their tickets from snowed out Opening Day for a pair of bleacher seats to the night's game against the Blue Jays. And then once they arrived at The Jake, Raycher almost got tossed.
Why? For ribbing Wells, of course.
Sitting in the fourth row of section 184 of the left-field bleachers, Raycher's one-way conversation with Toronto's $126 million center fielder started from the game's onset.
And eventually, many in his section joined in on the childish chants that could only be appreciated in context.
-- "Ver-non ... Verrr-non ... VERRR-NON."
-- "What happened to 2003 Vernon? You're a bum, Vernon."
-- "Our center fielder is an MVP, Vernon."
The heckling was innocent enough, and Wells was playing along. In the fifth inning, Wells even pump faked a throw in Raycher's direction before then tossing a ball to the section over.
: : : This Edition: May 16, 2007 : : :
Not everybody saw it this way, though. In the seventh, a group of police officers paid a visit to the bleachers, asking for a word with Raycher. Rumor had it that he was disturbing Wells.
So the cops took Raycher back to the concourse for a little chat. That is, until an usher rushed to his defense.
"There's this older usher that's been laughing with us the entire time," Raycher said, "and he says, 'Hey these guys are just having fun with Vernon. He's giving it right back to them.'"
Raycher could stay, emerging as a bleachers hero.
"People figured I was kicked out, so when I walked back through that tunnel, everybody started cheering," Raycher said, laughing. "I yell, 'He just complained about us.' So we just got 10 times louder."
And Wells, in turn, just got 10 times more creative. Wells spent the top of the eighth inning inking a 42-word message on the baseball that he would toss up to Raycher between innings.
Or at least attempt to get to Raycher. Wells' toss fell short, caught by a man in the first row who then handed the ball over to a little girl seated next to him.
This would not do. The girl could -- and would -- get a ball the next inning. This one had to go to Raycher.
"No, give it to that guy. That guy right there," Wells shouted, pointing to Raycher in the fourth row.
What was going on? Raycher never asked for a ball, and now one was being expressly shipped to him by Toronto's superstar outfielder.
"This is nuts. Is he sending me an autograph?" Raycher thought.
When Raycher realized this ball was far better than any signature, he let out a stunned laugh. Then, he did what any self-respecting heckler would do.
"I stood on my seat and addressed the crowd, reading the whole ball," Raycher said. "It was the funniest moment ever."
A moment that will go down as one of baseball's great oddball moments, and a moment that is not for sale.
Now all that's left for Raycher and his framed ball is to yak it up face to face with his new Canadian chum.
"The next coolest thing would be to actually meet him," Raycher said. "Maybe it can be arranged in Detroit. That would be so awesome."
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.