It’s like clockwork. If you’ve ever walked along the south side of Rogers Centre before a weekend Blue Jays game, you’ll understand.
For the last 20 years, since the opening of the stadium formerly known as SkyDome, there’s been a familiar drum beat that echoes outside the ball park. That beat belongs to Rick Donaldson.
Always clad in a full Blue Jays uniform, Donaldson is known for his infamous chant. While banging out a drum rhythm, he’ll yell the words, ‘Let’s go’. Then, pointing to the nearest passerby with his drum stick, he’ll wait until ‘Blue Jays’ is uttered back to complete the phrase.
Donaldson, 48, says the impact of the chant is what motivates him.
“It’s a good gig,” Donaldson said. “One thing that keeps bringing me back is when I see seniors who know what to say when I point to them. And when I see little kids knowing what to do. That’s what really grabs me.”
A married father of three, Donaldson is also a music teacher at an East York elementary school. He teaches during the week, but on the weekends he never fails to share his drumbeat with the crowds.
Born and raised in Chicago, Donaldson used to drum outside the stadiums of the city’s major sports teams. After doing that for a while, he was asked to join R&B and soul singer Otis Clay’s band.
“I went on the road with the band for five years,” recalls Donaldson. “Then we visited Toronto and the rest is history.”
Donaldson met his wife while touring in Toronto and eventually migrated to the city to be with her. That’s when he decided to start drumming in front of Toronto’s newly built SkyDome.
Teaming with a saxophone player, Donaldson set up shop one day in 1989 and began jamming outside the stadium. That same day, an operations manager hired him on the spot.
“He saw what we were doing and said, ‘Hey, can you do this every game?’ And that was it,” said Donaldson.
Since that fateful day, a lot has changed. The sax player got married and left. The Jays won two World Series. Oh, and Donaldson lost some hair.
“The other day they showed me on the [Rogers Centre screen],” he said. “Obviously back then I had a lot of hair. I had Jheri curls — the Juan Guzman look. So people yesterday were telling me ‘Hey, where’s all your hair gone?’”
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