Rob Ouellette wanted a nice, private way to pay tribute to his stepbrother. That’s kind of hard to do when there are 36,237 people in the house.
Ouellette, who lives in Windsor, Ont., came to the Rogers Centre on Friday night to watch the Blue Jays take on the Detroit Tigers on Friday. He carried the ashes of his stepbrother Joseph Pazner, who died suddenly earlier this year. He wanted to scatter the ashes on the field.
Ouellette has many fond memories of playing ball with Pazner growing up in Windsor, and of heading across to Detroit to watch the Jays play at Tiger Stadium.
“Baseball was everything. We all played Little League together. Right up until the day he died, he was playing indoor ball,” said Ouellette, who hatched the idea for the tribute after Pazner’s funeral.
He hoped to quietly tip the ashes onto the field during the game, then slip away unnoticed. It was the ninth inning, and the Jays were in the middle of coughing up their 4-2 lead.
Things didn’t quite go as planned.
“As soon as I did it, I looked down, and there was a camera guy sitting there. . . ,” said Ouellette, whose wife Gillian Krisko was on hand to record the occasion.
The cameraman noticed, and looked up.
“I knew I was screwed right away. So I went back to my seat to try and just hide in my seat but that’s kinda hard to do,” said Ouellette.
Police and Rogers Centre security staff immediately made their way up the stairs to speak with Ouellette. He played dumb at first, as he hoped to watch the rest of the game.
“At first they started asking me what it was, but I didn’t really want to admit that I did anything, because I figured the fine was pretty hefty, so I asked them if they had me on tape,” said Ouellette, who soon realized he was up for more than a fine if he didn’t start talking.
“Once it started to go the whole terrorism, anthrax route, I kinda decided it was in my best interest to take the fine and get thrown out of the park as opposed to getting arrested and getting sent to prison,” said Ouellette.
Unlike grass and dirt fields, where the ashes would likely have biodegraded, the Rogers Centre has an artificial turf, meaning that Ouellette’s tribute was short-lived; the ashes were cleaned up after the game.
“It’s a great sentiment for whoever the person may be that they wanted their ashes on the field,” reliever Chad Jenkins told the Star’s Brendan Kennedy on Saturday.
“And whoever was responsible for the ashes, I think that was awesome that they tried everything they could do to make that come true. Unfortunately, we play on turf — it’s not going down. It’s going to sit there until somebody cleans it up.”
The idea that his brother’s remains would end up getting vacuumed up by a hazmat team didn’t cross his mind as he was planning his trip, Ouellette admitted.
“Never thought of the hazmat team being called. I thought I was going to do this stealth,” Ouellette said with a chuckle.
Still, he was surprised he was able to get the zip locked bag of ashes into the stadium at all, given that Rogers Centre security searches fans before they enter the game, and regularly confiscates alcohol or anything that could be used as a projectile.
“But not dead people. You can take dead people and it’s OK,” a surprised Ouellette said Monday.
Toronto police said Monday they are still investigating the incident. Const. Jenniferjit Sidhu said a sample of the ashes has been sent to a facility for testing. If the substance is found to be harmful, Ouellette could still be charged.
In this case, police will not be pursuing charges if the ashes are found to be harmless, Sidhu said, but Ouellette’s actions could be considered mischief.
A Blue Jays spokesman said the team has received — and denied — ash-scattering requests in the past, but couldn’t recall anyone ever attempting such a brazen attempt in the middle of a game.
The province announced in 2009 that scattering ashes was permitted on provincial Crown lands, including those covered by water, such as the Great Lakes.
As for what Pazner would have thought of the tribute, Ouellette has no doubt.
“He’d love it. He’d definitely think I was an idiot. But beyond that, he’d enjoy it. We were always cracking jokes and doing stupid stuff.”