A sea of blue builds up in front of the Rogers Centre and its only 10 a.m.; the average person might mistake the crowds for a bizarre morning game, but diehard Blue Jays fans know that it is simply a bobble head day.
The first-ever bobble head given away at a Blue Jays game was April 29, 2001, where a Carlos Delgado figure was handed out to fans. The promotion must have worked, because the team has held multiple promotions of the same kind every year since.
But fans who think showing up is enough to score a coveted bobblehead are sorely mistaken.
“We are pros at this,” Kathy said comfortably from her lawn chair while waiting for the Stieb, Hentgen & Halladay Trio Bobble head, the final giveaway of its kind in the 2016 season. “We got here just before 9 a.m.”
For the 2016 season, all five bobblehead giveaways take place during 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon games. The first 20,000 fans walk away with their free memento, while most leave empty handed.
The short supply has generated a demand that can only be appreciated by seeing the mass of fans that flock to the Rogers Centre early as five hours before the game.
“You can tell that the people that get here at 8 o’clock, they are a community,” Kathy said.
Kathy and her friend Fiona make an effort to attend as many giveaway games as possible, and though they have made memories with fellow diehard fans over the years, they have also witnessed people who make an effort to arrive early for more nefarious means.
“It’s a mix of people,” Fiona said. “Its people that are diehard fan that want the experience, and the other half is people that just want to sell the Bobblehead on eBay.
“They will be selling them on online as soon as they are inside.”
A quick search of the most recent bobble head on eBay will yield over a dozen results. The Stieb, Hentgen & Halladay Trio Bobble Head is going for anywhere from $40 to $100, depending on the condition of its original packaging. If purchased through the team, a ticket for the game goes for as little as $16.
Mark Croucher has been attending Blue Jays games since the team was playing at Exhibition Stadium. On giveaway day he is in deep conversation with a group of what appears to be old friends, but in fact he only just met them.
“This is the best part; Blue Jays fans talk,” Mark Croucher said. “And you see them at other games.
“You see them in the line and you say how’s it going.”
Croucher did not come just for the coveted giveaway, but he made sure to arrive early because he knew there would be good company to exchange stories with. But he has witnessed people that are not there to make friends who have only one goal in mind.
“You see what people will do to get a Bobblehead,” Croucher said.
He recalls when a man jumped the fence that funnels the crowd into the stadium closer to the gate waving a Blue Jays season ticket holder card. The man claimed that he was staff, and he had to go through the same gate and that he was running late. Croucher recognized the card, and told the man to get to the back of the line. The imposter refused, so Croucher informed security and the issue was resolved.
“If people let it happen, and people don’t call it out, it becomes the wild west,” Croucher said.
Though Croucher is happy to get a bobble head, his enjoyment does not rest on getting his hands on the free giveaway. For others, getting every single bobble head is an ongoing goal.
“I’ve always been a collector,” David de Mendonca said. “I collected Pokémon cards when I was a kid. I had a binder, and I left the empty slots for the cards I didn’t have to drive me to that sense of completion.”
de Mendonca always watched the Jays, but it was not until high school when his fascination with math got him hooked on the sport of baseball that he would consider himself a diehard fan. It was in 2012 that the team made a big change that got the avid collector hooked on the bobble head scene.
“I didn’t like the black uniforms, no one really like them when we look back now,” said de Mendonca about the switch back to the retro style attire. “That got me into the aesthetic and history of the teams, so I started buying more and more tickets.”
Attending 15 to 20 games a season, de Mendonca will make sure to include all the giveaway days. He knows when you have to arrive, but the perfect storm of a holiday Monday, David Price’s first start, and Russell Martin Bobble Head Day last year was the busiest he had ever seen the pregame lines.
“I’ve had some close calls,” recalls de Mendonca. “I went to one of the bigger gates, but I could see the last couple boxes disappearing, but I got one.”
The tension in that lineup was palpable.
“As soon as you pick up the bobble head, your anxiety is just relieved.”
With the exception of two, the 26-year-old has every single bobble head given out during the regular season since 2002. To fill that ten year gap since he started attending all the games, de Mendonca has made an effort to collect them through means other than eBay.
Through online communities dedicated to Blue Jays bobble head collectors, de Mendonca met a couple of older fans who had been going since 1977. They had amassed a collection of bobble heads, and in their old age were finally willing to part with them.
“I bought a couple off him and traded some pretty sweet stories,” de Mendonca said. “That’s what I find cool, the hunt.”
Though de Mendonca is attempting to acquire the last couple pieces of his collection, he has yet to commit to some of the more obscure bobble heads. Collectors classify the standard collectables as SGAs, or stadium giveaways. But there are also season ticket holder exclusives, flex pack exclusives, as well as the odd retail special.
Though not on his list of SGAs, de Mendonca lights up as he tells the story of the most coveted bobble head, and it might not be who most would expect.
“The holy grail of Blue Jays bobble heads is the Frank Thomas one because they never gave it away. They cut him a month into the season,” de Mendonca explains. “They weren’t going to give away a Bobblehead for a player they cut, that is bad PR.”
“So they cancelled the promotion, gave the Bobblehead to whatever staff members wanted them, and the next season it was a flex-pack holder bonus,” explains de Mendonca of the collectible that goes for as much as $350. “But it didn’t have the sponsor plate, and it came in a different box.
“The holy grail is in the box, the one that was never given away.”
The advice de Mendonca would give to someone who is interested in getting into collecting Jays bobble heads is to be patient, and go the trade route.
“People who are new to the scene don’t realize that the bobble head market is the hottest it’s ever been, so the prices are the highest it’s they have ever been,” de Mendonca said. “If five years from now we are back to a middle of the pack team, and we don’t have any superstars, the prices could go way down.”
Future collectors should take note; arrive early, bring a chair, do not let people cheat the lineup, and turn the long wait into some great conversation with fans.
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Follow author: @MarkStaniusz