We took our kids to Disneyland in April 2017. Their first trip. The excitement was palpable for the month leading up to the trip.
This trip was also going to feature a Toronto Blue Jays road game for me and our then-six-year-old son. He loved baseball. It was his passion then and remains his passion to this day.
This would be his second-ever MLB game. As excited as he was for Disneyland (very!), he might have been just as excited to go to a Toronto Blue Jays game.
We bought our tickets one month ahead of time. Upper deck, behind home plate. Not the best seats, but affordable and with a good view of the field.
A couple of weeks before our vacation, my artist wife and I were sitting in our living room watching a Jays game on TV. She turned to me and matter-of-factly told me she had arranged for me to meet a perfect stranger at the game.
“Um, ok,” I said, thinking this was a little odd. I was also thinking I was as interested in meeting a stranger at the game as I was in driving through a prairie snowstorm. That is, not interested at all.
But, I humored her.
“Why should I put us in the awkward situation of meeting a perfect stranger on our vacation?” I asked.
As usual, there was an art slant.
“He’s an artist,” she explained, still leaving me less-than interested in meeting a perfect stranger. “He travels to MLB stadiums across the U.S. and sketches a Disney princess in the uniform of the hometown team.”
A baseball angle AND a Disney angle? “Ok, I’m listening,” I thought as she continued explaining.
“He then gives this ‘ballpark princess’ away through his social media account to whoever finds him in the ballpark first,” she finished.
All things being equal, I wasn’t interested in racing around an unfamiliar ballpark with my son to collect a sketch featuring an L.A. Angels uniform, even if it was Disney related. I’d just as soon sit and enjoy the experience with a hot dog, ice cream, and soda.
It turns out, there was more. Because, of course, there’s always more.
My wife had already contacted him and he had already made an exception for her. Not only had he promised her the ballpark princess for that game, but he had also been gracious enough to make it a Blue Jays-themed princess.
“Ok,” I thought. “I can manage that.” Still, I wasn’t terribly keen about meeting a perfect stranger.
But wait, there’s still more.
This perfect stranger was Canadian and he was quite thrilled to be able to do a Blue Jays themed ballpark princess. Apparently, he didn’t have the opportunity to travel to Jays games in Toronto and this would be a special treat.
He didn’t have the opportunity to travel to Jays games in Toronto and this would be a special treat.
Oh, and it just so happened that Anaheim was where this transplanted Canuck lived so Angel Stadium was easy access to him and somewhat of a “home” ballpark.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. Our son and I were enjoying the game from our upper-deck seats while I waited for the text from my wife to tell us what section and row to meet this stranger in.
Sure enough, the text came in during the bottom half of the sixth inning. And, of course, our favorite pitcher, Marcus Stroman, was in the middle of throwing a gem of a game.
But now our attention was interrupted to go pick up this ballpark princess.
We navigated our way to the field-level section along the third-base line and found the row about 12 back of the Blue Jays dugout.
We introduced ourselves, shook hands, and our son and I grabbed one of the many empty seats next to him.
He passed me the ballpark princess and I showed our son, who wasn’t exactly impressed with what he called a “girl picture” but he did like the Jays jersey she was wearing.
For me, I was impressed at how quickly it took this artist to create what, to me, was a complex sketch — less than six innings. However, by this point, I was more interested in the person than the ballpark princess.
Who was this transplanted Canadian that traveled to MLB ballparks creating original works of art and giving them away for free?
It seemed like quite the interesting marketing practice and, at this point, I wanted to learn more about the person. In spite of my apprehension about meeting new people, I do have a natural curiosity about everyone’s “story” – and, yes, everyone has a story.
In this case, his name is S. Preston. I guess no one knows what the “S” stands for, he keeps it a secret.
Regardless, his art is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., — someday we’ll get there — and he is completely licensed by MLB to use their logos. He has also been featured at All-Star Games and, I learned later, has a huge following.
While Marcus Stroman pitched his heart out, Preston explained to me that he had been a successful communications professional for a major Canadian company for more than a decade working in Vancouver. The same career path that I was — and still am — in.
But he had always had a passion for professional sports and for art. So, one day, he left his job, relocated to Anaheim, and began his art career.
He was very engaging. And I was engaged. We chatted for two entire innings while the Jays erased a 1-0 deficit, put up four runs in the top of the 8th, and my son sat next to me wondering why his dad and this perfect stranger were engrossed in a career conversation.
Preston shared that he was looking to open a gallery in Anaheim; that he was seeking to be licensed by the NHL; and that his ballpark princess giveaway was a tremendous marketing tactic for his minimalist art that allowed him to meet fans and to create meaningful, personal connections.
Eventually, we parted company. And the Blue Jays won 6-2 with Stroman pitching a complete game.
The ballpark princess is now framed and hangs in a prominent location in our home.
It’s a reminder of many things: The wonderful vacation we had, the Blue Jays win that my son and I enjoyed together, the business of art, and a fellow Canuck with a passion for both pro sports and art.
Preston has since opened his Anaheim gallery following a Kickstarter fundraiser that my wife and I supported. He was licensed by the NHL a couple of years ago.
We now have three pieces of his art in our home, and I use one of his minimalist digital stadiums as the background on my phone. Clearly, his ballpark princess marketing tactic to create personal connection worked.
To this day, which is exactly five years from the game (Apr. 23, 2017), I’m grateful to my artist wife for introducing me to this perfect stranger. Ironically, she has never met him. Yet it’s amazing what impact art can have in bringing people together.
All in all, it was a great day at the ballpark.