I’m happy to admit that in the years I have been writing about baseball, I have always wanted to interview Brett Russell Lawrie.
Ever since the Jays called up the Langley, BC-born infielder in 2011, his unique personality has fascinated me. On the surface he’s a blisteringly intense, perpetually buzzing jock who “plays like his hair’s on fire.” But the perhaps stereotypical bro vibe is also peppered with an engaging warmth and comical irreverence—the persona he puts into the world equal parts confounding and straightforward, and certainly never short of entertaining. He’s been an incredible slo-mo dunking space werewolf, a well-soundtracked lip-syncing air guitar hero, a restless enigma wrapped in a riddle, chugging an energy drink and hollering “gett itt.” In short, Brett Lawrie can be a hell of a lot of fun.
The part of this baseball-writing goal I didn’t anticipate was that the opportunity would finally present itself in the form of a fifty-foot ketchup-covered slippery slide. But when it was announced that Pringles potato chips planned to promote their newly-released flavor by trying to set the record for how many Canadians were willing to throw themselves belly-first into a thorough red sauce soaking—and that Brett Lawrie would be hosting the whole bizarre affair—I went right ahead and signed up for my coveted interview slot.
The mood was upbeat when I arrived at Front and Simcoe in downtown Toronto Saturday morning. Dozens of red-shirted staffers were milling about, some tearing open economy-sized plastic bags of sauce, drenching the parking lot-situated horizontal slide, and creating an even layer via plastic snow shovels. Drawn in by the overwhelming smell of the popular ballpark condiment (oh god, the smell,) curious onlookers congregated in both shared horror and unabashed glee, while a rack of yellow rain suits, helmets, goggles, and plastic Crocs ominously suggested the action that was to come. All the while, the Pringles mascot was energetically getting down to a familiar top-forty soundtrack.
While a line of people willing to put themselves through this public humiliation started to form, Lawrie—concealed in a pair of reflective sunglasses and a cap pulled low—arrived casually, a team of black-suited security guards soon gathering around him. After being briefed, Lawrie took his role as host delightfully seriously, occasionally pausing in his announcer duties to document the day’s activities on his now widely enjoyed Instagram account.
Despite the surging popularity of his account, Lawrie doesn’t actually think of himself as an Instagram star. “I just go on there and post some stuff I do every day…I like to go on there and keep everyone updated, ‘cause usually I’m playing baseball, so if I’m not doing that I like to keep the fans into it.” And despite all the amusement that pops up on his daily feed, Lawrie is very much focused on returning to the game he loves, whenever that time may come. After stints with the Athletics and the White Sox, Lawrie was released by Chicago in March of this year, and he’s been spending his days getting up early and working out, rehabbing from previous leg injuries and issues he believes were caused by the use of orthotics.
During breaks in the messy, record-setting action, Lawrie was happy to shoot friendly thumbs-up selfies with onlookers, or sign autographs for fans clutching glossy 8 X 10 photos of the former Jay. He was also helpfully supportive of the ketchup sliders themselves, offering tips, pointers, and encouragement before brave thrill-seekers both young and old threw their vulnerable selves into the grotesque red slick. Though a lot of it was hard to stomach—especially the haphazard hose down station that resembled a horror movie scene—there was certainly something congenial about the whole tableau.
“I’m enjoying the efforts,” Lawrie said of the participants. “To be honest with you we’ve had some people here go as hard as you can. I don’t even know if you can get all the way to the bottom, this thing is pretty tough. But everyone is giving it their best effort. Everyone’s having fun, no doubt, that’s the biggest thing.”
When I asked Lawrie why he wanted to be a part of these weird Saturday-morning corporate-sponsored festivities, his answer was simple. “More or less I love ketchup chips number one,” he told me. “I’m a Canadian kid who has been growing up eating them so what better way to represent my own country and represent ketchup chips and the great launch for Pringles. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Before I let Lawrie get back into the ketchup-soaked ruckus, I ask him about the newest addition to his household—a brand new four-month-old German Shepherd puppy named Kona. (“That’s my boy right there.”) Kona joins his two-and-a-half year old female Shepard named Maui, a beloved canine who has garnered her own kind of Internet stardom since she joined Lawrie on his baseball journey. “They’re getting along well to be honest with you,” he says of the pair’s transition. “Now when they wake up they play all morning, they get tired out, they sleep, they wake up, they go at again, and then they sleep. They’re definitely keeping each other company.”
Talk of Kona really makes Lawrie light up. “His ears are all floppy, and his paws are really big. He’s gonna be a big boy. It’s going to be fun to see him grow up.”
As someone once involved in a 2001 world record setting bid for longest paper clip chain (32.184 km,) I can understand the impulse to participate in a shared, joyful, and ultimately pointless group endeavor like Saturday’s ketchup slide. Bringing people together to do something stupid can indeed buoy one’s spirits, allow us to take life less seriously, and underscore the importance of a team effort just for the sake of it. Yes, the event (and the smell) was entirely disgusting, with many an audience member ruining pants and shoes in the dangerous front row “splash zone,” but it was also oddly fun and entirely hilarious. What’s more, Canada’s reluctant Instagram star seemed to have a really good time, and by all appearances was pleased to be back in the city he once called his baseball home.
“It’s a cool vibe, no doubt. The Blue Jays are in town and there’s a lot of people wearing blue shirts,” Lawrie says. “It’s just like I left it, to be honest with you. Hopefully when I get back to baseball it’ll be in a good situation for me, whether that’s here, whether that’s any other team—I just want a good situation for me and to help a baseball club win.”
In talking to Lawrie, even for a few minutes, it’s hard not to want that good situation for him, and to see his distinct personality make it back onto the field. The ketchup slippery slide may have been a distracting exercise in ridiculous absurdity, but it also acted as a bit of a reminder of Lawrie’s fun-loving likability, and that aforementioned positive “gett itt” attitude.
As for me, I may have crossed a long-standing interview goal off my list, but I’m likely doomed to never eat straight ketchup again. Seeing people covered head to toe in it will definitely do that to you. The chips, however, are pretty all right.