Record for the month when I attended a Blue Jays game: 4-1 (9-7 overall for 2010.)
July 26 – Blue Jays 9, Orioles 5
Did I sit in the 500 Level? Yes, in section 518 – first base side, row five at the aisle.
Roof status: Open.
Player printed on ticket: 2B Aaron Hill, who would go 2-for-4 with a three-run home run.
Noteworthy because: Tonight’s game was deemed as 80′s night (to replace the now-discontinued Flashback Fridays), as the ballclub would don their baby blue road uniforms from that time period, as well as reminders from that era – along with the Pac-Man video game font - on the big screen! This would be the fourth straight game I would see RF Jose Bautista hit a home run – this one was a 426-foot bomb to left field, scoring three runs. I would see this game in its entirety, since it was my day off. This would be the fourth time I’d see Blue Jays starting pitcher Brandon Morrow (second straight game for me) and the third time he’d win. My presence a good luck charm? I’d like to think so.
July 10 – Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 5
Was I in the 500 level? Yes, but not via the season’s pass – I had gone with two friends, and we had bought seats from a scalper (who actually charged us less than face) outside Rogers Centre.
Roof status: Open.
Player printed on ticket: CF Vernon Wells (who would go 0-for-4 with a walk.)
Noteworthy because: This would be the last time I would see SS Alex Gonzalez play in a Toronto uniform, as he would be traded during the All-Star break following this Red Sox series. He went out with a bang, getting three hits (including a two-run home run) and driving in three runs. This would also be the first and only time I would see the Blue Jays defeat the Red Sox in person this year. I went with two buddies – Yves, a co-worker and Yankees fan who cheered against the Red Sox, and fellow Blue Jays booster Paul (we both went to the same high school). Yves may be a Yankees fan, but he knows his baseball. He also cheered for the Blue Jays – but then again, they were facing the Red Sox. Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow only lasted one batter into the fifth inning, unable to qualify for the win when Toronto scored in the bottom frame.
July 8 – Blue Jays, 8, Twins 1
Was I in the 500 level? Not today; my friend Marco let me use his company’s season tickets and I got to sit down the third base line, five rows up! I took my dad with me.
Roof status: Open.
Player printed on ticket: DH Adam Lind (who hit a 412-foot home run and struck out three times.)
Noteworthy because: Blue Jays starting pitcher Brett Cecil was quite efficient, going seven innings of four-hit ball, only allowing one run. The offence was five solo home runs – one each from Lind, LF Fred Lewis, 1B Lyle Overbay, C Jose Molina, and RF Jose Bautista – and a three-run double by SS Alex Gonzalez. All homers (except Lewis’ dinger) travelled at least 384 feet. Being the day off, I got to see the game in its entirety, but I encountered many an obstacle to pick up the tickets from Marco. First, I confused Wellesley for the street I was supposed to meet Marco at, then I had a hard time figuring out the name of the restaurant where he was standing in front (Ki?). Nevertheless, Marco and I go way back, and I was glad he thought of me when he wasn’t able to make today’s matchup. Unfortunately, I forgot to put my memory stick in my camera, thus depriving me of duplicating the view from the posh seats. Thanks, Marco!
July 7 - Blue Jays 6, Twins 5
Roof status: Closed.
Player printed on ticket: Second baseman Aaron Hill (who did not play for the second straight game).
Noteworthy because: It was the return of the alphabet starter, as lefty Marc Rzepczynski toed the bump for Toronto in making his 2010 debut. Former Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson fell a double short of the cycle; O-Dog was also caught stealing on the back end of a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play in the first inning. Nice peg on that play by catcher John Buck. Jose Bautista continued his monster season by hitting his league-leading 22nd home run, an inside-the-park-job that eluded Twins outfielders in the left-centerfield gap. Since it was my night off, it was the first game I saw in its entirety since June 2nd. This game was also the final appearance (though no one knew it at the time) in 2010 for Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who suffered a concussion while sliding into second base and John McDonald’s leg. The effects of that innocent-looking play caused Morneau to miss the remainder of the Twins’ regular season and subsequent playoff series.
July 6 – Twins 7, Blue Jays 6
Roof status: Open.
Player printed on ticket: Second baseman Aaron Hill (who did not play).
Noteworthy because: This was the first game I’d see the Blue Jays with a losing record (they had a 41-42 record before playing Minnesota). It’d also be the first time I’d see Blue Jays starting pitcher Jesse Litsch pitch since 2008. The pudgy right-hander threw well for four innings, but was scored on five times by the Twins offence in the second and sixth innings to depart said game with a no-decision. New Westminster (B.C.) native and Twins first baseman Justin Morneau hit a homer in the sixth inning to satisfy the Can-Con portion of the game. This was also the day that the reserves were announced for the American League All-Star team that was to play the National League next week in Anaheim. Catcher John Buck, centrefielder Vernon Wells and MLB home-run leader Jose Bautista were the Blue Jays representatives headed to the All-Star Game; the trio combined to go 0-for-9 during the game. I left shortly after the Twins broke a 6-6 tie in the eighth inning because I had to get to work for my 11 pm shift.
June 1 – Rays 7, Blue Jays 6
Roof status : Open.Player printed on ticket: CF Vernon Wells (2-for-5 with an RBI; just missed tying the game in the last inning with a drive that missed clearing the fence by two feet.)
Noteworthy because: First #twittertuesday game I’ve attended – though lack of a smartphone left this fan wanting. This game also showed me closing pitcher Kevin Gregg ain’t no Tom Henke, despite the common use of specs on the mound. The home side ran out to a 5-0 lead against Tampa Bay after six innings, staking their claim to contention against one of the tougher teams in their division. Entrusted with a one-run lead the previous night against the Rays, Gregg gave up a leadoff triple but stranded that runner to earn the save. Tonight, with a two-run lead, Gregg became unglued and brought back “fond” memories of incumbent closer B.J. Ryan (who the club is still paying for, despite no longer being on the team this season!) Gregg gave up four runs, as he committed seppuku by being slovenly in the strike zone (five walks allowed) and not helping his own cause (throwing the ball away on a pickoff move). He only allowed one hit, but it was a doozy, a three-run double to the Rays’ Sean Rodriguez with two out. After allowing his last free pass, Gregg was finally taken out, but not before being ejected by the home plate ump for arguing ball-and-strike calls. “Four batters too late,” I screamed out loud, to no one in particular, after Gregg was turfed from the game.
June 2 – Rays 7, Blue Jays 3
Roof status: Closed.
Player printed on ticket: Wells (rough night – got caught stealing after a leadoff double, and grounded into a DP.)
Noteworthy because: This was the second straight Blue Jays game at home I’d seen in its entirety this year. Usually I’d be leaving early for work, or arriving late because of it. Luckily, these last two games of the Rays series took place on my days off. Unluckily, these were the two games where the Blue Jays’ ninth-inning leads disentegrated to dust against the patient & powerful Rays’ batters. The Blue Jays were in their powder blue finery with Opening Day starter Shaun Marcum toeing the bump. He was excellent for eight innings – but couldn’t finish off the Rays in the ninth. The Rays broke it open after Marcum’s departure with a grand slam by the Rays’ Carl Crawford off lefty extrordinare Scott Downs, which was the eventual margin of victory. RF Jose Bautista showed off his excellent arm by tossing out Rays catcher Dioner Navarro at home plate. In another test to show if this team’s competitive start was for real or like last year’s mirage, the Blue Jays get a C- for the series due to their inability to hold a ninth-inning lead for two straight nights.
June 22 – Cardinals 9, Blue Jays 4
Did I sit in the 500 level? Yes, at section 529, ninth row, aisle seat.
Roof status: Open and overcast.
Player printed on ticket: Wells (again!) – who went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
Noteworthy because: Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols – the most prodigious and powerful hitter of the last decade – was in Toronto, and I wasn’t going to miss him wreak havoc in Rogers Centre. And ultimately, this would be the only interleague game I would watch in 2010. A couple of sluggers would overshadow Pujols tonight – Bautista would hit two home runs tonight (I missed the second because I had left Rogers Centre for work at THAT moment) and Pujols’ teammate, left fielder Matt Holliday, who was a triple short of the cycle. You see, any guy named Holliday can perform in this town. The Cardinals socked four homers to take the opening game of this three game interleague series. I left in the middle of the seventh inning in order to make it in time for work that night.
Record for the month while I attended: 0-3 (5-6 in 2010 overall.)
May 2 – Blue Jays 9, Athletics 2
Did I sit in the 500 level? Yep – thirteen rows up. But like in an aircraft, I always take the aisle.
Player printed on ticket: DH Adam Lind (goes 0-for-5).
Roof status: Open and sunny. Beautfiul day for a game, and a beautful result for the home side.
Noteworthy because: The win marked Shaun Marcum’s first of 2010, and first since September 11th, 2008. Pizza Pizza K-ountdown accomplished (thanks to Rommie Lewis’ eighth-inning called strikeout of the A’s Mike Sweeney). Alex Gonzalez hits his third homer of the series, while John Buck hits three doubles. And it’s the first game I see in its entirety since the Royals game, but sadly, I did not bring my camera!
May 16 – Blue Jays 5, Rangers 2
Player printed on ticket: Lind (who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts).
Roof status: Another beautiful Sunday afternoon. Which meant the roof was rolled back!
Noteworthy because: It was Italian Day, coupled with Active Green & Ross Cap Day. I keep missing out on these promotional giveaways, and since there were only three this year I was determined not to miss this one. I arrived real early for BP (sadly, no baseballs made it my way) with getting the cap in mind. I loitered at the 100 level for the remainder of the game. The Jays finished a three-game sweep of the Rangers despite only gathering three hits, but all of them produced runs. The first was Gonzalez’s single which tied the game, and the second hit was a three-run double by Buck which was initially called a home run. Replay review called it a double, which delayed the game for a few minutes. It was the first time I’d witnessed a home run subject to review since it was instituted in MLB last September. Jose Bautista hit a solo homer – his 10th six weeks into the season – in the sixth inning to close the Toronto scoring. Pizza Pizza K-ountdown acheived again (though I think in honour of Italian Day they could have held back on the moon hits yer eye song after getting to the K-ountdown) thanks to Brandon Morrow’s eight strikeouts in six-plus innings.
May 29 – Blue Jays 5, Orioles 2
Player printed on ticket: Second baseman Aaron Hill (who went 1-for-4, a sixth-inning solo home run that tied the game 2-2).
Roof status: Open and sunny!
Noteworthy because: It was my birthday, and I decided to spend it with my buddies by going to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the morning and then take in the ballgame that afternoon. At the HHOF, my buddy DK and I had a bit of a contest to see who could stop the most shots in a virtual goalie exhibit – both of us could only make one save out of ten shots faced. I also got to see the puck that Sidney Crosby shot past Ryan Miller to give Canada the hockey gold medal during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Today also marked the first all-you-can-eat game I would attend; my final tally was about five hotdogs, three cups of Sprite, two orders of nachos and cheese, two bags of peanuts, two bags of Miss Vickie’s chips (jalapeno & sea salt and vinegar flavored) and one box of popcorn. Notwithstanding my total amount of food consumed, I don’t think I’ll be attending another AYCE game anytime soon; I didn’t care much for the setup and the amount of time I wasted while waiting for food while the game went on. Oh, yes, there was a ballgame, as the Blue Jays ran their 2010 record against the O’s to 5-0. The club hit four home runs to break the club record set in one month, while lefty starter Brett Cecil pitched eight effective innings to earn his fifth win of 2010. It seems on my birthday, something noteworthy happens during every Blue Jays game I attend. Last year, they snapped a nine-game losing streak by beating the Red Sox (I was at Sightlines restaurant sampling the buffet). In 2007, Hill stole home against the Yankees to win the game. In 2005, Roy Halladay threw a two-hit shutout against the Twins. And today’s game just added to the notoriety of seeing the boys at Rogers Centre on my b-day.
Record for the month of May whilst I was in attendance: 3-0 (5-3 for 2010 overall.)
Since I haven’t updated this in about two months, I’d just like to run down the list of home games I’ve been to at Rogers Centre this year past. Starting with…April!
April 15th – Blue Jays 7, White Sox 3.
Player printed on the ticket: Unsure, but it looks like Aaron Hil (who was injured and did not play).
Roof status: Rolled back open for the first two innings, lid closed shut after that.
Noteworthy because: It was Jackie Robinson Day (meaning every player wore #42), and it was my first home game of the season ’cause I didn’t make it to Opening Day. And it’d be the only game I’d ever see lefty Dana Eveland win in a Blue Jays uniform. Also one of the smallest home crowds ever to grace SkyDome/Rogers Centre.
April 21 – Royals 4, Blue Jays 3 (10 innings)
Player printed on ticket: Vernon Wells, taking a swing (and missing often that day, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts).
Roof status: Open, and because of the mid-day, mid-week start, sunny.
Noteworthy because: It was the first – and only one I’d make this year, thanks to my bad sleeping patterns - 12:37 p.m. game of the year. It was also the first extra-inning game for the Blue Jays. Great pitching matchup between defending Cy Young champ Zack Greinke and Toronto ace Shaun Marcum lived up to billing with both starting pitchers going seven solid innings. First time I’d see new leadoff batter/left fielder Fred Lewis; he tied the game with a run-scoring single in the eighth inning.
April 26 – Red Sox 13, Blue Jays 12
Player printed on ticket: Wells (who went 3-for-5, but I only saw the first two hits, which were both doubles).
Roof status: Don’t remember; didn’t write it on my scorecard.
Noteworthy because: I left the game in the top of the 4th inning (with the score 8-6 for Boston), around 8:45 pm, because I had to work at 10 o’clock. I figured I may leave early because the Red Sox are the masters of making a pitcher work into deep pitch counts, as evidenced by their lengthy matchups with the Yankees. I caught a couple of balls during BP – one off the bat of J.D. Drew, and one from the arm of Hideki Okajima. Doesn’t mean I’ll like the Beantowners. This was also the infamous game I saw with my good friend Movie Mike (a Red Sox fan who lives here in nearby Mississauga, a city 20 minutes west of Toronto). It was also the first time I’d see Jose Bautista hit a home run this year.
April 27 – Red Sox 2, Blue Jays 1
Player printed on ticket: Hill (one single in four at-bats).
Roof status: Open.
Noteworthy because: This game took place on an off day and was a last-minute decision to go on my part. In stark contrast to the previous game’s 25-run affair, this was a great pitching matchup between Boston’s Buchholz (who got the win) and Marcum (he ended up with a no-decision). This would be the first time I’d also be exposed to Kevin Gregg’s late inning follies, allowing the winning run to score on a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning (though lefty Scott Downs ended up with the loss). I met up with my buddy Al & his work buddies at St. Louis Ribs (behind Gate 10); not enough seats in that place to accomodate the post-game crowd, but we all got in.
April 30 – Blue Jays 10, Athletics 2
Player printed on ticket: Designated hitter Adam Lind (1-for-5, that’s him in the pic, congratulating Wells on his fifth-inning homer).
Roof status: Open/closed. Unsure of when roof slid to covered state.
Noteworthy because: First time I saw Brandon Morrow pitch for the Blue Jays; he decided the Pizza Pizza K-ountdown by the 4th inning (seven strikeouts on a Friday/Sunday home game gives the ticket holder a free slice of pizza redeemable on the following Monday) and struck out nine A’s batters in six solid innings. Wells hit his 203rd home run as a Blue Jay to pass George Bell into second place on the club leaderboard. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez (not the pretty boy who played here in the mid-to-late 90′s) hit two home runs. Lefty Blue Jays reliever Rommie Lewis makes his major league debut, throwing a scoreless seventh inning. And I left early – the seventh inning – in order to get to work. Yes, I work overnights.
Record whilst I was in attendance: 2-3. Both wins took place when I sat in my proper seat. Hmm..
A belated Independence Day to my American neighbours on this first week in July. Baseball was in full force as all 29 American-based MLB teams played to capacity crowds, as many celebrated the occasion via a sport that is acknowledged as its national pastime. The 30th MLB team not in the U.S.A. – the Toronto Blue Jays – played the rubber match of their series against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. While it’s all well and good an American team gets to host a Canadian side on July 4, the same cannot be reciprocated for that same Canadian team on Canada Day (July 1). Last Thursday, as many Canadians like myself celebrated our nation’s birthday, Canada’s lone MLB team lost a 6-1 decision in front of 16,859 patrons at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
Would the crowd have been larger had the game been played at Toronto’s Rogers Centre instead of the ballpark formerly known as the Jake? There would have been a lot less Canucks crossing the border to see Canada’s only MLB team, that’s for sure. The 2009 Canada Day tilt against the Tampa Bay Rays at home attracted 30,553 fans, one of the bigger crowds in a year where they ranked 10th (out of 14 teams) in attendance. Surely this year’s Rogers Centre crowd on July 1st would have attracted at least double the number at The Prog. Sadly enough, that was the largest crowd of the four-game set in Cleveland.
Can someone from MLB – anyone – explain to me why the Blue Jays, Canada’s lone MLB team, have to play an away game on Canada Day? I know the schedule is variable, but please, these are the experts who scheduled the one series Toronto fans were willing to see all year – the return of Roy Halladay with the Philadelphia Phillies – simultaneous with the G20 that same weekend, which took place at the neighbouring Metro Convention Centre. This kind of bungling is unacceptable, since the schedule-makers knew well ahead of time this massive undertaking would crimp the surrounding area around Rogers Centre – and they still gave the Blue Jays a “home series” during this weekend. This forced the Blue Jays to move said series to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, and despite being designated the “home” team with AL rules to boot, lost two of three games to the Phillies.
MLB’s popularity – as well as the Blue Jays’ rating in these parts – is waning, due to many factors like having more options for your entertainment dollar, the long-ago (it’s been over a decade-and-half, folks) strike in 1994, the disconnect between multi-million dollar athlete and fan, the notion that it’s all about hockey in the hinterland even in summer, the Blue Jays having not made the playoffs since 1993, etc. But the game of baseball is still popular amongst youth, as evidenced by the number of Canadians picked up in recent amateur player drafts. Kids who were reared seeing the back-to-back World Series victories in ’92 and ’93 are wanting to become MLB players because of the local exposure to big-league ball. Not to say one game on a holiday can turn things around for a franchise, but it’d be nice to have a centerpiece match-up on the day of said nation’s birthday. Even when interleague play started against the Expos, the teams only squared off once on July 1st (in 1997); one would think to develop a natural rivalry with its closest geographic neighbour, MLB-wise, would make sense. Now that the Blue Jays are Canada’s only MLB team since the Expos’ relocation to Washington, it should be mandatory that Toronto plays at home on Canada Day. It’s only three days away from Independence Day, and a regular two-or-three-(maybe even four)-game series can be played in the interim! There should be no excuse why July 1st can’t be celebrated at Rogers Centre with the Blue Jays playing at home. A Canada Day game would only increase interest and attendance in the Blue Jays. Just imagine, kicking back at the ballpark with an Alexander Keith’s in hand, hot dog in the other, seeing the Mounties fly the Canadian flags high as (insert Canadian chanteuse here – I’m partial to Sarah Harmer or Jann Arden right now) sings the national anthems on a cloudless first day of July. Then, post-game, win or lose, the fireworks show takes place. I know this happens at American ballparks; I’ve only experienced it twice here in Toronto, and it’d be great to have this as a yearly event. Every other MLB team has it – why can’t Toronto?
In the Blue Jays’ 34 years to date as a franchise, they have played 32 games on July 1st. Nineteen of those first 23 games were played at home – which is a great percentage for those baseball/Blue Jays fans who wanted to catch a game on the hoser holiday. I attended the Canada Day game in 1999, which was a pretty good one as the Blue Jays rallied from a 6-0 defecit to win 8-6 against the Orioles. I also attended last year’s game, where, as a post-game treat, put a video of the Blue Jays (circa 1997) in Canadian gear (i.e. Mounties, outdoorsmen) singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on the big screen, woven with Canadian landmarks in the lyrics, along with fireworks. In the last nine years, including 2010, the Blue Jays have been the visiting team seven times on Canada Day. I’ve listened to Mike Wilner’s show “The Jays Talk” on the Fan 590, and when the subject of playing at home on Canada Day is broached, a blunt “MLB doesn’t care about the Blue Jays [in regards to their schedule]” is given in response. Which sucks, because it seems that the same kind of great care was given in regards to this years’ Phillies interleague series. MLB – or Mr. Selig – is Toronto becoming the eyesore to you that Montreal was? Because I’d hate to think with this skewed-up scheduling that you and MLB are trying to eliminate the only team that’s won a World Series outside of the U.S.A.
All I’m saying is that a series that takes place in Toronto on Canada Day can’t hinder interest in MLB or the ball club any more; in fact, it may improve the low average crowds that are probably barely ahead of Baltimore and the aforementioned Cleveland franchise. It’d be great to see the special third jerseys or hats that the Blue Jays adorn in comparison to their American-based contemporaries. In contrast, the Blue Jays have played hosts 10 times out of 31 games to date on July 4th, the last time taking place in 1999. It’s a holiday, MLB/”Bud” - let us Canucks have our team at home on our nation’s birthday, since it seems the Blue Jays are always away that day.
Just before I forget – belated congratulations to Roy Halladay for throwing his perfect game against the Marlins a month ago! I won’t ever forget the date, because it took place on my birthday! Four years ago I saw him pitch a two-hit shutout at home against the Twins on my birthday, and I thought that was a pretty good gift then; after the perfecto, I know never to underestimate Doc. My father picked up a stub from the perfect game in Florida as a souvenir – thanks for that, Dad. Also, one of the prospects in the Halladay trade, Kyle Drabek (son of 1990 NL Cy Young winner Doug) threw a no-hitter this past weekend for New Hampshire! Hopefully Drabek the younger will springboard this into success into a trip to Toronto later this year or next.
This entry’s for a few fathers I know. To my Dad, whom I owe my love of baseball. He saw me through t-ball, and coached the last organized ball team I played on as a kid (because really, who can top your dad as your coach?) He also took me to many Blue Jays games at the “Ex” (Exhibition Stadium to those not in the know, Toronto’s first MLB home) and the first game at the SkyDome in 1989 (along with the AL East division clinching game later that year), and we’ve done road trips to watch pro ball in other ballparks (i.e. Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Boston, Anaheim, and Texas to name a few) and Spring Training in Dunedin (the basis of said picture above). I wasn’t able to make the Father’s Day game against the Giants with him on Sunday; I was catching a flight out of San Antonio at the time, heading back home via Dallas. Thanks for everything, Dad.
To my brother Alex, who’s a great dad to his two kids (a niece and nephew whom I’m instructing to cheer for the Blue Jays, because it’s their uncle’s favourite team) and one of the best men I know. We used to play catch in the backyard of our home as kids – more or less, I was his personal catcher, scared witless of his arm speed and wondering how times he would ask me if his pitches were curving. I just hoped not to get injured after one of these “bullpen sessions”. He took me to the one of the first Blue Jays I can remember, a memorable moment – since it was the day Kelly Gruber hit for the cycle. He recently passed his nursing exams, so this is also a congratulatory message for him as well as one for Father’s Day.
And finally – I missed the entire interleague series against the Giants, but I had good reason; my good friend Danilo got married in San Antonio. He was one of the few friends of mine, whom if he was able, always was up for a Blue Jays game, or anything fun for that matter. He’s one of the friends I know who embraces life to the fullest and always has a great big smile on his face. We met through a mutual friend in high school, and we’ve got each other’s back ever since. Before he moved to Texas last year to be with his girlfriend, Denise (now his wife – a great woman, by the way) we went out for one last ballgame at the Rogers Centre. Congratulations to both you and Denise, Danilo – and also a Happy Father’s Day to you as well! The happy couple is expecting in the fall – and expect some Blue Jays baby stuff from yours truly.
And to all dads out there that I haven’t mentioned – have a Happy Father’s Day. Belated, of course.
- from the song Coax Me (off their 1994 LP Twice Removed) by Sloan
Being a Blue Jays or baseball fan in Toronto nowadays is pretty dicey – I’ve had to put up with the slings and arrows of fans of other sports who slag baseball or comment about how the 1994 strike sank their enthusiasm towards the sport as a whole. One also has to deal with the slurs and comments from fans of other baseball towns, or expats from that town who have immigrated to Toronto and notice the Blue Jays don’t live up to past glories or the present successes of their former town (i.e. Boston, Chicago, New York).
Then there are the bandwagon jumpers, ones who shamlessly and freely admit they back that team for the sole purpose of basking in that teams’ spotlight and success (at that moment of course – where were they when they were finishing 20 games in arrears?) Yeah, pal, you’re a real winner. Then again, I could fit into that category; I’ve been a New Jersey Devils fan since Sean Burke [he of the 1988 Canadian Olympic team] backstopped the Devils to the Wales Confrence Finals that spring, so maybe I should be a little more tolerant of bandwagon jumpers. But when the Devils won the Cup in 1995, my friends knew I’d be crowing about that, due to a known long-time devotion to said NHL team. When your team wins, I guess you’ve got a right to brag – but it seems a little less when you’re arriving late to the party, so to speak. Chris Murphy of Sloan did get it right when he sung that line – fans can be annoying, so much so that they’ll skewer the opinion of the thing that they’re cheering on.
It was that in mind I went to a Blue Jays-Red Sox game with my friend Movie Mike last Monday. I gave him that moniker after finding out he used to be a film projectionist, and I like the aliteration. You’d think I’d be glad I found another baseball bud to watch a game with, but unfortunately he’d fallen prey to something that afflicts the state of Massachussetts – he’d become part of Red Sox Nation. Now I’ve got nothing against Red Sox fans – like I’ve said, I’m glad I can find someone to go watch a ball game with in this Maple Leaf-mad metropolis – but Movie, for all intents and purposes, has little knowledge in the game of baseball. His so-called “passion” for the Red Sox was only fuelled by the fact he’s got relatives in Beantown, and the first Red Sox-Blue Jays game I took him to two years ago – the first time he’d been to Rogers Centre (aka SkyDome) in almost 20 years – he asked me where Tito Ortiz played on the field. Uh, Movie, it’s David Ortiz and he’s the designated hitter – he doesn’t play defence. He freely admits he’s only following the Red Sox off the heels of their World Series victories in 2004 and 2007, and only casually follows the team. Case in point – as he was surfing the Red Sox website, he was asking me online, “Who is this Asian dude? [Me: Could have been Okajima or Matsuzaka.] And who’s the manager? Never heard of Terry Francona [Me: Uh, he's the guy who managed YOUR Red Sox to their titles in '04 and '07, played a few years in the Bigs.]” Meanwhile, I’m an ardent baseball and Blue Jays fan, and now I’ve got to deal with a neophyte member of Red Sox Nation? Sigh.
Like I’ve said, I don’t mind other fans of other baseball cities. Cheer on your squad, it’s all well and good. What I’m not crazy about is slagging the other team and passing it off as praising – or as Movie would say – “preferring” HIS team. I’d like to think I don’t disparage the team that’s facing the Blue Jays – in fact, I make it a point to say how terrible the Blue Jays are performing, as was the case when Toronto starter Dana Eveland allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead on him in the second inning. Of course, Movie pipes up during the run-scoring deluge, saying, “I can’t believe the Red Sox are doing worse (record-wise) than the Jays!” [Note: before the series start, Boston had a record of 8-11, two games behind the third-place Toronto record of 10-9 - I also reminded Mike that it was only the first month of the season.] I snorted at him, wondering why I should take any guff from a guy who asked me where the scoreboard was from our right-field seats. Movie was also wondering where Ortiz was – this time he got the distinction right, David, not Tito – in the lineup. I told this fair-weather fan that if he wasn’t so cavalier about the fortunes of HIS team, he’d know that Big Papi wasn’t in the starting nine because he’s been struggling to start the year, and that starter Eveland is a left-handed pitcher. You know what – I could take the smack talk if he actually knew what he was talking about at times. It’s a little more galling coming from someone who’s not even much of a baseball fan, much less a Red Sox one.
I had to leave the game mid-4th inning – not because Boston led 8-6 or that Movie was getting real annoying every time the Red Sox scored a run – but because of the lengthy innings coupled by the fact I had to go to work, I had to leave at 9 pm. I knew I wasn’t going to stay the whole game, but I didn’t think I was even going to see less than half of it. At least Movie had someone else to keep him company – a mutual friend of ours, Rob, who smartly remarked on the small crowd. I told him it was a lot larger than what took place last week against the Royals and White Sox. It was a pretty fun game, with all those runs scoring, coupled by the fact I got a ball during BP from Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima – yes, Movie, that Asian guy – only the second MLB ball I’ve picked up in all my years of attending games. Tthe outcome would be a disappointing one for Toronto, though, as Boston won 13-12. Movie facebooked me afterwards the series, saying, and I quote –
“guess I can put away the broom..now that we swept you“
It was at that moment, I decided never to go to a ballgame with Movie, between Boston and any other team – ever again. WE?! Sheesh, he only became a fan of them two years ago and couldn’t even name a player then, and now he’s putting himself in their category?! The whole series, each of the games were decided by two runs or less. Far be it that the Red Sox overwhelmed the Blue Jays during that stretch.
I did offer a friendly wager to Movie, to see how much of a Red Sox fan he is; I offered up that if Boston wins the season series against Toronto, I would don a Red Sox jersey and cap and have that shot as my profile pic in any social network that I currently participate in from season’s end to the beginning of the 2011 schedule. If the Blue Jays win that series, then he would do the same in a Toronto uniform. I even let the offer stand after the three-game Red Sox sweep; he declined, as he states, he “is not a gambling man, and is not sure about the team for the whole season.” Sounds like you’ve got a keeper, Red Sox Nation – he won’t put his money where his mouth is. Easy to slag the Blue Jays for not keeping up with their Fenway neighbours, but when stakes are introduced – no money involved, even – you can see where his faith in this team lies, even with a three-game head start.
Like Chris Murphy sung many years ago, it’s not the band I hate. The Red Sox are that band – and I don’t particulary care for one of its fans, even if they are one of my closest friends.
Seeing as a new decade has started, and I’m still suffering from quite a post-Winter Olympics hangover (Go, Canada Go!), the start of the MLB season snuck up on me like a late-breaking cutter from Mariano Rivera.
For the first time since 2001, I did not attend the Blue Jays’ home opener. I was crushed even more when I had heard the opening festivities would acknowledge and fete Canadian athletes who had competed at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I was really looking forward to seeing the Olympians – like bobsledder Lyndon Rush, moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, or hockey player Meghan Agosta (who’s also not bad to look at, either hockey or otherwise) – because I wanted to thank them for such a blast for those two weeks in Februrary, where I’m usually teased by spring training or non-existant playoff chances from the Raptors or (shudder) the Maple Leafs. The Olympics – especially the winter version – are up there in sporting events that catch me in their thrall. I’d put watching this year’s Canada-USA ice hockey final up there with seeing the Blue Jays win either World Series in the category of moments I’m glad I got to bear witness. As I sat in the Loose Moose Bar and Grill off Front St that night, a mere few blocks away from Rogers Centre, I took solace in the thought that I’ll definetly be able to watch a game sometime this week (thanks, season pass).
The first home game I went to during this homestand was the final of a four-game set against the Chicago White Sox. It was also left-hander Dana Eveland’s first home start as a Blue Jay. I had been skeptical of his acquisition in the off-season, but it turned out to be a necessity since incumbents like Scott Richmond and Marc Rzepczynski were injured out of spring training. The Blue Jays played well to open the season on the road, winning five of six in Texas and Baltimore, the latter being where Eveland won his first start in a Toronto uniform. He was pretty good that night, shutting out the other birds in the AL East – but, c’mon, it’s Baltimore! The true litmus test would take place against a potent White Sox lineup that had mashed Toronto pitching not named Ricky Romero the last three nights. Echoing his performance in Baltimore, Eveland spun another solid outing, throwing six innings of one-run ball in a 7-3 Toronto final. He also set a club record in the process - throwing 12 scoreless innings to start his career as a Blue Jay.
This game also marked, for my viewing pleasure, the first time I’d see Alex Gonzalez play for Toronto. His arrival was essentially a free-agent swap for last year’s solid starter at shortstop, Marco Scutaro, who took over the position vacated by Gonzo in Boston. Gonzo didn’t nearly have the offensive upside of Scutaro, but was probably his equal defensively. He also had some post-season experience, riding on the Florida Marlins march to the title in 2003, even hitting a walk-off homer in Game 4 of that year’s World Series against the Yankees. Due to the hamstring injury suffered by All-Star Aaron Hill, Gonzo took over Hill’s number two position in the batting order and has filled in capably. In the Blue Jays’ 7-3 win against the White Sox, he touched off four hits - two of them doubles – which drove in three runs.
The day after this game, White Sox players and their manager (still feeling a bit persnickety after the loss) along with a columnist from the Sun-Times, noticing the sparse crowds in Toronto after a full-figured home opener, made comments to the effect that Torontonians don’t deserve a MLB team. Since this lot – and I won’t paint all Chicago residents and Americans with the same brush – saw fit to generalize that Toronto is just a “hockey” town, I won’t see fit to even mention their names from here on in. Especially one White Sock – a former Blue Jay at that – whose comments were tinged with a bit of irony, seeing as his play the last few years in Toronto was as emotionless and lacking as the fans he used to play in front of. I guess the fans in Cleveland and Pittsburgh – fine baseball cities at that, mind you – should pack up their teams to better economic climes, as their numbers in the stands were rivalling or equalling Toronto’s crowds. I don’t even want to bring up the Nationals – the team that relocated the Expos, to whom said columnist compares to this Blue Jays team.
The negativity ending that series carried over a bit into the Angels series, as Los Angeles of Anaheim righted their ship by sweeping Toronto with a display of some fine starting pitching. I couldn’t make it to any of the Angels games, but I did attend the last game of the Royals series, an afternoon weekday start that pitted defending Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke against the Blue Jays’ ace Shaun Marcum. A well pitched game by both starters who were looking for their first victories of the year; each went seven strong innings, but Grienke departed with a 3-2 lead. Marcum, after a shaky first inning, settled down and watched the home side tie the game with a single by newly-acquired Fred Lewis off former Blue Jay lefty John Parrish. Alas, the comeback kids didn’t have another victory in them – they had rallied from a 3-1 defecit the night before – as the Royals’ Alex Gordon homered in the extra frame to prevent a Blue Jays sweep. It was a treat to watch such a well pitched game, and by a Cy Young winner to boot – and with the Rogers Centre roof pulled back! If the speakers had played U2′s “Beautiful Day”, it would have been so appropriate. The roof was also open for that last White Sox game as well, but chilly climes ensured a closed environment by the fourth inning that night.
Anyways, next homestand starts with the Red Sox coming to town. And my good friend Movie Mike – an unabashed bandwagon jumper – is a Boston fan. Not sure why he’s a fan of the Red Sox…but I’ll be there with him to watch that set come Monday!
Before I get into the guts of my blog entry here, I just want to give props to the Saints (even though I lost money betting against you – no one wanted to be the black hat, so I sheepishly donned that role for one night). The Super Bowl party I held was pretty good, with chili, wings, pretzels, umpteen bags of Doritos - too much food? The Canadian feed we were inundated with ads bludgeoning into our senses that the Vancouver Olympics were starting this Friday. I love the five-ring white circus, and I know that the network that was giving us SB X-whatever was the official broadcaster of said Winter Games, but there’s a time and a place…and that time isn’t during the biggest football game of the year being played in South Florida with ads featuring Betty White getting tackled are running. Another great thing about the Super Bowl – it’s a reminder spring training’s around the corner!
This post isn’t really about baseball, but about my vacation I took recently in three different spots. I enjoyed the resort in Cancun – spent five days and four nights imbibing different types of tequila and trying sushi (?!) at said Mexican resort. I also got a little browned and burned while laying in the sun. The day I arrived in Cancun was the date of the AFC/NFC championships – I got my NFL analysis in Spanish from ESPN Deportes, while slurping down a margarita. I also checked out the ruins at Chichen Itza, thinking it would have been a nice workout to go up those steps…alas, it was not meant to be, as people are now prohibited from climbing up said stairs.
My next stop was in the south of Texas. I enjoyed hanging out with an old friend who had recently moved to San Antonio. Danilo was a constant attending Blue Jays games with yours truly, and he returned the favour by taking me to a Spurs basketball game. It was nice to see a team who had won championships recently, and the pride the community had in its team. What was also great to see was the praise heaped on U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in attendance during said game – the cheers were louder and longer for them than any play that took place in the 104-97 Spurs victory over the Grizzlies. The cuisine was a bit better in San Antonio – my first, and definetly not last, encounter with a chicken-fried steak. And I reunited myself with the Riverwalk and the Alamo, some 12 years after the fact. Drizzly and rainy weather conditions didn’t stop me from looking up this landmark of U.S. history.
Finally, nothing made me at ease more than hanging out with my niece and nephew in Dallas. No offence to the previous two cities - but it’s fun seeing the kids grow up, especially when I can’t see them very often. I’ve already taken them to a ball game in Toronto (in 2007), and they got to run the bases after the game with the rest of the kids in the stands. I did have to lead my niece around the diamond, since it was her first ball game (and it gave me the opportunity to run around the bases myself!) It kills me every time I leave their home, because they want me to stay longer than my intended departure date. Personally, I just think they like getting a piggyback from their Uncle Jonah.
And what do I see when arrive back? Many a free-agent signing by the Blue Jays – loads of pitchers going to vie for bullpen/starting spots. There’s no clear ace now, and supposedly a stopper in Kevin Gregg (late of the Marlins/Cubs – personally, based on stats I’ve seen and highlights from last year, he’s a righthanded B.J. Ryan with a better fastball but same results) was inked to an incentive-laden deal. Dana Eveland? Who? The only pitcher I’m looking forward to seeing is Dirk Hayhurst, and only because his book, The Bullpen Gospels, is coming out next month! Sadly for Dirk, he won’t be pitching for some time because of shoulder surgery. These stick-to-the wall acquisitions remind me of some years ago, when guys like Tomo Ohka, John Thomson and Victor Zambrano were being hailed as low-risk, high reward. More like no-risk, no-reward. And on top of that, I hear ticket prices in certain Rogers Centre sections are being raised this year. Well, I hope there’s still a season’s pass to look forward to – like the next entry I’ll write.
First off, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and I hope you all had a great holiday season. As you can see, it took me a while to get over the holidays since it’s been almost a month since the last entry. Thanks to you all who have been following this blog, even if doing so casually; it’s probably the best gift I’ve received this year, knowing that someone out there is reading what I’ve put to screen. I went to see my brother and his family in Texas; unfortunately, I flew a couple of days after the botched attempt in Detroit. That slowed my travel time some. My flight was not cancelled outright (unlike other poor souls whose flights were scotched), but it took all of two hours wait after its supposed departure before I entered US Cutoms. After flying past US Customs and the initial screening, the added wrinkle in airport security arose. The secondary screening (the pat-down), I had to cut through a thicket of a line as the gate agent announced the doors closing to the flight in less than three minutes. Despite my breathless shoving, emptying of pockets and sprint to my gate, my flight didn’t leave for another 30 minutes after I got to my seat on the plane. I arrived two hours late in DFW, so it was no surprise my brother was asleep in his car during my protracted wait. In the end, the niece and nephew got to see their Uncle Jonah for the first time in about five months, and all went well.
The same couldn’t be said for Roberto Alomar’s Hall of Fame chances this year. By a scant eight votes, Alomar missed out on the induction into Cooperstown. When I heard the news, I was puzzled and a little confused. I felt he was a lock to get in his first try, as his contemporaries during his time were few and far between at the position – Craig Biggio will surely get in, as will Jeff Kent – and I thought the only debate would be how much over the 75% vote would Alomar get from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
I immediately thought of reasons why some writers were loath to vote for him, as he was peerless at making fantastic plays at second base, winning multiple Gold Gloves for defensive excellence. As a switch hitter, he was a threat from both sides of the plate and had some surprising power (pre-steroid era, which I deign from the mid-90′s to the mid-00′s). He was also quite adept on the basepaths and knew when to steal a base. He hit according to the situation, whether it needed a bunt, a groundball to advance a runner, or to drive a ball when the team needed it. I would argue with the most ardent Blue Jays fan that the most important hit in the team’s history was his game-tying two-run home run against the A’s in the 1992 playoffs. His MVP play in that League Championship propelled the franchise to its first World Series and subsequent title that fall.
Why would Alomar be kept out of the Hall, even though his statistics and play merited such an honour? Was it his attitude, his swagger on the field (yes, AP, I know you’re not crazy about him, and the fact he took Whitt’s #12)? Was it the fact he “rested” the last few games of the 1995 season to protect a .300 batting average, essentially eroding his bridges in Toronto (at the time)? Or was it that McCain fruit punch commercial (“Catch the taste!”)? Well, I don’t know about that last one…
Was it fuelled by the reprehensible act of spitting on umpire John Hirshbeck during a 1996 game? Alomar since apologized for said event, and made up with the umpire to the point where both are friends now. If Alomar is contrite in those actions, then he should be forgiven and not let one disgusting act define a pretty good career. (That commercial, though…)
If anything, I think the lack of candidates up for election into the Hall just make the BBWAA’s position a bit more difficult. Some guys are sure-fire HOF’s – like Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken. But the guys who are best at their position but don’t have the overwhelming statistics, say, like an Alomar or this year’s lone inductee, Andre Dawson, are caught in a grey area. I know the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most prominent and difficult to enter, but last I heard, it’s proper for this institution to recognize the best at each position. Alomar, during his time in Toronto and subsequent seasons in Baltimore and Cleveland (I’m not forgetting his time with the Mets/White Sox, but I think he’s trying to) proved he was the best second baseman during his playing days. It’s odd, though – the guys who are in that grey area, their stats never change and yet, in subsequent years their vote totals for inclusion rise up as their careers get farther in the rearview mirror. Personally, I just want to see a Blue Jay get into the Hall, with the team’s cap on their engraving/plaque. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will, with Alomar’s for sure (!) induction next year. I mean, if it took another great at second base like Ryne Sandberg three attempts to get voted in, I’m fairly certain Alomar’s chances are pretty solid come January 2011. Judging by the reception he got in the 2008 home opener, the fans in Toronto never forgot his contributions to the franchise when his number was raised to the Rogers Centre’s Level Of Excellence – not retired, mind you. It was as if it was still 1993 and Alomar and the Blue Jays were still basking in the glow of a second straight World Series title. If – nay, when – Alomar does get in next year, I think I may make a drive down to Cooperstown to see his induction ceremony.
Just before I sign off, props to the “Hawk”, Andre Dawson, for getting into Cooperstown. I don’t think he’ll go in as a Montreal Expo – it may be nice, but I think since his MVP season was as a Chicago Cub, I think that merits placement on his plaque – but it’s great to see another of the bleu, blanc, et rouge make the Hall. Now it’s time to work on another of those great Expos outfielders, Tim “Rock” Raines, to get his due and gain entry into Cooperstown. During Raines’ last go-around in Montreal, I got an autographed picture of him which I left in an Expos scorebook (which I can’t find!) All I’m left with now is this shot of Youppi and I: