Monday, July 29, 2019

Don't Worry, We Will Both Find Out (Just Not Together)

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The Blue Jays traded Marcus Stroman. They received two players in return after sending some money to the New York Mets, of all teams. I'm sure the return is fine. Or bad. Or underwhelming. It's not something I can say I'm especially invested in at the moment.

Trading Stroman sends a series of messages. How most Blue Jays fans receive it is their business. If wins and losses are all you're after, this trade won't shake your world. You've moved on to analyzing the prospects or killing the front office. I'm a little sad I won't be able to cheer for Stroman in Blue Jays colours anymore.

I'm happy to have watched him do what many thought he could not. He makes baseball fun, win or lose, which I think is important. I'm glad he started Opening Day and Game 5 and the wildcard game because I can't imagine anyone else doing so. I'm glad He Pitched That Year. I'm disappointed he's gone. I don't think he'll be back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Let's bring this city to life, to light, tonight

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John Axford has seen a lot over his 10-year Major League career. Drafted twice without signing, traded, designated for assignment (twice) before totaling more than 140 career saves, including one season where he received Cy Young and MVP votes, all came before he found his way onto the team he cheered for as a kid growing up in Port Dover, Ontario, the Toronto Blue Jays.

He’s onto his nineth different big league teams and has called more than 400 different players his teammate. One of those teammates and Axford’s biggest mentor, Trevor Hoffman, was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, this weekend.

The day before Hoffman’s bust was unveiled, Axford achieved something his teammate in Milwaukee never did during his 18-year career: Axford started a big league game after 537 consecutive appearances out of the bullpen, throwing three perfect innings against the White Sox in Chicago.

Stepping in for the Blue Jays after they traded starter JA Happ to the Yankees, this wasn’t just another day at the office for the big right-hander. “I tried to hide as many smiles as I could,” Axford admitted post-game.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I'm a Stone, Baby You're a Feather

The purple prose comes free and easy when Vladimir Guerrero Jr is the subject. It comes as easily to prospect watchers and scouts as it does to those interested in the human condition.

Comparisons to Hall of Famers, triple crown winners and perennial MVP candidates slip right off the ends of fingers and end up on the pages of venerable publications with better things to do than inject helium into any teen capable of running into a few wayward heaters. Caution long thrown to the wind, the message is clear: this is the one you dream on.

Vlad Jr makes it easy. The praise from wizened eyes comes as easily as the game comes to the game’s top prospect, a player with as bright a future as any to ascend through the Blue Jays ranks. It comes as easily as power to the opposite field and an innate knowledge of the strike zone comes to the youngest player currently in the double-A Eastern League. It comes with the same ease with which Guerrero brings the bathead to the baseball. Fastball or offspeed, any quadrant of the zone, they get barrelled all the same. Like it’s nothing because, to him, it is nothing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shadowboxing with giants

There was about a 100 minute span on Tuesday, a window during which the baseball world waited. A little short of two hours passed as the initial reports of a downed plane gave way to confirmed aircraft ID numbers before, finally, the sheriff of a coastal Florida county read the victim's name aloud.

For almost two hours, I distracted myself with the last refuge of scoundrels: municipal politics. I watched a live stream as a handful of opportunistic contrarians shuffled to a microphone where they might cough out crass, opportunistic, and intellectually dishonest arguments.

They were at best underprepared and at worst wholly unfamiliar with the subject at hand. They were lazy and they were unprofessional. And then, just after 4:15pm, I was confronted with the name of a man who was neither of those things.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Boiled Frogs

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There was always a chance it would end this way. There is no small amount of risk surrounding a 36-year old dead red pull hitter, no matter how well they performed in recent years or how willing you are to wave away injuries and odometer miles piling up.

The free market had its suspicions. The Blue Jays brain trust had their suspicions. Sometimes you spring a leak, sometimes the dam breaks.

As was too often the case too many times in his career, Jose Bautista is slightly out of phase. Ahead of his time but slightly behind the curve.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Well-dressed but

The binary notions of failure and success don’t feel appropriate for the 2016 Blue Jays. Not with all the baggage and narrative threads that weave their way through this season and into the future.

This season was a success because a distinctive, excellent team was three wins away from the World Series. The season was a failure because the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays weren’t designed, or expected, to finish short of anything.

Well-dressed, but walking
In the wrong direction

And yet, at no point in the year did they feel like the team to beat. But there was a sense of urgency among the fans, knowing that 2015’s offensive juggernaut was right there, straining to break free.

Instead of fireworks, strikeouts fueled fan frustration as the “take and rake” offense did a lot more taking than raking. Suffocating run prevention pushed the team into the postseason, holding up much more than its end of the bargain.

If 2015 was the night out in your twenties, when anything seems possible and every minute feels like a musical montage in some beer ad, 2016 felt a little more like the night out when everyone is in their thirties.

The sparks don’t fly as easily, and there’s a lot of waiting around, expecting the same magic to just...happen. Still fun, still memorable, but the spectre of what came before looms large.

The unforgettable end to the Blue Jays’ 2015 season filled in the blanks before 2016 could make its own statement, making for a summer-long odyssey that was an odd mix of swan song and audition - with a title pursuit trying not to become an afterthought.

Well, some of us are, that is
The ones who know how, that is

Baseball fans in 2016 don’t need (or want) to think about seasons in discrete chunks, as the season never needs to end. Teams move more in eras and epochs, and this all but marks the end of a Blue Jays era. From dark to light, from listless to insistent, everything changed overnight - and it won’t switch back.

I don’t want to get used to playoff games. I don’t want to look down my nose at a series win or a afternoon playoff games that completely derail work days. I don’t want to scroll through an Instagram feed full (full!) of ballpark shots as the stadium fills and feel blasé because it’s only the division series.

I don’t want to get used to it and I don’t want it to stop.

Well-dressed, but walking
I don't wanna go back

Hopefully I won’t have to. Josh Donaldson will be standing at third base in April, 2017, which is almost enough on its own. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna and Marco Estrada and JA Happ and Troy Tulowitzki will stand on the third base line while a planetary Canadian flag is unfurled in centre field.

One day, the team standing on that third base line will look up, towards the left field seats, and see the names of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista staring down at them.

The last two years - 15 months, really - are worth pausing over. Worth considering for what they were, what they weren’t, and what they ultimately delivered. These are signature moments that even World Series winners aren’t lucky enough to claim.

There are more indelible moments to come, I’m sure. But before rumour and innuendo rush to replace live-and-die playoff urgency in my baseball brain, I’ll think a lot about those moments and their authors. I’ll think of champagne showers untaken and parades unrouted but, mostly, I’ll be thankful for moments that will outlive us all. Not a bad trade, in the end.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Reasons not rules

Aaron Sanchez will continue taking turns in the Blue Jays rotation. This is an exciting and not insignificant piece of news for Blue Jays fans. It’s exciting for any number of reasons, not the least of which relates to the 2016 club, its playoff chances, and Sanchez’s ability to contribute to those chances.

But if you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, take the team’s willingness to proceed down uncharted waters with Sanchez’s innings as the best sign yet that things are not as they once were, they changed for the better.

It would seem that the Blue Jays did not cower before the looming monolith that is Conventional Thinking. The front office - and the player himself - opened themselves up to considerable risk by allowing Sanchez to push past previously established innings limits. But by all reports they do so with their eyes and their minds open to the possibilities.

From the sounds of it, the Jays opted to treat Sanchez as an individual, combining their own data models with his on-field performance to sniff out signs of fatigue. They haven’t found any yet (we assume) so Sanchez stays in the rotation.

That’s good for 2016 and it’s good to know the tall foreheads from Ohio, who brought a reputation for risk aversion with them across the border, are not willing to let a chance to win the World Series slip away because of staid, untested thinking.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I find satisfaction in what they lack

“Wait ‘til next year!” is the refrain made famous by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, unable (until 1955) to take home the World Series crown. The Blue Jays didn’t suffer through four World Series losses in seven years like Dem Bums did, but the 2015 season saw a team built (and then rebuilt on the fly) to win finally broke through and permitted October baseball back across the border.

No rationally-thinking human could fault most Blue Jays fans for lingering in 2015 a little bit. The rush of winning every game for two months, the “scrap this junk and come back with something plausible” ALDS, the incredibly disappointing series American League championship series - it was sensory overload for a fanbase locked in solitary confinement for a generation. No baseball fan should feel an iota of guilt over a refusal to accept that the Kansas City Royals - the fucking Royals! - won the World Series and the Blue Jays did not.

A quiet offseason, compared to the explosive trade deadline, doesn’t have too many of us champing at the bit for the year to start. The way the Red Sox and Yankees tooled up for a run back to the post-season has us dragging our feet on getting 2016 underway. If many Jays fans shouted “wait til next year!” this winter, I certainly missed it.

I’ve been fighting a feeling, a niggling feeling that won’t go away. What if there is no “next year”, not for a while? What if last year was next year?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tossed around like sea glass

There are plenty of “Josh Donaldson vs. The Blue Jays” takes floating around today, because it’s January and there isn’t much else to talk about. The sides are resolute in their tribalism as that is life in these streets.

The Jays look bad and the fans tilting at windmills look bad. Mark Shapiro looks predictably bad and Ken Rosenthal helps some in the Jays front office look foolish. Everybody looks bad for everyone except for Josh Donaldson, since “Josh Donaldson looks bad” is dividing by zero.

This started out as a take, it was going to be about the “cost of Josh Donaldson” and how this kind of arbitration strife is exactly what the Blue Jays signed up for when they acquired a Super Two with MVP credentials from a poor team.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Every beast has its poison

There was no good way for the 2015 Blue Jays season to end. There was only one acceptable outcome, given the improbable run up and come back and full weight of expectation. 29 teams fail to win the World Series every year, which doesn’t meant that they’re all failures.

In some ways it is reassuring that the Blue Jays went down as they did, flipping the script with stolen bases and leadoff singles from hitters otherwise left for dead. The inability to push across the tying run against baseball’s best reliever won’t sit well, not now and certainly not during the long, dark winter.

The Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season ended ten days too early. It easily could’ve ended ten days ago, or, absent a whirlwind trade deadline, ten days before that. But it ended on a warm October evening in Missouri, after a rain delay and an unforgettable baseball game.

The Blue Jays season is over for among the most basebally of baseball reasons. They were beaten by a team that won more regular season games but probably represented less on-field talent. The Royals, the team that beat the Blue Jays, made a boatload of their own luck while also identifying and highlighting skills that made for a tough, maddening opponent to watch.

There are few hoary cliches less insightful than “baseball is a game of inches.” Among corny baseball truisms, it is might be the corniest. But it is the kernel of truth in this axiom that sent the Blue Jays home and propelled the Royals to a date with the Mets. In Game Six of the ALCS, the inches grew and grew.