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.