Archive for April 2019

Not all heroes wear capes….but capes were given out at a game once

April 21, 2019

After he was traded to the San Francisco Giants, an old photo of Kevin Pillar popped into my mind:

It’s from July 2013; taken after watching my first-ever Buffalo Bisons game. There was a clean-shaven Pillar chatting with some of the spectators. I didn’t know much about him at the time. I remember noting how his name was similar to Kevin Millar. A few weeks later, he got called up and made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays.

At first, I wasn’t over the moon with Pillar. At best, he was a fourth outfielder. He also didn’t have a sparkling beginning in the big leagues. There was that unfortunate tete-a-tete he publicly had with John Gibbons that got him demoted to AAA in 2014. There was also that infamous injury he sustained during Spring Training in 2015 from sneezing.

But then he made that catch and everything changed.

That catch. Holy shit; that CATCH! What a career-defining moment!

The timing was perfect. The athleticism was incredible! A mere mortal would’ve accepted fate and watched the ball go over the wall. But Kevin Pillar wanted that baseball and summoned powers that went beyond normalcy. It made Josh Donaldson drop to his knees and the crowd explode. I hope Todd Redmond – who was on the mound at the time – bought him a very expensive dinner.

That catch wasn’t just something for a highlight reel. It completely changed the trajectory of Pillar’s career.

Remember, Michael Saunders was suppose to be the starting leftfielder in 2015; Dalton Pompey was suppose to start in centre. But then Saunders stepped on a sprinkler-head and Pompey unfortunately performed poorly. A door opened for Pillar, who took advantage of an opportunity and never looked back.

From there, he became an outfield specialist and a fan favourite. Countless times, we jumped out of our seats and applauded his defensive gems. Countless times, our jaws hit the floor. The man was a human vaccume for baseballs.

His offensive production was average, but he had his moments: Two homers off of Max Scherzer in 2015; the walk-off on Mother’s Day in 2017.

Pillar’s performance at the plate is also what seemed to divide the fanbase.

Like many teams, there are players who polarize fans. R.A. Dickey and Ryan Goins are recent examples. Pillar falls into this camp as well.

It’s another example of the two main differences amongst fans: Those who care only about results and those who recognize the importance of results, but also see things beyond a boxscore and standings. I wrote about this when I summed up RAD’s tenure with the Jays; passionate vs. compassionate.

It’s unnecessary to exhaust both sides; so a simple address instead.

To those who are pleased he’s not with the Jays anymore: Not all contributions come at the plate. Yes, he wasn’t a top-level hitter, but don’t tell me his defence wasn’t a strong contribution; especially in 2015 and 2016. A large chunk of fans love him and we are a sports community that cares about character as much as we care about results.

To those who are furious he’s not with the team anymore: You can’t deny evolution. It was blatantly obvious at the end of 2017 that the window of opportunity had closed. The Jays had to scorch the earth in order to create something that’s (hopefully) more sustainable and successful. I’m grateful for Pillar and Tulo and Martin and Donaldson and Joey Bats and everyone else who were part of 2015-16. But the team would be just as bad as they are now if those players were still on the roster; maybe even worse.

One other thing: When the trade was formally announced, I wondered how many would focus on his spectacular catches and how many would focus on the horrific incident that occurred in Atlanta in 2017; the homophobic slur Pillar shouted at pitcher Jason Motte.

Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places, but it seems as though it wasn’t addressed in any articles or tweets. Surprising since we live in a society that does not gloss over celebrity mistakes/errors and goes by the motto of “strike one and you’re out.”

That moment was ugly, disappointing and embarrassing. As much as we have all adored Pillar, we cannot ignore or purposely forget what happened. It is part of his narrative.

Having said that, it’s also important to note that he did take ownership of his error in judgement, apologized, served a suspension and has worked with organizations that promote acceptance. It is my hope that he will continue this work with San Francisco’s LGBT community.

When the Giants visit Skydome, it will only be a few weeks since the trade. However, it feels longer since the transaction occurred. Maybe it’s because we heard so many rumours that we already experienced his departure before it even happened. Nevertheless, I look forward to the video tribute and standing ovation.

I truly feel Kevin Pillar loved our city and many in this city loved him. Regardless of his personal statistics, he made a lasting impression. He’s gone, but will not be forgotten.

ER

PS: Check out my latest short story: The Heavenly Resurrection of the Montreal Expos


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