Archive for the ‘Articles’ category

Embrace The Pain

May 15, 2019

I guess it came to me while the Blue Jays were getting their asses handed to them by the Twins last week:

You can scream and complain about things you have no control of……or you can embrace the pain and let the narrative play itself out.

Let things develop organically before forming an opinion. Maybe things work out successfully or fail miserably. We won’t know until it happens and we have to let it happen without rushing it. It’s okay to let time pass. It’s said that Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same goes for this rebuild.

Perhaps you’ll be a better fan for it. Heck, our friends in New England and the north side of Chicago endured decades of pain. In a way, it became a badge of honour. So what’s stopping us from following that path?

Of course, I want to see them win. Nobody wants their team to lose. But reality doesn’t lie and it drives me crazy how some desperately hold on to 2015/16, refuse to acknowledge that the window of opportunity closed, jump to conclusion and demand for instant gratification. But that’s their prerogative. I have to accept it the same way I hope they’d accept my train of thought.

So the next time they get their asses handed to them, consider this:

Don’t be afraid of losing.
Don’t be afraid of a rebuild
Don’t be afraid of low attendance
Don’t be afraid if Vladdy doesn’t set the world on fire this season.
Don’t be afraid of the darkness.
It’s only baseball. It’s not life.
It’s going to be alright.

ER

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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

Screw the glass-half-empty crowd! I’m actually looking forward to the 2019 Blue Jays

March 27, 2019

Happy Opening Day!

Despite the current state of affairs, the start of the regular season is exciting. Things are fresh, the canvass is blank and the typical clichés are being prepped.

I’m not afraid of a losing season. I’m not afraid of low attendance numbers. I’m not afraid of the pain. Been there, done all that.

The Jays are what they are. If you rather watch something else, that’s fine. You can view 2019 as a lost season. I’m viewing it as a season of development.

Regardless of the final outcome, my goal is to look at the positive aspects.

Worst case scenario: They lose 90-100 games. That only means they get early dibs on the undrafted pool in 2020. Raw, young talent is never a guarantee, but nothing in life is. Besides, the Houston Astros lost 100+ games three seasons in a row. A few years after that, they won the World Series.

Best case scenario (and my preferred outcome): The 2019 team performs to a level similar to the 2010/2011 clubs.

Remember how fun those teams were?

You had Jose Bautista turning into a superstar slugger and all these young players with potential, who also loved to interact with fans on social media.

The 2010-11 Jays were far from a playoff contender and played sub .500 baseball; but they gave us hope and an incentive to tune in or purchase a ticket. That’s how I hope fans will ultimately view the 2019 team and beyond.

I would also like to see the following:

  1. Vladdy gets called up – when ready – and puts up strong numbers…..obviously.
  2. Youngsters like Jansen, Borucki, Gurriel and Hernandez, continue to show improvements. Not asking for Murderers’ Row; just want to see growth and development.
  3. Veterans like Smoak and Morales have productive outputs, making them valuable as the trade deadline approaches.

Think of it this way:

Imagine going to watch a movie with friends. The film you’re about to see is a generic, mass produced Hollywood story. It’s clearly not going to win an Oscar and won’t make any kind of must-see list. So you go in with very low expectations.

Then you watch the movie and despite its flaws, it was actually entertaining!

It happened to me when I watched Hostage and Sahara.

So as ridiculous as this will sound, the best way to deal with the 2019 Jays is to have low expectations.

Expect to them lose 162 games. Expect them to get blown out every match. Expect them to be worse than the Bad News Bears.

By setting the bar low and taping pillows all over your body, any amount of victories will be happily welcomed. You might even find yourself saying “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Hey…I’m just trying to help. You can complain about the pain or embrace it. The choice is yours.

ER

Yes, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a gift from the heavens….but could we take a breath?

March 11, 2019

I’m really excited about Vladdy Jr.

The kid is a total stud. I don’t need to tell you how he tore it up in New Hampshire and Buffalo in 2018. His production made us all salivate.

We saw the videos. We constantly checked for updates. We all soiled ourselves when he hurt his leg last year and again this past Sunday when the Blue Jays announced the oblique injury.

That walk-off homerun he hit in Montreal against St. Louis last year was incredible! Not even Hollywood’s greatest script writers could have written a better moment. And that was only a spring training game!

Yes, Vladdy Jr. is a gift from the heavens. But while I’m eager to see him in the big leagues, a part of me is also very hesitant.

To be honest, I’m uncomfortable with all the hype. Part of me drools when I think about his potential and wants him on the 25-player roster yesterday. But there’s also a part of me that channels my inner Russ Atkins and prefers a little a more seasoning; Vladdy being “Major League ready.”

So collectively, maybe we all need to take a breath.

I’ve never liked the word, nor the concept of “prospects.” Anyone in the minor leagues system has a chance to have a successful career at the major league level.

I know, I know. It’s not as simple as that. Apologies for generalizing.

But seriously, why value certain talent over others? Sure, some talent are better and show signs of being “ready” earlier than others. But at its very core, it’s a crapshoot. Why else would the MLB draft require 40 rounds? It’s for teams to hedge their bets.

Again, I’m really sorry for generalizing.

Like anyone else in the farm system, Vladdy will either make it or he won’t. Putting him on such a high pedestal and placing grand expectations on him is concerning. I’m all for being optimistic, but can’t we do it cautiously? He’s only turning 20 in a few days!

The demand and expectations make me shudder a tiny bit. It reminds me of a time when some were screaming for Brett Lawrie to be called up.

Remember all of that excitement? Years later, Lawrie is under 30, has been out of baseball for a few years – I really hope his tryout with Milwaukee works out – and his biggest claim to fame was having Red Bull inspired energy and being part of the Josh Donaldson trade.

So let me pose this question: Is it really terrible if we wait until after the regular season starts for Vladdy to be called up?

The second he makes his MLB debut, the 29 others club will start penning – if they haven’t already – journal entries called “How to get Vladdy out.” I don’t see anything wrong in delaying or slowing down that process. And wouldn’t it be nice if Vladdy becomes a terrific infielder, in addition to being a superstar slugger? Baseball America acknoweleges it.

Okay….enough of this bullshit. This isn’t about being Major League ready or working on his defence. Vladdy’s arrival is about one thing: SERVICE TIME!

This is what some refer to as the “business of baseball.” Call him up after the regular season starts and the Jays get additional team control before he tastes free agency.

Some scream “service time be damned! Give the fans what they want.”

I’d love it if Vladdy got called up last year or – if he wasn’t injured – made this season’s opening day roster. But assuming he chooses to sign with another team years from now – hello, inferriority complex – wouldn’t it be beneficial to get as many years and as much out of him as possible? Squeeze those lemons, dammit!!! Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Yes, manipulated service time is ugly and benefits the front office more than the player and fans. There is a reason why the MLBPA is keeping thier eye on the Jays. That’s also why this oblique injury – in a sick and twisted way – creates better optics. Now there’s an excuse to delay his big league promotion, even though no one is fooled.

Just know this:

Eventually, Vladdy will be called up. We’re just going to have to be – I’m sure you’ll start eye-rolling – patient.

When he does make his big league debut, let’s not rush judgement. Let’s also not overreact about – and I can’t stress this enough – his size and weight. You just can’t expect a young man like Vladdy to be perfect or know how to conduct himself right away. He’s technically still a teenager.

Above all else, PLEASE put aside your need for instant gratification and let the story organically play out.

ER

Seriously, I really want Aaron Sanchez to get his groove back

February 25, 2019

Honestly, I’m not dreading the upcoming regular season. Yes, the Jays are likely going to be akin to the 2011/2012/2013 Houston Astros. It’s going to be ugly, save for Vladdy’s debut. But I’m okay with that. With a pair of rose-coloured glasses, I intend to treat 2019 as a season of development and teachable moments.

In fact, the only amount of worry I have is for Aaron Sanchez. Seriously, I really want Aaron Sanchez to get his groove back.

Do you recall Spring Training 2016? Sanchez showed up with 25 pounds of added muscle and a very confident disposition. The kid wanted to be a starter and was determined to make it happen. Don’t know what it was about his work effect, but my gut was telling me we were in store for something special.

Not only did Sanchez deliver, but he captained a starting rotation that carried the entire team to another exciting playoff run.

Sanchez was an artist out on the mound. You’d fall to your knees and weep at how he dominated the competition. No inning limit – though a compelling storyline – was going to stop him. He got the Jays into the postseason and picked up an ERA title along the way. Aaron Sanchez was an elite starter.

And then….he was robbed at gunpoint by a blister and a suitcase. We were robbed too.

2017 and 2018 were rough years for Sanchez. Having him on the sidelines was my biggest frustration two seasons ago and the one of the biggest reasons why they finished with 76 wins.

Imagine if Sanchez was fully healthy in 2017. Maybe they would’ve had at least 10 more wins. Maybe they would’ve competed for a wild card spot. Maybe things would be different.

Alas, dust in the wind.

So here is Aaron Sanchez caught in a baseball version of purgatory. It seems like there’s a chasm between what he was in 2016 and where he is now. I’m just hoping he can close that gap.

A recent Shi Davidi article on Sportsnet.ca highlighted his strategy. He’s studying film and correcting bad habits caused by last year’s finger injury. It reminds me of that same determination from 2016.

If he can regain his form, his path will be clearer. Of course, that path can lead one of two ways: Either he’ll be an integral part of the rebuild or he’ll be traded for younger talent. I’m actually conflicted with what I’d prefer. But I know this: A healthy and optimum performing Aaron Sanchez will make things less murky. The less murkier, the more he can move forward.

I don’t want him to be a one hit wonder. I don’t want him to be lost in obscurity. The Jays can lose games and be the joke of the league. That won’t bother me. What will be upsetting is if Sanchez’s once-promising career fades away.

It can’t happen. Just like Ricky Romero, it would be tragically unfair.

ER

Damn! I was selfishly hoping the Blue Jays wouldn’t trade Russell Martin

January 14, 2019

I know that’s ridiculous; possibly idiotic. But part of me was hoping Russell would be kept for the sole purpose of mentoring Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire; similar to the role Curtis Granderson played in 2018.

Of course, that would be a very expensive mentor. Given that Mark Shapiro and Russ Atkins are scorching the Earth as part of the rebuilding process, it makes sense to get something in return for Martin. After all, the Jays are paying his salary, despite the trade. I’m sure the front office also doesn’t want a repeat of the Josh Donaldson saga. Martin probably wants to actually play as well.

I have no interest in the numbers. That’s for the insiders, pundits and professional bloggers to crunch. When I think of Russell Martin, the first words that come to mind are confidence and professionalism.

Sitting in the left field seats gave me the opportunity to watch him prepare for a match. I was transfixed by him running from the dugout to the outfield in full catching gear. He’d go through his drills before working with that day’s starter. It’s hard to articulate, but I never had to worry about what was happening behind the plate.

I spent the last few days thinking of my favourite Russell Martin memories. That homerun against the Yankees in late 2015 will probably be his defining moment with the team.

It was Yom Kippur that day. My family and I were breaking our fast at a relative’s house. Normally, we’d sit around the living room chatting. Not this time.

The majority of us gathered in front of the TV. The atmosphere was incredibly tense; but when Russell connected, we all exploded in jubilation! Of course, we weren’t the only ones: “RUSSELL! RUSSELL! RUSSELL! RUSSELL!”

Other moments come to mind:

– The errant throw in game five of the 2015 ALDS that almost flushed a magical season down the toilet; followed by his thanking the heavens for Jose Bautista’s iconic bat flip homerun.

– The hot streak he went on in August 2016 when the rest of the team was struggling.

– Game three of the 2016 ALDS; a first inning dinger, followed by the fielder’s choice that ultimately led to the Donaldson Dash.

Now his career has come full circle as he heads back to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He deserves a chance to play for a contender. Hopefully, he’ll help L.A. finally get over that hump. Having a chance to catch Clayton Kershaw is also a nice bonus.

Maybe it was his connection to Ontario and Quebec. Maybe it was because he’s just a few weeks older than me. Maybe it was using “Courage” as one of his walk-up songs. I’m just thrilled Russell Martin spent four seasons with the Jays. Worth every penny; even the ones that will cover his 2019 season.

ER

If I was an upstanding member of the BBWAA and allowed to submit a hall of fame ballot…

December 26, 2018

Pretty sure I got the original “ballot” photo from MLB’s Twitter account. The e-highlighter…..that’s all me.

Look, I don’t have time to pour over pages of data. I also have no interest in explaining myself. The names I selected are based on memories, feelings, emotions, bias and a little bit of Baseball-Reference.com. There’s also this picture I took inside the Baseball Hall of Fame when my friend and I visited Cooperstown in 2012. It justifies certain players being elected.

Anyway, this will likely be my last post for 2018. If you have a chance, check out this collection of microstories I wrote for Ari Shapiro’s website. I hope you had a great holiday season and wish you the very best in 2019! Thanks for putting up with me. 😉

ER


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