Unreal: The Marcus Stroman Era

Posted July 30, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Articles, Blue Jays

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Where to begin?

June 2012: I’m driving home, listening to Jays Talk. It’s the night of the MLB Draft.

Mike Wilner introduces the Jays’ first round pick and proceeds to interview him. This was my introduction to Marcus Stroman; my introduction to Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.

The bravado and confidence instantly hit me. This kid had a chip on his shoulder and a desire to be the greatest pitcher ever. My attention was caught.

I fell in love with his swagger that night. And to this day, I still love it.

There’s certainly a group of fans who loathed that Stro swag. I like to think those individuals represent a segment of Toronto sports fans who expect every single athlete to perform, say little and stay in their lane. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you expect everyone to follow that example then a) you’re going to be disappointed more often and b) it dulls things up.

Whether you liked him or not, baseball is much cooler with Marcus Stroman. You need a strong personality like his. It enhances the drama and adds flavour to the narrative. Take that out and while the sport maintains a level of fun and excitement, it looks robotic. Even the not-so-subtle jabs he’s thrown at Mark Shapiro and Russ Atkins on Twitter have been entertaining.

We should talk about all that “commotion.”

Stro’s greatest asset and his greatest flaw is that he cares a lot. What he specifically cares about is for another article. Make no mistake though; he is PASSIONATE. That passion is beneficial in some areas and causes problems in others. That’s why you won’t see him hanging out with Shapiro and Atkins at a New York City nightclub in the next decade or so.

Similar to a lot of Blue Jay fans, perhaps Stro didn’t want to let go of 2015-16. Can’t blame him at all. It’s hard coming down from that mountain. Some accept and embrace fate. Some do it kicking and screaming. Of course, we’ll never know what actually happened or what was said. Our personal biases will simply fill in the blanks.

When it was evident the Jays needed a rebuild, I hoped Stro would be one of the few players from 2015-16 still on the roster when things turned around. But once the rebuild was in full effect, I made peace with the notion that keeping Stro would hinder the team’s growth.

It’s a classic battle of head vs. heart, with my noggin coming out on top.

I would love it if Stro was signed to a long-term deal. However, my biggest fear is that his best years would be while the team was still rebuilding.

Hate to say it, but it would’ve been counter-productive to keep Stro. If his stock is high, it was worth trying to obtain some younger talent in exchange. It’s similar to what happened with Roy Halladay ten years ago.

We all wanted Doc to stay, but while his productivity was at the top, the Jays as a whole were sliding to the bottom and needed to rebuild. It wasn’t fair to Doc who – at that point – had never tasted postseason action and ultimately requested to be traded. Keeping him would’ve slowed the team’s growth.

It’s great how Stro embraced the city, but he should pitch for a winner. And yes, the team he was traded to is hanging on by a very thin thread. Nevertheless, I certainly wish him the best of luck with the Mets and thank the heavens he’s not wearing Yankee pinstripes.

HDMH will always have a significant place in Toronto. From his debut, to the freak injury, coming back from that injury, being part of the magic that was 2015-16 and being one of the few bright spots during seasons of transition and development. Marcus Stroman’s narrative was simply unreal. He fell in love with the city and the city – at least a good portion of it – fell in love with him.

ER

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Optioned to AAA: A Baseball Microstory

Posted July 22, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Baseball Microstories

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A bitter professional baseball player boarded the final Greyhound shuttle just after midnight. He was going back to the minors; optioned to AAA.

“We know you’re working hard,” his manager told him. “But things are getting tight and we just can’t wait it out.”

The manager wasn’t wrong. His struggles were well-documented.

But he had nothing to prove in the minors and hated giving up the sweet nectar of major league luxury.

So with the emergency exit within reach, he considered instant retirement.

The worst kind of anger is when you’re furious with the person you see in a mirror.

ER

Retro Blue Jays: When 60 wins was the benchmark

Posted July 3, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Blue Jays, Retro

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Posted by Retrontario.

Given the current state of affairs, this might put a smile on your face…or make you angrier.

Whatever.

It’s a City-TV/CityPulse sportscast from September 12, 1980, detailing the Jays’ 7-5 win over Baltimore. It was a significant achievement, marking the first time the team had recorded 60 victories.

Look how much fun Peter Gross was having. He was fully aware the team was in last place at the time and didn’t care. He’s not whining or reminding the viewer how bad things are/were, nor is he begrudgingly talking about the Jays. Don’t hear him shitting on the front office or calling anyone tone deaf either. Maybe he’s being a little sarcastic, but he’s also embracing the pain.

Check out how the highlights are presented. They’re all from one solitary camera, stationed behind home plate at Exhibition Stadium. It’s literally one angle, one point of view. A strong reminder of a time when not every single game was televised.

ER

Injured, But Optimistic

Posted June 3, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Baseball Poetry Project, Blue Jays

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I am envious of your optimism

Teach me to live that way

You tore your ACL,
after the second forearm injury,
after the first forearm injury,
after a serious head injury,
after several demotions,
after being undrafted,
and there you stand, holding a half-full glass

Teach me to live that way

Those setbacks would make me bitter, angry
More antisocial than I already am
I would want nothing but isolation and revenge
Setting the field on fire, when you only pounded it

This is why you are paid to pitch and I pay to watch it.

Bottle your positivity
You could sell millions!

Teach me to live that way

I am envious

ER

Top-rated prospect

Posted May 22, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Baseball Poetry Project, Blue Jays

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Electricity; produced by thousands

The young messiah has finally arrived;
with heavy expectations, a legendary pedigree and a high pedestal

We stand when he comes out to stretch,
when a ground ball comes his way and for every at-bat

This is history

The moment of moments

Whip out your phone to capture it

It’s a playoff atmosphere for a late-april match

Cheers rain down for balls; anger for called strikes

One pitch flies high and tight

In our minds, we grab our pitchforks and torches

Line drive down the first base line

An eruption that’s prolonged as he’s removed for a pinch runner

And in true baseball fashion, his teammate with a .179 average hits a walkoff homerun

ER

Embrace The Pain

Posted May 15, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Articles, Blue Jays

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

Posted April 21, 2019 by The Hek
Categories: Articles, Blue Jays

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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