Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Almost Opening Day - Plus: Jays Closet - Tony Bats Edition

OK. So the Jays went through spring with a 24-7 record. And yes, they open the season against Cleveland who went 7-22. And while the spring don't mean a damn thing, it's exciting. 

So considering it's one day away from Opening Day, I'm reminded of what I believe* was my first Opening Day experience (*I don't have complete records of my pre-1989 Blue Jays attendance. We went to a lot of games, but as far as I know, none of them were Opening Day). So, when I returned to Toronto in 1999, I caught a handful of games at the end of that season... but for the opening of the 2000 season, I had front row 500 level tickets.

Now, if you recall the 2000 Blue Jays were actually pretty good. They ended up winning 83 games, and having some ridiculous power numbers. You will never convince me that there weren't a lot of kiwi-steroid smoothies flying around the clubhouse, considering eight guys on the team had 20+ HRs. And four of them had 30+. And two of them had 40+ HR. If you tried to name those eight guys, you'd likely forget about MOST of them. And for the record, one of them was NOT Shawn Green (who had 42 dingers in 1999) because he had already been traded.

Obviously, Carlos Delgago was one of the 40+ guys. But who was the other? 

This is where my Opening Day story resumes. On April 3rd, 2000 the Blue Jays hosted the Royals. The Jays were up 4-2 in the 9th, thanks to homers by Shannon Stewart and Tony Batista. In the top of the 9th, Billy Koch comes to the hill to shut down the Royals. Groundout. Walk. Double. Strikeout. And now, with two outs in the top of the 9th, with two men on.... (this is bizarre in retrospect)... Royals PINCH-HIT catcher Gregg Zaun. He singles to right, two runs score. Tie Game. Billy Koch blew the save. Shocking.

Well, then we head to the bottom of the 9th. Jerry Spradlin strikes out Delgado, and gets Brad Fullmer to foul out behind third-base. That brings Tony-Bats (can we retro-fix a nickname?) to the dish with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. I turn to my buddy and say "he's gonna hit another one." He says "no way." On an 0-1 pitch, Batista tees off and crushes one to left field. Jays win 5-4. I think they were still called "game-winning" homers at that point. "Walk-off" hadn't caught on yet as a phrase.

Anyway, from the Jays closet today... the Opening Day giveaway lanyard from April 3, 2000. I think of open-stance, one handed swing of Tony Batista, and calling that dinger JUST before it happened. He went on to hit 41 homers that year, including the two that day. My first of several Opening Days since then. And for the record, I've long since lost the key this lock opens.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blue Jays Closet - St. Patrick's Edition

First, a few thoughts. Blue Jays fans are caught up in our annual dance of being excited, while trying not to be too excited. Everybody knows Spring Training doesn't mean anything, and Grapefruit League opponents might as well be high school teams (I believe the Jays played against Canada's Under-18 team at one point)... but still. When you're 13-4, it's hard not to get a bit excited.

Of course, we still don't know anything about the rotation, or our left field dilemma, it's nice to see the Jays winning.

Today.... from the Blue Jays Closet. As mentioned in the last post, we made a trip to Dunedin last March and caught some pre-season action. While poking around in the stadium shop, I bought the aforementioned hat, and one other item. Considering it was March, and St. Patrick's Day was approaching, they Jays were apparently selling off the extra green jerseys they had ordered/created/acquired. There were only about 15 on the rack for sale, in kelly green spring training nylon mesh, and in numbers ranging from the barely acceptable 28 (Al Leiter, Shawn Marcum) to the outrageous  64 ,78, and 82. I think there is an unwritten rule that if your uniform number is higher than 50, you have a 0.1% chance of making the team out of Spring Training.

Anyway, I snatched up St. Patrick's Day jersey #28, and although we were back in Toronto by then, I made sure to wear it on the 17th, while I consumed my Guinnesses... Guinneesees.... pints. I love this jersey because it's unique, and because it's got a good story behind it. I also love that almost nobody else has one!

And considering Colby Rasmus is wearing 28 this year, I'll hopefully be able to rock that number proudly.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blue Jays Closet - Preseason Edition

A few notes... First, I'm thrilled that MLB has finally added another playoff spot. Although this year, one team will have an extremely short (one game) playoff run, it'll be at least 2 next year. This just means that the Jays have a better shot at sneaking into the playoffs, even with a 3rd place finish in the AL East. That being said, the Blue Jays finished 2006 in 2nd place in the AL East, and wouldn't have gotten a 2nd, or even a 3rd, Wild Card spot. Even so, it's going to make the late season playoff runs a little more exciting.

Now to introduce a new feature! Where a lot of these Blue Jays blogs focus on prospects, Moneyball-esque numbers, and extra thorough analysis, I'm not that kind of baseball fan. I'm more about the feeling, the experience, and the memories. As such, I have a huge collection of ticket stubs, hats, jerseys, magazines, and memorabilia all with a particular story. So every now and then, I'll showcase an item from my Blue Jays Closet.

Because Spring Training Baseball just got underway, the first item out of the closet is going to be Dunedin-related. This time last year, I was down in Florida and managed to catch a game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin. It was supposed to be two, but some horrible northern weather got me there two days late. As it was my first trip to Dunedin, I felt the need to get some Grapefruit League Blue Jays gear.
And so, I present the rarely-seen (in Toronto, at least) Dunedin Blue Jays hat. Obviously, they were wearing it in the more traditional blue & grey, but it'll be interesting to see how they adjust to the new (old) logo. I wish I could have made it down this year to see!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ricky Romero - Inches

I can't make it down to Spring Training this year, so I have to get excited vicariously. The Jays are doing a great job of building the suspense for the upcoming season. This spot, featuring Ricky Romero is badass. It may be slightly borrowed from the Any Given Sunday "Inches" speech. Either way, it gives me chills and makes me wanna fast forward to April. 

Times Are Changin' in Toronto

As we approach the start of the 2012 season, a sobering thought enters the mind of Blue Jays fans everywhere. This is the 20th anniversary of our first World Series season. In 1992, the Jays had the highest payroll in baseball, a lineup full of All-Stars (and even some Hall of Famers), and went on to a 96 win season and a World Series Championship. They also drew more than 4 million fans for the 2nd straight year and held the highest attendance in the league for 7 of 8 consecutive years.

My, how times have changed.

20 years later, the Jays are coming off several average seasons. They usually finish around .500, with a middle-of-the-pack payroll and attendance.

Jays fans though, think 2012 could be a turning point. For the first time in a long time, the Blue Jays seem to have a complete team. Solid drafts and trades have positioned them with a strong, young core of starters, but also with one of the best sets of prospects ready to emerge from the minors. Behind the leadership of MVP Threat Jose Bautista and constantly improving ace Ricky Romero, the Jays look like they're loose yet motivated, relaxed yet confident.

Of course, this is the American League East. Where you can win 90+ games and still not make the playoffs; isn't that right, Boston? In a division with the crazy-spending Yankees and Red Sox, and the solid rotation of starters featured in Tampa Bay, the Jays will certainly have their work cut out for them. But they haven't been bad over the last few years, and all indications are that this team should be better. Throw in a potential extra wild card spot, and the Blue Jays could be legitimately fighting for their first playoff spot in 19 years.