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.