Tuesday, May 26, 2009

RIP Zezel

Peter Zezel died on Tuesday after a battle with a blood disease called hemolytic anemia, which is a disorder that causes red blood cells to be killed off faster than the body can replace them.

Zezel was always one of my favourite players on the 1993 and 1994 teams. He was the defensive and faceoff specialist. He scored a goal to win Game 1 of the 1994 Western Conference Finals. He also was great off the ice giving back to his community and leaving hockey to be with his family after the 1999 death of his niece from leukemia.

Down Goes Brown has a great piece paying tribute to someone I'll always remember as a Maple Leaf.

To those who want to pay tribute:

His family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Peter Zezel’s name to the James Birrell Fund at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The cheques should be made payable to "The James Fund" and can be mailed to:

The James Fund
625 Whitaker Street #4
Peterborough, ON
K9H 7L5

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Bandwagon

It happens all the time and it seems in this city with more frequency than others. It is the bandwagon jumpers. The so-called fans who cheer the team when they are doing well but are quick to abandon, criticize and forget about them when they are doing poorly.

In hockey it is usually evident in May and June (well not for the past 5 years but normal Mays and Junes). There is a sudden increase in Leafs fans across the city. Many people who have not even watched a game the entire season will suddenly hoot and holler as if they live and die by the team. These same people will be hard pressed to name more than 2 players on the team. When they get eliminated those same "fans" forget about them until the next playoff season.

The same happened for the Blue Jays in the past month and a half. Due to their torrid start there was a sudden increase in the number of Jays hats seen around the city and people were buzzing about the team. After one sweep, however, against the Red Sox people were pushing each other to jump off the bandwagon. The following are paraphrased comments by these bandwagoners. "They can't compete with the AL East": right, the same AL East we had a winning record against last year, the year before, and the year before that? "They can't compete when it matters": Well, considering it's May and there are about 120 games left it is a little bit too early to judge this team's ability to compete when it matters. "They don't have the depth": Considering the Jays are probably pitching with one of their relief pitchers as their number three (or 2a) and are still in first that's deep enough for me. "The season's over": It's baseball, not football. As the axiom goes every team is going to win 50 games and lose 50 games. It's what you do with the other 62 that make the difference. They currently sit .5 games ahead of Boston. If someone had told me preseason that the Jays would rank there at this point I would have laughed at them, so I'll take it. As for you bandwagon jumpers, I hope you don't get hurt your legs on the fall down. After all you're going to want to climb back up come October. Magic Number: 120.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Eck

Nothing went right for the Jays the past 2 games. Tallet's great start was wasted, Cecil showed why he's not quite ready for the big leagues, and the bats disappeared unless it was to hit a useless popup. Worst of all, however, was that they were aired on TSN 2 via simulcast from NESN, which meant we had to listen to Dennis Eckersley, herein the Eck. The Eck, in case you don't remember him, was a dominant closer in the 90s. He was the Mariano Rivera of his generation. Money. The penultimate shut down guy. He was one of the foremost Blue Jay killers, except for one game when it mattered most. It was game 4 of the 1992 ALCS and Oakland, who had defeated Toronto in the ALCS 3 years earlier, was poised to tie the series.

The past two nights the Eck has mostly talked about cheese and how much he hated the Blue Jays. I'm guessing he's still bitter. In the 9th inning the fans in Oakland were going crazy and cocksure that Eck would shut the Jays down. They had a right to be confident. After all the Eck had a record 51 saves that year. They didn't take into consideration though the determination of the Blue Jays. At the end of the 8th the Eck had attempted to taunt and intimidate the Jays dugout by pointing at them. Big mistake. It only served to motivate them. In the 9th Roberto Alomar took his revenge by slamming Eck's offering over the wall to tie the game. When Alomar homered his two arms raised in the air were a direct taunt back at Eckersley. The Jays would go on to win that game and then the ALCS 2 games later. It was probably the biggest home run in Jays history to that point. This was the fourth time they had got to the ALCS (1985, 1989, 1991) but they had lost the previous three. Alomar's homer helped the Jays believe that they could win and exorcised the demons of the previous disappointments. If the Eck had not surrendered the homer the series would have been tied and the Jays perhaps would not have advanced to the World Series.

Last night, when Ortiz homered off Cecil, one of 5 Cecil surrendered, the Eck became absolutely giddy as if it was a huge historical home run. Sorry Eck that wasn't a big home run. Robbie's on the other hand was and you gave it up. I just want the Jays to win now to shut the Eck up and make him relive 1992 all over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What a Game! What a Team!

On Sunday I got to see the unparalleled Halladay in action once more and once again he did not disappoint. After a shaky first in which I was almost ready to question the good Doctor he came back. It looked like he was angry for that terrible first and decided that he would dominate the Sox the rest of the way. Dominate he did as no Sox player scored again.

Along the way I saw one more thing I was shocked at: Rod Barajas puffing his way around to score in the fifth. I'm surprised he even played the rest of the game.

Lind and Hill hit incredible home runs again. Those two better be in the All-Star game.

The only sour spot in the game was seeing Scutaro writhing in pain after taking a throw into the chest stealing third. It turned out he was fine but it still sent me into panic mode. This team can't be forced to deal with injuries when everything seems so be going so well. Sweep? Again? With Boston losing the magic number is now 121. Pennant!!!1

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who Needs A.J.?

I've never been to a Jays playoff game but now I know what it would be like. The Dome was packed and the crowd was loud. They were on A.J. from his first pitch (a ball) to when he was pulled in the 8th. A fan even threw back an A-Rod foul ball. Doc was his usual dominant self. He was in the zone, perhaps even elevating himself to another level because of the relative importance of the game. He only allowed himself to crack a smile when the game was over and he had his complete game victory. It definitely lived up to its billing and could not have ended with a better result. As for A.J., when he left, the thousands of fans in the crowd wearing hats mockingly tipped them to him.

Richmond and "the youngster" Tallet head to the mound next. The Pennant is getting closer. Magic number:128.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bye Bye Mats

While showing the final minutes of the Chicago Blackhawks-Vancouver Canucks game CBC panned over the Canucks bench and paused at Mats Sundin. The image broke my heart. There was the great former Leaf on the verge of tears knowing that what very well may be his last chance at winning a Stanley Cup disappear. Full disclosure: I didn't want the Canucks to win. This was not because I did not want Sundin to win a Cup, but because if any team should bring a team back to Canada it should be the Leafs. If Sundin was on the Wings, Ducks, Caps, Pens, or even the Hurricanes it would have been a different story. Unfortunately, he was on the Canucks, a team that I could not bring myself to cheer for. Some Leafs fans could make the transition but I couldn't.

Nevertheless, if this is indeed Sundin's last game he has left us with some remarkable memories.

Who could forget the hattrick, OT winner and 500th goal all on one shot?

His goal against Carolina, in the final seconds of Game 6 of the 2002 Conference Finals, sending the game to OT. This was perhaps the loudest I've ever screamed at a goal.

His emotional return to Toronto

Good bye Mats and thank you.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Dome

Damien Cox, the eternal blowhard, wrote a piece on his blog today about how the Jays are struggling to draw fans despite their early success. He admits that this is partially due to the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox have not come to town yet but still wonders why their success hasn't led to increased attendance. A major problem that the Jays face is the SkyDome (I refuse to call it the Rogers Centre as does almost everyone else who isn't forced/paid to do so). The SkyDome (or The Dome) at the time of its opening in 1989 was considered a state of the art facility. It replaced Exhibition Stadium and made it so that Jays fans knew that if they had tickets they were guaranteed to see a game. No more rain outs.

Its retractable roof was a wonder of the world in the eyes of Torontonians and it made the Dome the in place to be. 20 years later the Dome has not aged well. It is now a blight on the Toronto sports scene. Of all the sporting events I've seen in Toronto it is the worst place to watch a game, even when the quality of the product is great. It is tragically a victim of its time. It was the last of its kind, the last behemoth multipurpose stadium before the trend shifted to return to retro ball parks. When Camden Yards was built in 1992 the designers returned to designs of steel and iron instead of the concrete facade of SkyDome.

A major problem of the Dome hits you before you even reach your seat. It's ugly and grim. The walk up the ramps that lead to the upper deck of the Dome is a depressing one. It makes you feel you are in some industrial factory instead of heading to watch baseball.
At the time of construction the Jays were a hot ticket as they were in the midst of winning the division title, which they did four of the first 5 years in the Dome. More time should have been spent to consider how they could create an attractive facility to get fans to come in when the team was less popular or less competitive

The field itself too has no individuality or charm.

The walls are symmetrical and the turf is artificial. One of the beautiful things about the game of baseball is that they don't put many restrictions on the dimensions of the field. Despite this no thought was put into making the field in Toronto special. There is no Green Monster, like in Fenway, nor a hill like Minute Maid Park in Houston, no ivy covering the walls like in Wrigley or no fountains like Kaufman stadium. Nothing about the SkyDome field makes it unique or a fun place to play. When a field becomes a fun place to play on it also becomes a great place to watch a game.

The Dome is huge. Despite this fact it has no open air concourses or walking areas from which to watch the game. The newer stadiums have little picnic areas and "mini streets" from which the game can still be seen. Due to its size it does not have the feeling of compactness that older stadiums have and removes the crowd from the game. The back rows of the 500 section feel to be about a kilometre away from the field. Heckles and jeers become pointless when the only people who can hear you are your fellow fans. Then there is the JumboTron.

Dome supporters are quick to brag about the screen without noticing its obvious flaws. They placed the JumboTron over the outfield but unlike other stadiums did not bother to put a smaller screen on the other side so the people sitting in the restaurants, hotel or in the outfield under the Tron can see what's going on. Everyone you can see in the above picture has little to no idea what is being shown on the big screen.

The retractable roof though the much ballyhooed invention of the Dome is my biggest problem with it.

Toronto has an unpredictable climate so the idea of having an open-air stadium is out of the question. On the few good days we do have, however, it is still hit or miss whether or not the Dome is open. The Dome has not been opened thus far this season and instead of the 4 or 5 games I would have gone to with an open roof I've gone to one. Baseball is meant to be played outdoors. Open air should be the default with the roof closed only in the event of rain. For some reason SkyDome thinks it should be the other way around. Watching a game under the roof is not as an enjoyable experience as watching it when the roof is opened. The shifting shadows caused by the sun also cause a challenge to the players who have to make adjustments when batting and fielding. Indoor stadiums lose that aspect of nature that adds to the intrigue of the game.

The SkyDome can be saved if Rogers decides to put the investment in. Otherwise, maybe 20 years is enough and they can decide that the best thing to do is spend the money they would spend on renovations on a new stadium.

How Sweep it is

First Sweep. First in the American League. The first test against a divisional rival went well for the Jays. That being said it was against the worst team in the division and the only team in the AL East that has no chance for the playoffs. They also had to win the second game the hard way, forcing extra innings due to Aaron Hill, first an error then his homer, and then having Hill get the game-winning RBI as well. Nevertheless, the Jays still won all three games and their Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is now 135. The tough tests against the Yankees and Red Sox are coming this month but this is not the end of the road for the Jays as many are claiming. Last year the only team in the East the Jays lost the season series to was the Rays, finishing 7-11 against them. They split the series against both the Yankees and Red Sox going 9-9 respectively and dominated the Orioles going 12-6. The Pennant is coming.