The Blue Jays draft experience under the new rules has taken an often bizarre route to the finish line but it’s almost complete.
The Jays now have a solid chance to sign all 14 of their picks within the first 10 rounds. The two unsigned players that remain are right-hander Marcus Stroman, the Duke University star, 22nd overall ($1.8 million slot) and fellow righty Chase DeJong out of Wilson High School, in Long Beach, Calif., selected 81st overall ($620,300 slot). DeJong is the Jays’ second-round selection.
DeJong seems more ready and willing to turn pro at slot than is than Stroman, but the 5-9, 180 lbs. right-hander has a tough decision if he chooses to snub the Jays. Stroman can go back to Duke for his senior year, but next June in the 2013 draft, he would have no more leverage and would butt heads with the same slotting system that is not going away anytime soon.
Would he be drafted any higher next year and is that money difference significant enough? Why not get the MLB timeline moving towards what many experts predict could be the fast-track to the majors in the Jays bullpen?
The Jays, with several expiring bullpen contracts at the major-league level offer as quick a path as any to the majors. Stroman was a Team USA closer last summer, throwing his four-seamer at 94 to 96 m.p.h. with a nasty slider. He pitched 8 1/3 late innings with no hits, a walk and 17 Ks. With his relatively small stature and dynamite fastball, he has drawn comparisons to Tom Gordon.
It’s all about slot money and the Jays are doing it their way. The fact is that the Jays would rather sacrifice signing either player than overpay to the point of being penalized a draft pick in June 2013.
There are options for the ball club. If the Jays fail to sign either man, or both, they would get a similar pick as compensation in next year’s draft. The downside is they would lose credit for the slot money from the allotted total MLB has said they can spend, so that’s where they stand. It’s almost like the Jays saying take-it-or-leave it with Stroman and DeJong by the July 13 deadline.
PREVIOUS BULLPEN BLOGS
Here’s a quick breakdown of the Jays numbers thus far. Allotted by MLB for 14 picks in the first 10 rounds, the Jays’ slot total was $8,830,800. If any club overpays by 5 per cent of their amount, it is fined a significant percentage of the over, plus it loses a future draft pick.
For clubs willing to pay a fine, like the Jays, anything from $1 over to 4.9999 per cent over slot costs them just a dollar amount. Say you go $300,000 over your total payroll, you would have to pay a percentage of that amount into a central fund. That is where the Jays are willing to go.
The maximum Jays amount that they can go over their total allotments before losing a pick is another $441,539. That amount also is balanced against anything over $100,000 in rounds 11-40.
The Jays put their heads together since the new rules were announced in December to figure out a way around them and notoriously used Rounds 4-10 to select grateful college seniors who were willing to sign cheap so that they could overpay some of their higher seven picks in the first three rounds. That is allowable under the rules, but seems to go against the spirit of the draft.
Nevertheless, the Jays college-senior pick strategy in Rounds 4-9 each signed for the same bonus of $5,000, with their 10th rounder, OF Alex Azor, a product of the Naval Academy, with military commitments on the horizon, signing for $1,000.
That list of cheap Jays signings, along with 80th overall pick, RHP Tyler Gonzalez who agreed at $127,200 under slot, gave the Jays a buffer of $1.341 million under allotted slot.
The Jays balanced that under by going over with three guys, overpaying LHP Matt Smoral, 50th overall, $2.0 million ($1.0 million slot); 3B Mitch Nay, 58th overall, $1.0 million ($884,100 slot) and two-sport athlete and OF Anthony Alford, 112th overall, $750,000 ($424,000 slot). Alford was rated much higher on many draft boards, but was considered unsignable by many teams because of his commitment to play quarterback at Southern Miss. The Jays will allow him to play football, hoping he eventually makes up his mind between the two sports, to play baseball. He does not have NFL size.
The Jays paid their No. 1 pick, D.J. Davis exact slot money of $2 million. Of the other picks, the over-under financial balance between the three guys that the Jays overpaid and the nine other prospects they underpaid, it gave the Jays a negative slot balance of $100,500, but since they are willing to go over by the maximum allowable 4.9999 per cent, that amount being $441,539, then they have room to wiggle. With the slot money for Stroman and DeJong adding up to $2,420,300 plus the finable over, they have slight flexibility, but will insist on slot, or close to it, with the two remaining picks.
Stroman will look at the landscape and see that others in his territory have already fallen into line. There were other right-handers selected 20th and 21st overall, just ahead of Stroman. The Braves signed Lucas Sims for $1.65 million. The Giants signed Chris Matton for $1.85 million. The Jays are offering the slot value of $1.8 million to their No. 22 overall. Stroman’s good and has much to ponder.
The Jays can use anything they save by signing Stroman and DeJong at slot, further down in the draft. From Rounds 11-40, anything over $100,000 per man goes into the hard and fast overpayment pool, so GM Alex Anthopoulos needs as much of a buffer from the available money as possible if he wants to sign guys like 12th rounder LHP Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.) and OF Nathan SeSouza (Milton, Ont.).All dollar figures are according to the Baseball America draft database.
Not every organization angled to beat the system.
Earlier in the week, Brewers’ assistant GM Gord Ash explained Milwaukee’s philosophy under Doug Melvin.
“Based solely on our experience, (the changes were) the greatest thing ever,” Ash said. “We have 23 players signed, all the top guys. We took the players we wanted. We handled it a little differently. We knew what the slot number was and tried to pick a player that was worth that kind of money. We didn’t play this game a lot of clubs did—we’ll spend more here, we’ll subtract here.”
Clubs have until July 13 to sign all of their draft choices. The Jays have signed 23 of 44.
MLB POWER RANKINGS
Last week’s ranking in parentheses
1. New York Yankees (2)
If Russell Martin out for long (back injury), that can hurt them
2. Texas Rangers (4)
Rangers needed pitching help and got it in Oswalt
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (1)
These guys never seem to be as good as their record
4. Baltimore Orioles (9)
Starting pitching, especially Hammel, is hanging tough
5. Washington Nationals (3)
Harper has been playing like a clown since he left T.O.
6.Tampa Bay Rays (5)
Rotation is the deepest six in majors
7. Los Angeles Angels (11)
Trout and Trumbo more valuable than Pujols
8. Cincinnati Reds (6)
Votto has ridiculous numbers but Chapman struggling
9. New York Mets (12)
Dickey’s streak of no ER ends at 44 2/3. Still crazy good.
10. Boston Red Sox (14)
Sox are getting healthy so don’t count them out
11. Chicago White Sox (10)
Is Youkilis a better 3B bet than O-Dog? Well yeah.
12. San Francisco Giants (8)
Giants will not make post-season without Lincecum presence
13. Atlanta Braves (7)
Beachy with Tommy John will be tough to overcome
14. Pittsburgh Pirates (20)
Must avoid same fate as last year but may learn from history
15. Cleveland Indians (13)
Wide open division but need more consistency and support
16. Arizona Diamondbacks (19)
Snakes looking more like last year’s surprise playoff team
17. Detroit Tigers (18)
Verlander starting to pitch like Verlander should
18. Oakland A’s (22)
Starting staff is young and oh-so-talented
19. St. Louis Cardinals (15)
The Cards have seen this act before. Ended in WS win
20. Toronto Blue Jays (17)
Ranked higher except for pitching Sword of Damocles over head
21. Miami Marlins (16)
Should rank higher except for overrated stadium – and pitching
22. Philadelphia Phillies (21)
Continue to be most disappointing team in baseball
23. Kansas City Royals (25)
Hosting all-star game with likely just one all-star
24. Seattle Mariners (23)
Vargas has taken a step backwards. Hitting .202 at home
25. Minnesota Twins (24)
The Twins need to keep fans on board with Target Field tab still to pay
26. Milwaukee Brewers (26)
Congrats to Canadian John Axford on birth of second child
27. Houston Astros (27)
Should trade Wandy Rodriguez for ready-for-prime-time prospects
28. San Diego Padres (29)
Padres may be the least publicized team in majors
29. Colorado Rockies (28)
Four-man rotation on 75-pitch limit. Hey, those are Minor Bantam rules
30. Chicago Cubs (30)
Can’t always blame the old Goat for 100 years of failure
BLUE JAYS WEEK IN REVIEW
The Jays were 3-3 for the week and must consider themselves lucky to be as good as that.
They are performing each day on a high wire without a net when it comes to starting pitching. The Jays received exactly one quality start for the week, that by Brett Cecil on Saturday vs. the Marlins. The starters logged a cumulative 29 2/3 innings in six games. The bullpen worked 21 1/3 innings.
The top four hitters in the Jays order continue to be amazing, but the guy that has started to turn it around, the guy that should have had better stats for the swing through Milwaukee and Miami was leadoff man Brett Lawrie. The Langley, B.C., native crushed the baseball virtually every time at the plate. Returning to face the team that drafted him in Milwaukee, he led off the first game with a home run and continued to stay hot. But there was controversy with Lawrie on this trip to Milwaukee.
Following the Tuesday night game began a Twitter controversy among several fans that had been at the game and longtime Journal-Sentinel beat writer Tom Haudricourt. Apparently Lawrie, who may become a lightning rod for fan abuse on the road because of his energy level and aggressive style of play, was being heckled by a fan just next to the Jays third-base dugout. The fan insisted to Haudricourt via Twitter that Lawrie yelled obscenities and that there were children in the area. At the same time, there were Blue Jays fans in the area at Miller Field that disagree and heard nothing.
The next day I approached Lawrie before the Wednesday matinee and he seemed surprised that anyone even heard about what he insisted was “nothing.” Even the Jays director, team safety, Ron Sandelli was unaware of any verbal exchange, of any issue in the stands with Lawrie and a fan. One Tweet claimed that Jose Bautista had acted as a peacemaker, so he was asked about it.
“It’s something that shouldn’t really matter,” Bautista said. “The only thing I saw was a fan trying to be aggressive and offensive towards Brett. I just kind of stepped in and told the guy to calm down and that’s it. I mean there’s no other way around it. Brett did nothing to instigate this person. It’s just a fan trying to heckle him and at the same time just be involved.
“I think it’s uncalled for and I just tried to be the mediator. Nothing happened. It got controlled. It didn’t escalate and that’s it. It was one moment, one person, so it’s more the fan that’s trying to heckle than Brett. Not more, I think it’s exclusively 100 per cent on the fan and not on Brett.”
Milwaukee, going back to the AL days at old County Stadium, has a history of fan-player standoffs. One of the more famous stories had Oakland’s Tony Phillips being heckled by a fan in the County Stadium outfield. The former Jays’ utility man, as legend has it, begged out of the game with an upset stomach, changed his clothes and went down under the stands to fight the fan. Nothing new.
In any case, for the six games of the trip, here are the statistics for Lawrie (8-for-25 .320, 10R, 3 RBI, 3 BB), Colby Rasmus (8-for-25 .320, 5 R, 8 RBI, 4 BB), Bautista (7-for-22 .318, 7 R, 8 RBI, 4 BB) and Edwin Encarnacion (8-for-24 .333, 7 R, 6 RBI, 2 BB). Pretty damned good.
Lawrie continued to swing the bat as well in Miami as he did in Milwaukee, but three balls to left centre field and centre field that would have been Miller Park homers, were Marlins Park fly casts. Plus there was a play-of-the-year candidate-catch by Justin Ruggiano with two men on, a line drive headed for the fence that the outfielder leaped, dove and speared at the end of his webbing. Nobody nationally was watching. As such, Lawrie is likely to become an all-star in the three games in Boston.
On Monday at Miller Park, Encarnacion flashed his raw power, slamming a drive high and deep that bonked loudly off of Bernie Brewer’s home run slide, an estimated 463 feet. The ball would have exited the ball park, stage left, if it had not collided with Bernie’s plastic toy.
On Tuesday, the Jays staged a huge comeback to win on the strength of six home runs, including three straight by Rasmus, Bautista and Encarnacion in the sixth and back-to-back by Rasmus to tie and Bautista to win in the ninth. The homers were against John Axford, who could be excused because he had arrived back at the park after the start of the game following the birth of his second child.
The Jays lost Game 3 of the series started by emergency starter Joel Carreno, who had taken a limo from Tucson to Phoenix, taken a red-eye that landed early morning, got a few hours sleep, started against the Brewers, gave up a bunch of runs, took the fall for the loss and was sent back to Vegas the next day. It wasn’t fair to Carreno, but recall his first start on the opening weekend in Cleveland. He was shipped out after that game too. Maybe a Triple-A affiliate closer than Vegas would help the Jays.
Injury updates came fast and furious. Brandon Morrow’s oblique remained opaque. There is no timeframe on his return but at least it’s not a joint. Kyle Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his pro career, performed by Dr. James Andrews. The first was in ’07. There is not a long history of two-time Johnnies with success, but one of them is Chris Capuano of the Dodgers who is having a great year. The fact is that Drabek has a lot of work to do if he wants to get back.
But the best medical news for the Jays was reported with regards to Drew Hutchison. The 21-year-old Floridian had called for the trainer after nine pitches vs. the Phillies and was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. That is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery depending on the severity. Hutch flew to Cincinnati for a second opinion from orthopedist, Dr. Timothy Krimchek. He then flew home to Florida to contemplate T.J. or not T.J.
The final decision is that Hutchison will not undergo Tommy John. He won’t be allowed to throw for four to six weeks. After that he will begin a rehabilitation program that at best could see him back with the Jays by September and at worst would have him ready for spring training 2013. The Drabek rehab after he did have the ligament replacement surgery is 12-18 months, usually closer to 12.
Jesse Litsch had season-ending surgery. Dustin McGowan has not picked up a ball again after two other false starts on his road back. Sergio Santos is throwing off flat ground and was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on Sunday to create room for Adam Lind to be added to the roster. Oh yeah, Adam Lind and Ben Francisco are back, while David Cooper and Mike McCoy are back in Vegas.
This week facing Boston and the L.A. Angels, could be enough to kick Blue Jays butt. Or else someone unexpected could step up and become a reliable major-league pitcher.
THE RANT: ALL-STAR VOTING IS A JOKE
Baseball is simply looking for numbers out of all-star voting, so the fact that every e-mail address is allowed to vote 25 times takes away any meaning, especially for old-school fans at the ballpark who carefully pick up their ballots, punching holes next to the names of their favourite players and drop them in a box. That is the true spirit of the election.
The fact that fan bases like the Rangers — and it changes every year — can hijack the process and end up with four or five players on the team, or high population bases like New York or New England can overwhelm the process on sheer numbers of fans online takes away from the all-star process.
Deserving players should be there. Sure there is the fan vote accompanied and complemented by the player vote to make sure that worthy players are not overlooked, but all voting should merely be for inclusion at the game. This is a serious exhibition game. The All-Star starting lineups, especially since the result of the game means so much in terms of home-field advantage at the World Series, should be handled separately, not by fans, but by each league, without consideration towards fan balloting and certainly not by the manager who might favour his own guys to start.
Should Mike Napoli or Prince Fielder be starting for the AL? No. How about Dan Uggla, Rafael Furcal, Melky Cabrera or Matt Kemp for the NL? The final week of voting is underway. Don’t mess it up by stuffing the box. Vote with your head.
The home run derby needs re-thinking too, but that’s for another day..
The Red Sox finally pulled the trigger and traded 3B Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox for INF Brent Lillibridge and RHP Zach Stewart. The Bosox needed to open up a full-time spot for rookie 3B Will Middlebrooks and the Chisox needed some offensive production better than the aging Orlando Hudson had been providing. If Youk can stay healthy, he’ll be a big character on the South Side. Meanwhile, Stewart, the former Jays’ prospect, has been included in trades for Scott Rolen, Colby Rasmus and, now, Youkilis. Stewart is with his fourth organization and is losing his “prospect” status... Boston had more bad news on the injury front as RHP Clay Buchholz has been admitted to hospital with what manager Bobby Valentine described as “a gastrointestinal situation.” He is expected to be out of action for 15 days... The O’s scored just five runs in three games vs. the Nats on the weekend in D.C. but won two of those games. O’s closer Jim Johnson has 22 saves in 23 opportunities... Including Sunday’s loss to the Astros’ LHP A.J. Happ, the Indians are now 5-15 vs. left-handed starters and leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo is hitting an anemic .188 against southpaws... Monday’s starter for the Royals vs. the Rays, RHP Luke Hochevar is 0-4 with a 8.59 ERA in six home starts at Kauffman Stadium... The A’s have used 16 rookies thus far in 2012 and a total of 42 players overall. That’s a crazy number of rookies, more than they used all of last season... In a bizarre King Felix oddity, M’s ace starter RHP Felix Hernandez for his career on the date of June 23, through his career, on those dates at the plate is 2-for-4-.500 with a double, a homer and six RBIs. M’s fans have not had a lot to cheer about offensively. The M’s are hitting .202 as a team at Safeco... Here are some NL gems courtesy of STATS Inc: Since the start of the 2011 season, Curtis Granderson has 62 home runs — only Jose Bautista (66) has more... Angels’ SS Erick Aybar leads all major leaguers with 11 bunt hits and 20 infield hits. He has three more bunt hits than any other player, and only the Yankees’ Derek Jeter (18) is close in infield hits. ..While he is just 6-5 in 14 starts this year, the Rangers’ Colby Lewis has been a more dominant pitcher than in recent seasons. Lewis has fanned 84 and walked only 12 in 96.0 innings in 2012. Among ERA qualifiers, he has a major-league leading 7-1 ratio. Next are the Joe Blanton (6.17) and Cliff Lee (5.50), followed by Matt Cain (5.00) and Stephen Strasburg (5.00)
Mets’ closer Frankie Francisco has never been a confrontational guy through the years, has he? OK, so there was that little incident in Oakland in ’04 where he spun a folding chair into the stands after being heckled in the bullpen and broke a woman’s nose. But other than that he’s been a pussycat. So when FF went on a rant this week and called the Yankees “chickens” there was a lot of scratching going on. What had gotten into Frankie, especially since the Mets were set to host the Yankees in the final inter-league series on the weekend. To cut then tension, his fellow Mets reliever, Tim Byrdak, thought it might be amusing to go out and purchase a live chicken and let it loose in the Citi Field home clubhouse, while subtly pointing a finger down the hall to the Yankee room. It was pretty funny, with Francisco at first confused, then realizing he had been pranked. The Mets, perhaps remembering the Red Sox had got themselves in trouble last September for having chicken in the clubhouse, Byrdak rounded up the fair fowl that they first named Jeter, then re-named Little Jerry Seinfeld. At a press conference in the hallway, gently cradling the jittery Little Jerry against his chest, Byrdak announced the bird was being donated to a farm in Watkins Glen, N.Y., where he could roam free. Francisco promptly went out and saved Game 1 of the series then was placed on the DL with a strained oblique... On Sunday night with Orel Hershiser, the record holder for consecutive shutout innings, in the ESPN booth as analyst, Mets starter R.A. Dickey had his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run snapped at 44 2/3 innings... Sad news from San Diego where Padres’ bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds has succumbed to pancreatic cancer, passing away on the weekend. “Ak was an invaluable member of the Padres coaching staff,” manager Bud Black said. “He was a loyal Padre to the end. Players and coaches were made better by Ak. He will be sorely missed.”... Here are some NL gems courtesy of the STATS Inc: The Nats’ pitching staff struck out just 12 Orioles in three weekend games, but are still averaging 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Since the start of the modern era in 1901, only the 2003 Cubs (8.7) have averaged more NL strikeouts per nine innings over a full season. The duo of Stephen Strasburg (110) and Gio Gonzalez (101) rank first and third, respectively, in strikeouts... Atlanta’s Dan Uggla has a major league-leading seven walks after starting out 0-2 in the count. The Jays know how tough it is to put Uggla away. Next with the most walks after an opening two strikes are Rangers Elvis Andrus and Mike Napoli, each with six... The Tigers haven’t been shut out since July 16, 2011, a span of 140 games. They surpassed the previous franchise high of 110 games without being blanked and have the longest such streak in the majors, the only club to not be shut out in 2012.
THIS WEEK IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
6/25/88 Cal Ripken plays in his 1,000th consecutive game, sixth on the all-time major-league list...6/25/95 the Rockies 1B Andres Galarraga homers in three straight innings, 6-7-8. He was on deck in the ninth when the game ended...6/26/97 RF Tony Gwynn hits an inside the park grand slam against the Dodgers... 6/28/07 Yankees catcher Branch Rickey allows the Senators to steal 12 bases in one game making him think about another line of work. He goes on to become the greatest executive in the game’s history... 6/29/16 The Reds and the Cubs play a nine-inning game with one baseball... 6/29/39 Montreal’s Pete Rose plays in his 3,309th game passing Carl Yastrzemski for the all-time MLB lead... 6/29/90 The A’s RH Dave Stewart no-hits the Blue Jays, then six hours later, LH Fernando Valenzuela no-hits the Cards, the first time two no-hitters on the same day... 7/1/97 the Jays and Expos play a memorable inter-league game with RH Roger Clemens losing 2-1 to RH Jeff Juden, dropping his record to 12-3... 7/1/68 RH Bob Gibson walks in a run in the first inning vs. the Dodgers snapping a scoreless inning streak at 47-2/3 innings.
Birthdays this week: Carlos Delgado 40, Derek Jeter 38, Chris Woodward 36, Corey Koskie 39, John Boccabella 61, Tony Fernandez 50, Mike Stanley 49.
MINOR LEAGUE ROUNDUP
AAA-Las Vegas (43-33)...The 51’s lost to Sacramento 6-1 on Sunday. LF Travis Snider was 1-for-4 and is hitting .333.1B Adam Lind was batting .392 with eight homers and 29 RBIs. SS Adeiny Hechavarria is leading the team with 53 RBIs... AA-New Hampshire (28-45)...The Fisher Cats beat Harrisburg 5-3 on Sunday. LF Ben Francisco was 2-for-4 and was batting .222 at his recall. RHP Chad Jenkins (4-6, 5.01 ERA) went 6 innings for the win and has three straight quality starts... A-Dunedin (0-3) ...was rained out on Sunday. RHP John Stilson is 3-0, 2.82 ERA. LHP Sean Nolin is 7-0, 2.35 ERA. RHP Danny Barnes is 1-2, with a 2.20 ER and 17 saves... A-Lansing (2-1) ... the Lugnuts beat Great Lakes 13-6 on Sunday. RH Anthony DeScalfini pitched 5 inning for the win. He is 6-1, with a 2.62 ERA. LF Kevin Pillar was 3-for-4 with a run and 2 RBIs and is batting .316 with 28 steals. RH Aaron Sanchez leads the way with 6-0, 0.77 ERA... A-Vancouver (8-2) ... The Canadians are in first place. 1B Balbino Fuenmayor is hitting .419 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Mississauga native CF Dalton Pompey is hitting .303 with 3 SB... A-Bluefield (2-4) lost to Johnson City 4-2. LH Daniel Norris (1-1) was the starter and loser (4IP; 4H; 4R; 4ER; 2BB; 4SO). RH Joe Musgrove tossed four shutout innings in relief and has a 1.13 ERA.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
The road trip to Milwaukee and Miami was enjoyable, two cities that we don’t visit often. I had been to Milwaukee in ’96 and again in 2000 for the all-star game. I had been to many Marlins’ games when with the Expos, but we stayed in Fort Lauderdale with the games being played at the Dolphins football stadium that has had various names through the years. I always call it Joe Robbie.
With three games in Milwaukee at Miller Park and with great weather in Wisconsin, it was a chance to better know the city than the rushed experience of all-star festivities staying out in Jeffrey Dahmer territory. As I’ve often pointed out often this year, I have never seen as many travelling Jays fans on the road, and especially young Jays fans. It’s good to see. Around the corner from my Courtyard hotel, just west of the scrawny river that runs through Milwaukee into Lake Michigan, was a place called Mo’s Irish Pub. The first night was a quiet beer to close down the evening with Mike Rutsey of the Sun. The second night was back at Mo’s but this time with a half dozen boisterous Jays fans in the new teams colours and logos. that is finally distinctive, immediately identifiable as Blue Jays and really travels well. Six Jays fans turned into 10, then 15. It got louder, too. Mo’s stays open until two, but with a day game upcoming, I became responsible and left early, around 1:30 a.m. The biggest surprise was that The Fan’s Mike Wilner still there among his peeps, looking disheveled and alarmingly sober. Highlight of Milwaukee was a good conversation with Gord Ash in his office.
I was not looking forward to the travel day between Milwaukee and Miami on Thursday. Instead of a direct flight, my travel agent had me flying through Newark, which made no sense. With the Heat perhaps clinching on Thursday night, the Newark connection was crowded with hundreds of members of the local Hip-Hop community, clearly going down to party with LeBron. Unfortunately I snagged a middle seat between guys that physically resembled Rick Ross and Cee-Lo Green. Three hours in the air with my elbows pasted to my sides. The stress finally got to me after we landed. I snapped. A frail, elderly, gray-haired lady was being helped off the plane in a wheelchair and there was a problem in the ramp, with the line being held up for a painful minute. Usually quite patient, I lost it momentarily and muttered to my new friends, “Somebody please get Miss Daisy out da way.” My seatmates were quite amused. That night the Heat routed the Thunder and my friends partied, in fact may still be partying.
I was expecting more out of my Marlins Park experience. The fish in the aquariums behind home plate, the tumbling dance teams and the grotesque home run celebration contraption did nothing for me. I thought the area around the ballpark would have been built up more with new businesses, restaurants, bars, etc. The neighbourhood had not changed. I met a lot of old friends, Andres Galarraga who is down to a 5-handicap and plays golf up in Palm Beach Gardens with Larry Walker almost every day. Amazing, because Cat didn’t even swing a golf club until he retired. His health is really good. I saw Andre Dawson in uniform on Sunday. He still looks like he could play except for the two knees that don’t really belong to him. There was Marlins v-p P.J. Loyello who replaced me in P.R. with the Expos in ‘95 and Fish V-P Claude Delorme who started out in stadium-op at Olympic Stadium out of Laurentian University and is the guy given credit for coordinating construction of Marlins Park. There was Hall-of Fame broadcaster Dave Van Horne and Tommy Hutton and Toronto native and Fish trainer Mike Kozak. The best meal of the trip was Saturday night, an endorsement of Miami native J.P. Arencibia who called a buddy, the owner at Garcia’s on the River and set up a reservation. Nice meal, nice road trip. Back home on Monday with Brendan Kennedy taking over coverage in Boston.