The Bullpen: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper bringing baseball back to the future
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper not the only youngsters to make an impact in 2012.
There is one truly positive reality emerging from the 2012 season. It is a development in the game that can only be considered encouraging for the future of major-league baseball. With the end of the Steroid Era obviously taking place, the major-league game is returning to its admiration in scouting for the five-tool player — prospects that are throwbacks with above-average speed, power, batting average, fielding ability and throwing arm. Think Henry Aaron, Andre Dawson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey, Jr., early-career Barry Bonds, and now, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
What that means for the game is that the formerly coveted mid-to-late-30s sluggers that play out their contracts and enter the free-agent market in the offseason are becoming out-of-work, unwanted dinosaurs. When teams are looking to fill their benches or when small-to-mid-market teams look for position players in a what they hope will be a contending year, they are now searching for five-tool prospects that can develop at the major-league level. It’s an exciting transition for baseball.
With fewer thick-legged, intimidating, one-dimensional sluggers looking to keyhole pitchers, work the count and force pitchers to change speeds and hit exact spots, slowing down the pace of game, it even allows for younger pitchers, hard throwers with developing secondary stuff, still working on command to pitch on major-league staffs as back-end starters or setup-men/closers. Again, young is the key.
Consider that as of Aug. 13 there were 59 active major-league players that were 23 years of age or younger, with another 12 on disabled lists. Some were all-stars. Many are emerging stars. There used to be a feeling in baseball that prospects should spend four or five years in the minor leagues after their draft year developing their skills, meaning that the best prospects were expected to debut at 23 to 24 years of age. No more.
Consider the 23-and-under Baby Boomers making their names around baseball right now, led by: Trout (Angels), Harper (Nats), Brett Lawrie (Jays), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Madison Bumgarner (Giants), Matt Moore (Rays), Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Manny Machado (O’s), Freddy Freeman (Braves), Starlin Castro (Cubs), Anthony Rizzo (Cubs), Addison Reed (White Sox), Rick Porcello (Tigers), Jose Altuve (Astros), Kelvin Herrera (Royals), Eric Hosmer (Royals), Mike Moustakas (Royals), Starling Marte (Pirates), Jesus Montero (M’s) and Mike Olt (Rangers).
Locally, mainly out of necessity, the 23-and-under green Jays include Lawrie, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra and the injured Drew Hutchison.
With the move to homegrown players at an earlier age, there is a recognition that there is now a younger launch point for major-league careers that should eventually help baseball to compete with the other major sports for the hearts and minds of multi-sport athletes.
Baseball can be a lucrative option if you get an early start. Teams are including guaranteed college tuition as part of their signing bonus for high schoolers, so it’s not about the education. Get your pro career going ASAP. The major-league minimum is more than $400,000, while arbitration kicks in after three years of service and free agency after six years. Most teams now are looking to lock up their young stars in their third or fourth years, meaning actual free agency is becoming populated by unwanted six-year players or those on expiring multi-year deals and ready for a second go-round.
The chances for longevity and wealth in baseball are becoming better than football. And the money is all guaranteed. A quick study of the 2012 NFL season revealed that of the Top 80 rated running backs, one of the glamour positions for the multi-sport athlete, only five of those 80 were over 30 years old. That is not a good sign for longevity, much less healthy retirement. There’s the current concern in football regarding concussions, their prevention and other health-related issues for retired players.
But moving baseball forward won’t be about promoting negatives in another sport, it will be about the emerging faster track to the major-leagues and the impact of players that are not yet fully developed, but good enough to be contributors at the major-league level. You may not be getting the polished product that they will become, but you’re getting star-power and energy. It’s good for baseball now and will be even more so in the future.
BLUE JAYS WEEK IN REVIEW
The Jays offence finally exploded on Sunday against the Yankees, scoring 10 runs, which is exactly as many runs as they had scored in the entire week, losing five straight upon completing the West Coast portion of their road trip. The hero of the Jays win on Sunday was Rajai Davis with two doubles and five RBIs, plus a scintillating catch on which he launched himself up and over the left field fence to rob Casey McGehee for a ball headed for the Jays bullpen. The Jays had been three-hit twice in the Rays series, in games started by James Shields and Matt Moore, which is what usually happens when they visit Tropicana Field. The Rays have won nine of the last 10 meetings with the Jays. The Rays outscored Farrell’s troops 14-4.
The Jays came home to face the first-place Yankees with three left-handers on the mound, which should have given them an advantage. The struggling Ricky Romero had his best start since the all-star break, his third encouraging start in a row, but still lost. However with righty Brandon Morrow on his way back to the Jays next week, that’s good news at the top of the rotation. The one win vs. the Bombers was by newcomer, J.A. Happ, obtained from the Astros and making his second start after some long relief work. The middle game was started by Aaron Laffey who will likely give up his rotation spot when Morrow returns.
TRANSACTIONS: The Jays had another busy week shuffling personnel in and out as they continued to cope with injuries, now, primarily to the position players. On Wednesday, after listing 3B Brett Lawrie and his right ribcage (oblique) as day-to-day, the Jays were finally compelled to place the Langley Flash on the DL retroactive to his last appearance in Oakland, Aug. 4. They recalled right-hander David Carpenter from option to Triple-A Las Vegas and then on Saturday optioned Carpenter back to Vegas and replaced him with infielder Mike McCoy. Colby Rasmus continued to battle a strained groin, replaced at centre field by Anthony Gose, at least from a defensive standpoint. On the weekend, shortstop Yunel Escobar had to sit out Sunday after being hit twice by pitches on Saturday. Stalwarts in the revamped Jays lineup for the week included Las Vegas graduates Yan Gomes, Adeiny Hechavarria, McCoy, David Cooper, Moises Sierra and Gose. Not exactly Murderer’s Row.
DISABLED LIST: Jose Bautista underwent two MRIs and is expected to resume early stages of swinging the bat today. He saw hand specialist Dr. Douglas Carlin and on the first MRI on Tuesday got a fuzzy picture because Bautista moved. They did it again on Wednesday and the solid results were announced of one hot spot that persists. “They didn’t HAVE to do (a second MRI),” Bautista said on Thursday morning. “It’s just more the doctor trying to be cautious before I get the bat back in my hands. What he was thinking was the same thing that came back. It’s just still inflammation, not further damage, so it hasn’t got any worse. It’s getting better but slowly. I would hope that it would be healing quicker, but it’s not. We’re going to just give it a couple more days then start hitting.”
The doctors had tried to replicate the swing motion to see if the wrist was any better, but it’s impossible to exactly get the same feeling, according to Joey Bats.
“I haven’t swung the bat in a while,’ he acknowledged. “It’s just some of the tests that they do, they mimic what you would be doing with some swings and they just kind of pull your hands and make you push in the same direction. I do have some pain in some of those movements. But nothing that would be a true swing. It’s just what they feel my swing would be like.”
The closest injured Jay to returning to the active roster is Morrow, who started on Wednesday at AA-New Hampshire, five innings, 51 pitches. He is expected to have one more start on Tuesday before a further determination is made. If he is ready to throw 80 pitches, he should be activated and return to the rotation. Morrow is on the 60-day DL which expired on Saturday.
On other Jays’ injury fronts, reliever Jason Frasor is starting to throw again. DH Adam Lind took batting practice several times, but admitted to Farrell in Tampa that he did not feel ready to play back-to-back days. On Tuesday, right-handers Dustin McGowan underwent shoulder arthroscopy in Pensacola and Drew Hutchison had Tommy John surgery both performed by Dr. James Andrews. It’s likely Lawrie will be ready when his time is up on Aug. 19. Out for the season are Sergio Santos, Robert Coello, Luis Perez, Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, Hutchison and McGowan.
MLB POWER RANKINGS
Last week in parentheses
1. New York Yankees (2)
Make sure Sabathia’s healthy heading into stretch run
2. Washington Nationals (4)
Are stretching out lead even without contributions from Harper
3. Texas Rangers (3)
C Geovany Soto and a revamped rotation need to come together
4. Cincinnati Reds (1)
Need Votto back but out at least another 7-10 days
5. Atlanta Braves (5)
Nobody’s talking about these guys but this is dangerous team
6. Tampa Bay Rays (12)
Might have deepest rotation in AL. But can they score enough?
7. Pittsburgh Pirates (6)
Be fun to see Travis Snider in post-season
8. Chicago White Sox (11)
Alex Rios is MVP candidate. Was it something Ozzie did
9. Baltimore Orioles (15)
Manny Machado another superb 20-year-old in MLB
10. Detroit Tigers (14)
Miggy Cabrera putting together an MVP argument
11. Los Angeles Angels (7)
Bullpen was once a strength now truly sucks
12. Oakland A’s (8)
Whenever you lose a guy named Griffin, it hurts
13. San Francisco Giants (9)
Thought guy in kayak in McCovey Cove was Maytag repairman
14. Los Angeles Dodgers (10)
Opposition pitchers undergo Tommy John, GM Colletti may sign him
15. St. Louis Cardinals (13)
These guys will stay mid-pack until Sept. 1 then make move up or down
16. Arizona Diamondbacks (16)
Snakes made a move now slithering back through wild-card standings
17. New York Mets (18)
The old Terry Collins would have snapped long ago
18. Boston Red Sox (17)
There has been no bump with Ellsbury and Crawford back
19. Seattle Mariners (19)
Maybe their young hitters just aren’t that good
20. Toronto Blue Jays (20)
What happens in Vegas, uh, plays in Toronto
21. Milwaukee Brewers (21)
Wisconsin cheeseheads looking forward to Packers
22. Minnesota Twins (22)
Will be showcasing Morneau for final two months
23. Miami Marlins (24)
Promises unfulfilled will make season tickets a tough sell
24. Philadelphia Phillies (25)
Planning off-season rebuilding of offence — which was not good
25. Cleveland Indians (23)
A quest called Tribe. Losing streak buried them
26. San Diego Padres (26)
They like the way they’re finishing for future
27. Kansas City Royals (28)
Have some tremendous young arms in the bullpen
28. Chicago Cubs (27)
Lucky for Theo, Wrigleyville more patient than Red Sox Nation
29. Colorado Rockies (29)
If you added altitude of Denver to fan optimism it’d be sea-level
30. Houston Astros (30)
Brad Mills texted Nigerian Olympic basketball coach for advice
The early leader in the clubhouse as ace of the Team Canada rotation if they qualify for the World Baseball Classic next spring would be Twins’ LH Scott Diamond (Guelph) who tossed his fourth straight quality start vs. the Rays and is 10-5, with a 2.97 ERA... How much money is Rangers’ C Mike Napoli costing himself heading into free agency. After boosting his stock as a catcher in the post-season last year, he has drifted on and off of the DL – currently on with a strained quadriceps—and has slumped at the plate. The Rangers acquired C Geovany Soto from the Cubs... After batting .177 in July, CF Josh Hamilton, a recovering addict, gave up smokeless tobacco and his August average stands at .319... RH Yu Darvish won his 12th game on the weekend, tying the Rangers’ record for a rookie. But he has only posted two wins and three quality starts since July 1... another 20-year-old is making an immediate impact. This time it’s O’s 3B Manny Machado. The phenom hit three home runs vs. the Royals on the weekend. “The scouting reports we got said he had a couple of holes in his swing, but we couldn’t find them,” Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters. “He hurt us. He won two games for them against us with homers. He hit the ball to centre field. He hits the ball to left field. He doesn’t miss a hanger.”... It didn’t take long for Rays’ RH Fernando Rodney to have his club record 22 straight scoreless relief innings tied. Rodney had his streak broken by Jays’ 1B David Cooper. LH J.P. Howell toed by him on Friday... M’s LH Justin Vargas was a roommate of Angels’ RH Jered Weaver at Long Beach St. University. On Sunday, Vargas beat his friend for his 13th win. Weaver has 15 Ws... Tigers’ 1B Prince Fielder is hitting .310 and is on pace to strike out fewer than 100 times for the first time in his career. He says it’s because he’s focusing on contact and going to the opposite field more. Is that really what the Tigers are paying a quarter of a billion dollars for... the A’s have demoted closer Ryan Cook, whose demise started with back-to-back blown saves vs. the Jays on ninth inning homers by C Jeff Mathis and 1B David Cooper. Ryan had blown four saves in 8 games. The role will be taken over by RH Grant Balfour who has the most saves by an Australian in history, taking over that honour from former Jays’ LH Graeme Lloyd... My kind of ballplayer. A’s 3B Brandon Inge, who dislocated his shoulder during the game on Saturday, popped it back into place himself and delivered an RBI single his next at-bat. Unfortunately the next morning it was killing him and he turned himself in to trainers. He missed Sunday’s game and will likely be DL’d... Indians RH Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has completed his identity fraud suspension and will be activated against the Angels on Wednesday — or as he likes to call it, Thursday. Fantasy League owners will be delighted to know that Tribe C Carlos Santana played three innings in left field during their 14-1 pasting by the Red Sox on.
It was one of the feel-good stories of the year, as RH Jim Henderson, a 29-year-old Calgary native who has toiled in the minor leagues for 10 seasons was called up to the majors with Milwaukee for the first time. Nashville Sounds manager Mike Guerrero, son of former Jays’ scout Epy, was the architect of the plan. Guerrero had a team meeting after the game to get to the bottom of a complaint by some ladies behind the bullpen against a Sounds player and all they knew was he was Canadian. A befuddled, worried Henderson was told that the police were there to investigate. At the end of the team meeting, it was “and you’ve been called up to the big leagues.” … 3B Pablo Sandoval completed a three-game rehab stint at A-San Jose and may be ready to return as early as Monday... The defending World Series champion Cards are 17-32 in one- and two-run games under first-year manager Mike Matheny... Uh-oh, it seems GM Mike Rizzo has decided that there is now no official innings limit for RH Stephen Strasburg after all. It was originally believed that because he is in his first full season after Tommy John surgery that he would be shut down at 180. Not so fast, said Rizzo. Stay tuned... 1B Ryan Howard homered for the first time in a week on Sunday and, amazingly, because it seems just yesterday he was a rookie, Howard is at 293 career homers... I remember seeing C Erik Kratz as one of the early guys at Blue Jays camp year after year, lined up in the bullpen catching one of the eight guys lined up and popping gloves. He was one of those organization-depth guys. Well, on Sunday Kratz slammed a 3-run homer for the Phillies. He entered the season with 11 career at-bats at age 32... Here’s one that’s hard to figure out for the Colorado Rockies. The Rox are 3-16 on Saturdays and 3-16 on Sundays this year. The Rockies are 35-39 on weekdays. The only other similar inexplicable streak of lack of success on weekends may be Mike Weir... On the weekend, SS Hanley Ramirez made his return to Miami with his new team the Dodgers. Ramirez grew up with the Marlins but was bumped from his position by the arrival of Jose Reyes as a free agent. He stepped to the plate on Friday to face LH Mark Buehrle. “I kind of stepped back just to give him his moment, I guess, to tip his hat, but he got booed too much, he couldn’t even do that,” Buehrle said. Ramirez banged out three hits... For those that thought the Jays were having offensive problems, the Cubs are 1-11 in the last 12 games and have been outscored 60-31. They have three rookies in the lineup, 1B Anthony Rizzo, CF Brett Jackson and 3B Josh Vitters.
Some fans are simply never wrong. The fact is you can’t have it both ways. I’m getting tired of those fans that a month ago insisted the Jays please give up on contending for a wild-card in 2012. They believed the Jays were being delusional in their belief that they were still in the hunt. They said, “Bring up all the young players from Triple-A Las Vegas so that fans at the Rogers Centre can be excited by a two-month glimpse of the future.” These fans insisted the Jays were sticking it to loyal fans by staying with retreads like Aaron Laffey and some veteran relievers.
Those fans wanted all the young players they had been hearing so much about to come up from the minors and get ready for contention in 2013. Well, folks, the kids are here and if a 1-5 work week with 10 runs scored and a .168 batting average over their five-game losing streak, ending on Sunday, is your idea of entertainment, then you’ve got it. But wait, now it seems many of those same fans have changed direction again. Now they are wailing and gnashing their teeth that the current free-fall through the standings is a sign that the general manager has failed, that fans have been lied to again by the organization and that contention is another three-or-four years away. You can’t have it both ways.
The Jays have brought up all of those many young players mostly because of injuries to position players Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie, plus nagging injuries to Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar, plus the trading of Travis Snider and Eric Thames, deals for big arms in the bullpen. Manager John Farrell reached into his pocket for the white flag but it has already been ripped from his hands. Surrender for 2012 was unavoidable. That makes this a writeoff as far as the wild-card, but does it make the total season a total failure?
The first four months were about hanging around the periphery of contention, looking for, hoping for a win streak to put them firmly in the hunt. That never happened. The final two months will be about seeing which young players will be ready to help in 2013. The W-L record will be secondary. If you believed the Jays should go for a wild-card, then stick with your guns. If you believed they should bring up the youngsters then live with it. But don’t just look at the results and rip whatever happens.
The young players are not ready but are showing snippets of what they can do in the future. Adeiny Hechavarria races behind the mound and bare hands a Derek Jeter googly, firing a throw that nips him but he is called safe. Then playing shortstop, the kid dives in the hole and almost throws out Curtis Granderson. He has struggled at the plate, but he’s learning. Anthony Gose takes a game-ending fly ball in deep centre field and throws a rope to the plate that arrives just a second late and nobody notices as the M’s are celebrating a walk-off. But it was a great throw. When Gose learns the strike zone, he’ll be a player. Young prospect C Travis D’Arnaud was injured mid-season or he would be here in the absence of Arencibia. Instead Jeff Mathis has become the everyday catcher and the dropoff from Arencibia’s offence combined with the other youngsters is glaring.
Who knows what the final record for the Jays will be, but in hindsight the biggest mistake GM Alex Anthopoulos made in the off-season was in believing that his starting pitching on-hand was already good enough and deep enough at the upper levels of the minors that he didn’t have to add anyone of significance last winter. He realizes he miscalculated. He’s already talking about more pitching, so ending his third season of team-building he claims it seems he’s learning as well. Of course now those same fans will be whining that he should be talking about offence.
THIS WEEK IN BASEBALL HISTORY
8/13/45 Branch Rickey joins with Walter O’Malley and John Smith to purchase 50 per cent of the Brooklyn Dodgers for $750,000. Rickey is considered the principal owner and a year later signs Jackie Robinson in the great experiment to integrate baseball... 8/13/79 Lou Brock of the Cardinals, regarded as primarily a base-stealer, collects his 3,000th hit against Dennis Lamp and the Cubs... 8/14/68 Charles Bronfman and a group of Montreal businessmen send a down payment cheque to the NL, considered the birthday of the Expos... 8/14/33 Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics hits for the cycle with 9 RBIs in an 11-5 win vs. the Indians... 8/15/75 Earl Weaver, the banty rooster manager of the O’s is thrown out of the first game of a doubleheader by umpire Ron Luciano and then the second game while exchanging lineup cards... 8/15/89 Dave Dravecky of the Giants is making his second start back from cancer treatment at Olympic Stadium when a sickening crack is heard as he breaks his arm on a pitch to Tim Raines. The lefthander eventually loses his arm... 8/16/20 Ray Chapman, a pesky 29-year-old shortstop is hit in the head by a fastball from side-arming right-hander Carl Mays. Chapman dies the next day, still the only on-field major-league fatality in history... 8/16/84 Pete Rose on a road trip to San Francisco with the Expos, sneaks down the back stairs of the team hotel, jumps into a cab to the airport and appears at a press conference in Cincinnati the next day where he becomes player-manager of the Reds. It’s listed as a trade for Tom Lawless... 8/17/57 Richie Ashburn, known for his fabulous bat control, breaks the nose of a fan named Alice Roth with a foul ball then hits here again on a stretcher as she is being carted out. It turns out she was the wife of the Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor... 8/18/65 Henry Aaron homers onto the pavilion roof at Sportsmans Park in St. Louis vs. Curt Simmons but is called out for not being in the batter’s box by umpire Chris Pelekoudas... 8/18/67 Tony Conigliaro considered the game’s next Golden Boy, is felled by a Jack Hamilton fastball that shatters his eye socket. Tony C misses the rest of the year and all of ‘68. When he returns he is never the same... 8/18/95 Tom Henke of the Cardinals records his 300th career save, 217 of those with the Blue Jays... 8/19/09 The Phillies are rained out for a record 10th straight day... 8/19/51 Bill Veeck, maverick owner of the St. Louis Browns surprises the Tigers with a 3’8” 65 lbs. pinch-hitter, Eddie Gaedel. Even Tigers starter Bob Cain has to laugh as he walks him on four pitches. Jim Delsing enters to pinch run for No. 1/8 and two days later the commissioner bans physical midgets from playing the major-league game...although it is still populated by mental ones... 8/19/92 Bret Boone starts at second base for the M’s becoming the first third-generation major-leaguer in history. His grandfather was Ray Boone (1948-60) and his father was Bob Boone (1972-90).
Birthdays this week: 8/13 Mudcat Grant 77; 8/14 Mark Fidrych 58, Jim Mason 62; 8/15 Ernie McAnally 66; 8/16 Bret Barberie 45, Mike Jorgensen 64, Buck Rodgers 74; 8/17 Jorge Posada 41, Boog Powell 71; 8/18 Jeff Tam 42, Woody Williams 46, Bobby Richardson 77.
JAYS MINOR LEAGUE ROUNDUP
Triple-A Las Vegas (68-53) lost 10-8 and won 3-2 at Iowa on Sunday. RH Jesse Chavez (8-4) started and lost Game 1. LH Evan Crawford allowed 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. RH Sean O’Sullivan (13-5, 4.32) was the winner in Game 2. SS Luke Hughes was 4-for-7 with a homer in the twin bill and is hitting .267 with 4 HR and 18 RBIs. 1B Mike McDade is hitting .333 with a homer and 11 RBIs. LF Ricardo Nanitez is hitting .307, with 5 HR and 41 RBIs, which is seventh most runs driven in on the team, but the most by anyone on the roster.. AA-New Hampshire (48-73) beat Akron 3-0 on Sunday. RH Yohan Pino was the winner and is 7-7, with a 3.48 ERA. RH Sam Dyson is 1-2, with a 1.49 ERA and five saves. 2B John Tolisano had a double and homer No. 4 and is batting .253. OF Brad Glenn is batting .249 with 17 HR and 56 RBIs. RH Marcus Stroman is 1-0, with a 3.00 ERA. Canadian RH Trys Magnuson has 2 saves... A-Dunedin (25-23) was rained out in a doubleheader on Sunday. RH Danny Barnes is 1-2 with a 1.62 ERA and 29 saves. LF Marcus Knecht is batting .208 with 12 HR and 52 RBIs. 3B Kevin Ahrens is batting .241 with 7HR and 49 RBIs... A-Lansing (27-20) beat Great Lakes 10-6 on Sunday, a week they committed to an extension of affiliation with the Jays organization. RH Anthony DeSclafini was the winner and is 10-3, with a 2.91 ERA. LF Nick Baligood was 2-for-4 with a double and 2 RBIs and is batting .311. 1B K.C. Hobson was 2-for-5 with 2 doubles and is batting .274. CF Michael Crouse was 2-for-5 with a HR and 2 RBIs. He is batting .220. RH Ajay Meyer has a 0.97 WHIP and is 3-3, 3.75 ERA with 31 saves... A-Vancouver (34-23) beat Yakima 6-3 on Sunday. RH Roberto Osuna was the starter and winner. He is 1-0, with a 3.24 ERA. RH Andrew Sikura notched save No. 5. 1B Balbino Fuenmayor was 2-for-3 with a double, homer and is batting .274 with 39 RBIs... A-Bluefield (19-22) beat Burlington 8-0 on Sunday. On Friday manager Dennis Holmberg notched his 1,300th career win as a manager in the Jays’ system. RH Jeremy Gabryszwski is 2-1, with a 6.28 ERA. OF Jacob Anderson was 2-for-4 with a homer and is hitting .203. DH Christian Lopes was 2-for-4 and is batting .273... Rk-Blue Jays did not play on Sunday.
ONE FOR THE ROAD
The Jays’ dismal work week just completed was saved by their only win in seven days, a 10-7 victory over the Yankees. The man of the hour on Sunday was Rajai Davis with two doubles, five RBIs and only the second home-run saving catch over the 10-foot fence in stadium history. The other fence-clearing catch was by future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. of the Mariners. This was a depressing finish to the Jays’ road trip and start of the home stand, a 2-5 week. The 11 days on the road ended with a three-game sweep by the Rays at the major-league mess called Tropicana Field. Tough flight home.
The week didn’t start out so well for me, with another 11-hour travel day on Monday from San Francisco to Tampa. This may have had something to do with flying through Houston, where August bad weather is a way of life. The good news is that the Tampa International Airport is the best facility in North America. From your gate, getting off the plane to picking up your rental car and exiting the property can be as little as 20 minutes total, no more than 40 minutes, which is exceptional. In addition, clearing up sidewalk congestion, Tampa International allows you one hour free parking to pick up or wave off arriving or departing passengers, with nine floors of parking right above luggage carousels.
My first stop Monday at 11:30 p.m. coming on an off night for the Jays, upon arrival, even before checking in to my hotel was Razzels, a regular spring training hangout in Clearwater, several blocks from my hotel. Razzels is to sports journalists what Mos Eisley Cantina was to freight pilots in Star Wars. This is where as a Phils rookie, Cole Hamels got in a dust-up with a local yokel looking to protect his territory. He survived and is making millions. I survive and am, well, still a sports journalist. In any case, nothing changed for the Jays in the two night games and a day games, all losses. On the Wednesday morning, I half-heartedly drove over to the Mattick Complex in Dunedin to see if I could find Jason Frasor, since Dustin McGowan and Drew Hutchison were in Pensacola prepping for surgery and Brandon Morrow was in New Hampshire for a rehab start. I turned the corner and the only person I saw was Luis Perez out on the sidewalk basking in the sun and humidity, doing left elbow rehab extensions with a hugely long rubber bungee cord. There were three minor leaguers in the weight room when I stuck my head in. Perez said Frasor had just left. The he showed me his left elbow scar from his own Tommy John that resembled a snake swallowing a porcupine. Besides, it’s depressing-reality enough to be in the visitors clubhouse at the Trop and see the list of walking wounded come through to see their former mates — Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, Adam Lind, Perez and others.