The Bullpen: Steroid era cost Pat Hentgen earned runs, wins
YEAR 2 VOLUME XXVII, AUG. 12, 2013
PAT HENTGEN OFFERS OPINIONS ON HIS JOB, TOUGH CATCHERS, STEROIDS AFFECTING HIS CAREER AND THE HALL OF FAME
RICHARD GRIFFIN: This time around, you seem to be enjoying (bullpen coach) a little more than you did two years ago. Is that the case and if so, what are some of the reasons?
PAT HENTGEN: I think that coming into this year I knew what to expect, doing it in 2011. Then sitting out 2012, I realized how much I missed it. I’ve always been involved with the organization, but at this level, this full-time capacity, it’s a big commitment and I think the biggest thing is that I did it in ’11, I knew what to expect in ’13. Obviously knowing Gibby is a big influence as well.
RG: Did that year (2012), where you got to see some of the organization’s top pitching prospects (as a roving instructor), was that good for you also to see what’s coming?
PH: Oh, absolutely. There’s no doubt, the small roving role that I’ve had over the last five out of seven years I think has been valuable, being able to have a relationship with some of these guys and have a background and a little bit of a history with each guy. So, it’s big.
RG: And your girls are good on it now. I mean you wanted to see some high school sports or whatever (that off year) but everyone’s good now?
PH: That’s all good. Actually when (the Jays) called me to come back this year, the first thing I said to my girls, individually, I asked them, ‘What do you think? Dad has a chance to get back into coaching. What do you guys think?’ And all three gave me the same answer, which I thought was neat and they didn’t know I was asking the other ones. It was, ‘Oh yeah dad, we love Toronto. We thought it was really cool.’ So that was neat.
RG: You played during the Steroid Era. Do you, in hindsight, think that it may have cost you money, or stats, or sleepless nights that some of these guys were not competing on a level playing field?
PH: Well, you saw my whole career. I was scored upon a lot on home runs. So do I think I gave up more runs because of the Steroid Era? There’s no doubt. I feel like I did. But we weren’t testing at that time. It stinks. I still preach this all the time, the fact that it was an illegal drug on the street, why should MLB have to test for it. It just goes without saying that you shouldn’t be doing it. It is frustrating to look back at the era that I played in and I wish we could have been more verbal, but it’s the old ratting somebody out. Do you really want to rat out a player? Do you really want to rat out a teammate and be that guy and take on all that extra p.r. and all that pub or do you want to just blend in and go with the flow? When I look back on it, no question about it, I definitely gave up more runs, I definitely feel like it cost me more earned runs and it cost our team more runs because of it.
RG: In my mind and it seems you’re of an opposite mind. In my mind, as a Hall of Fame voter, I was prepared to differentiate between post-’04 cheating in terms of that they know there is mandatory testing and it makes it different, worse, somehow. And in my mind, nobody from that post-’04 era that has cheated would get in, compared to pre-’04. But now you’re saying that if it’s illegal on the street why shouldn’t it be illegal in baseball, so do you lump everyone together in terms of Hall of Fame?
PH: If I had a Hall of Fame vote, I would do it simply like this. If you were caught in a drug test and you were caught positive, you’re out. If you admit to doing it, you’re out. That would be the first thing. And the other thing is, you know, if I take my daughter to the Hall of Fame and we’re walking through the museum and she’s 12 years old and she’s asking, ‘Dad, why is there an asterisk by this player’s name?’ And I have to explain to her that well he was a PED user. ‘What’s PED?’ Well, it’s performance-enhancing drugs. ‘What does that mean?’ Well it’s like steroids. She’s going to look at me with her innocent 12-year-old eyes and say, ‘And they let him in, dad? Why would they let him in? Isn’t this the Baseball Hall of Fame?’ So that’s the way I would answer that and that’s the way that I would vote if I had a vote.
RG: Should the Hall of Fame be concerned that only about 34 Hall of Famers showed up for the ceremony this year? I know there were no live inductee players, but it seemed like a silent protest. Do you think it will get worse if all these Hall of Famers have that same feeling about cheaters voted in.
PH: Well you know it’s obvious. They’ve all come out and been very verbal about it, the fact that they don’t want anybody in that’s used it or been caught using it. I don’t know if it’s a silent protest, but it very well could be.
RG: I talked to you about this years ago and I laugh now when I recall our conversation in Baltimore (as a player) about your disdain for closers as Cy Young candidates and now you’re sitting in a bullpen full of potential closers. Have you come to grips with that dislike of relievers or do you laugh about that now or do you still believe the Cy Young should be a starters award and relievers should have their own award?
PH: I still believe that. And I preach to the guys down there, whether you pitch the fifth inning or the ninth inning, you guys are all closers. You have to close out the inning when Gibby calls upon you. That’s the mentality that we like to have, but as far as winning the Cy Young Award, there’s no doubt, I’ll still go on the record and say it. I think that award should go to a starting pitcher and I think that the relief pitchers should have their own award for that type of status.
RG: Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has suggested that the BBWAA install a Mariano Rivera Award for the best relief pitcher. Would you be for that?
PH: That’s fine, yeah. That’s a great call. The guy’s been as steady as there is and he’s the all-time saves leader, so that makes a lot of sense to me.
RG: Just a change of topic. J.P. Arencibia got a lot of heat, a lot of questions about his knee and whatever. But you’re one who thinks he’s one of the toughest guys on this team, maybe in the league. What are some of the things that people don’t know that he’s played through that demonstrates that toughness that we don’t see?
PH: I think the one thing is that he’s not a guy who’s going to go into the training room all the time and complain about a little minor injury. He seems to just play over it and overcome it and that’s what it takes to be an everyday player. J.P. obviously when he broke his hand (last year) he finished the inning. I know in his minor league career he’s always been historically really durable. And, again, in the big leagues, he’s been very durable as well. It’s an important part of the position. As a catcher you have to be able to answer the bell and he’s done a great job of that.
RG: There was one incident earlier, I think he got hit and he was the only catcher available and you were talking about that earlier in the year, where he stayed in the game even though he was likely more hurt than people thought.
PH: Oh, no doubt. I know what you’re talking about. It was Fernando Rodney hit him in the hand in an extra-inning game when he was the last catcher on the roster. I remember sitting in the bullpen thinking wow, what’s going to happen if J.P. can’t answer the bell. Of course he answered the bell and finished the game. That’s just one classic example of a guy who’s tough. I look back at the catchers that I had, They were all tough. Pat Borders was tough. I remember a visit (Mike) Matheny gave me (on the mound) in St. Louis when he came out to me and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Arghhhhh, I ca-aant bre. . . I took a ball off my . . .’ He couldn’t even talk. He needed a few minutes because he took a foul ball off his Adam’s Apple, stayed in the game, nobody in the stadium knew. I don’t even think he told the trainer or the manager. I think I was the one that came in and told the trainer. So you have to be tough to play that position, there’s no question.
RG: Baseball, well any sport, but baseball in particular seems to create an ability for friendships to last forever in terms of you don’t need constant contact. You see somebody after a year, two years and it’s like you’re just picking up where you left off. How do you explain something like that?
PH: Transient. I think most of the guys were very transient, very mobile people. We’re used to living in hotels, we’re used to moving around. Every four days we’re packing the bag and moving on. As a player for 10 years in this city, I saw a lot of different players. When I look back on the connections that I have, yes I have a lot of connections with the players that I played with, but some of the guys I got close to were the Jeff Rosses of the world, the Kevin Malloys, (both men, long-time caretakers of the home clubhouse) because they were here. They were steady. They were here every day. You ask a guy like Darren Oliver. He has a connection with all the trainers that he played with because of the fact they were there the whole year. They’re not getting moved around, they’re not getting traded. It’s a hard-core business and it’s cold at times.
RG: Just the last question. You’re around this club every day. What do you see for fans to be encouraged moving forward to 2014? What has improved. I mean we know what suffered earlier in the season, but what do you see as improved, as signs of hope in 2014?
PH: I think, obviously, the core of the players, the youth of Rasmus, Lawrie; Reyes is electric. Jose (Bautista) is in his prime. Edwin’s just been a stud all year. There’s a good core of players and then you’ve got the bullpen that coming into spring training was going to be a downfall, or a supposed question mark and ended up being somewhat of a strength. Then there’s some up-and-coming youth out there as well, so that’s where you’re going to have to build the team in 2014.
THE ESSAY — PLAYOFF RACES TAKE SHAPE, 30 DEGREES OF SEPARATION
As so often transpires following the major-league trade deadline, at the end of July, there has emerged a distinct and genuine separation between what might be considered contenders and those that are pretenders. The gap is widening, with many of the sketchier teams, some of whom may have believed they were real threats for a wild-card, finding out they are truly not. That cold water splash to what had been their best face forward, could lead to more August waiver deals than expected.
If the playoffs were to start today, Mon. Aug. 12 which, recall, was the actual end of the season in 1994 after the players’ strike hit the day before, here’s how the ’13 playoff would set up.
AL PLAYOFFS: The A’s and Rays are currently tied for the two wild-cards spot and those two teams would play a one-game sudden death at The Trop in St. Pete. The Rays had swept the A’s in a three-game series in April. The winner of that one game would play a Division Series against the host Tigers, starting in Detroit, while the Rangers would visit the Red Sox in the other series.
NL PLAYOFFS: The surprisingly competitive NL Central would supply the two wild-card entries with the Reds visiting the Cardinals in a one-game winner take all for the right to advance to the division series and play the Braves, starting in Atlanta. The other division series would have the Dodgers vs. the Pirates, opening in Pittsburgh.
Who’s hot? The list of the game’s hottest teams right now includes the Dodgers, Tigers, Braves and Rangers, with another surprising team joining that group, the Royals.
Kansas City has gone 16-3 since July 23, moving within 4.5 games of a wildcard berth and hard charging behind a strong effort from a starting staff led by Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields, plus an offence that seemed to benefit from George Brett’s brief tenure as hitting coach.
The Dodgers had been 12 games under .500 at 30-42 when they began their roll to the top on June 22. Amidst then-strident calls for manager Don Mattingly to be fired, the Dodgers took off. It wasn’t just Yasiel Puig, because he had already been up for three weeks, but it was also Hanley Ramirez and a starting staff that, unlike some others (e.g. the Jays) is living up to expectations. The Dodgers are 37-8 in the last 45 games since that June 22 date and have shot through the ranks to rest three games behind the Bucs for home field advantage in any playoff series of 2-3 seeds.
The Tigers are hot. They were wondering what would happen if they were to lose all-star shortstop Jhonny Peralto to suspension. As a pre-emptive move, the Tigers went out and acquired hotshot youngster Jose Iglesias from the shortstop rich Red Sox. GM Dave Dombrowski’s troops, despite a period without Triple Crown slugger Miguel Cabrera, are 17-3 since July 20 and have built a seven-game lead over the runner-up Indians, a team that had charged but has now fallen back.
The Braves are hot. They have been an amazing story, losing Tim Hudson to a gruesome ankle injury and another veteran starter, Pat Maholm. But they have cobbled together a solid rotation and relied on the game’s most dynamic young shortstop, Andrelton Simmons and its best young closer, Craig Kimbrel. Atlanta has won 15 of 16 games since July 25 and has built a 14.5 game division lead over the disappointing Nationals. Their goal to keep them focused will be to capture the NL’s top seed.
The Rangers are hot. They are another team, like the Tigers, that had to be wondering about the loss of a Biogenesis casualty, the important right-fielder Nelson Cruz. First they bolstered the rotation with a trade for Matt Garza from the Cubs, then they tapped into an apparent Windy City exodus, grabbing outfielder Alex Rios in an August waiver deal with the White Sox for a player to be named. Additions at the deadline and beyond are sometimes underrated in what they can mean, mentally, to the players in a major-league clubhouse and in this case, the Rangers seem to have been inspired, going 12-1 since July 28 and taking over the AL West division lead.
Teams that in July may have also had aspirations towards contending but have now, realistically fallen into the also-ran abyss, include the Yankees, Blue Jays and Angels in the AL, plus the Nats, Phillies, Rockies and Giants in the senior circuit. Wait until next year.
In reality, this season there seem to be fewer teams that will be around and have a chance as September winds down. Outside of the five teams currently holding down playoff spots, the realistic AL contenders include only the Orioles, Indians and Royals—so eight of the 15 teams. In the NL there are even fewer legitimate contenders for the post-season. Outside of the five that are holding the spots right now, only the Diamondbacks are even above .500.
Sure, with around 45 games remaining one of the other teams in either league could get really hot and insert themseelves back into the conversation, but if they haven’t done it by now . . .
BLUE JAYS CORNER
THE WEEK THAT WAS (1-1 at M’s; off day; 1-2 vs. A’s)
The week that was finished up a 10-game current road trip with a split in Seattle and a 1-2 mark vs. the A’s following an off-day Thursday spend recovering from the West to East flight on Wednesday night. The schedule winds down every day with the Jays giving no indication of another win streak.
Highlights of the M’s final two games of the series:
The Jays continued to thrill the largely partisan Canadian crowd at Safeco on Tuesday, with a 7-2 victory over the M’s giving them the first two games of the series. Jose Reyes led off with a home run on the first pitch against Felix Hernandez. It was the 18th homer of his career leading off a game.
Nobody in the building believed that would be enough support for a struggling Josh Johnson, who had allowed four first-inning runs in his previous two starts and was looking for his second win of the year. But, with catcher Josh Thole behind the plate for the first time, Johnson weaved his way through five shutout innings, relieved after 86 pitches to ensure a feel-good finish.
The Jays broke it open with three in the fourth keyed by an Emilio Bonifacio double and a Reyes single, followed by two more in the fifth, snapping a win streak for King Felix. At 5-4 for the trip, the Jays had a chance with a day game on Wednesday to have a winning coast trip.
It was a tough day for the Jays, disappointing their fans losing 9-7 as they had built up a 7-2 lead after three innings for J.A. Happ in his comeback start. But he threw too many pitches in too few innings and the bullpen was not ready to take over in time to stem the M’s tide in the fifth inning.
The six-run fifth began with an error by Brett Lawrie at third base. After Kyle Seager singled, Aaron Loup began to warm up in the bullpen, but before he could get ready, Happ had allowed a double to Kendrys Morales and had walked Mike Morse. He left with the bases-loaded and a 7-4 lead.
Michael Saunders beat out a double play ball, then Justin Smoak tied the game with a two-run double. The light-hitting catcher Humberto Quintero slammed a two-run homer off Loup to provide the difference in the game ending the road trip at 5-5.
Highlights of the A’s first three games:
The Jays are making a habit of playing clunkers in the opening games of series, losing 14-6 in the first game back from the trip following the off-day. Starter Esmil Rogers lasted just three innings and allowed seven runs keyed by homers to Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie and Yoenis Cespedes.
Reddick added two more homers in support of RHP Jarrod Parker who went six for the win. Jays’ LHP reliever Juan Perez left the game with an elbow injury. As for Rogers, it seems likely he has hit a wall of innings pitched and they may give him one more start, but he may be done for this year.
In the second game, the Jays bounced back with a 5-4 win, as closer Casey Janssen, handed a two-run lead in the ninth, allowed a leadoff homer to Reddick, followed by singles to Alberto Callaspo and Coco Crisp. Janssen nipped the lead runner at third base on a bunt and Janssen settled down for save No. 21. Jose Bautista hit a two-run homer in support of starter Mark Buehrle (8-7).
Buehrle needs 49.2 innings in his final eight scheduled starts to reach 200 innings for the 13th consecutive season. He has made 421 starts in a row without a trip to the disabled list.
The Jays went to R.A. Dickey on Sunday to try and take the lead in the unusual four-game series that concludes Monday afternoon with Happ on the hill. Dickey looked good until his bugaboo, the longball came to the fore in the sixth inning. Josh Donaldson tied the game with a single, then Brandon Moss homered to centre for the 3-1 lead. The Jays tied it up in the bottom of the sixth, but LH Darren Oliver coughed up three runs, all with two outs in the eighth inning to take the loss.
The Jays, as they have all year, did not go gently, scoring a run and loading the bases in the ninth against closer Grant Balfour, before Jose Reyes ended the game with a grounder to second base.
JUAN URIBE AND DODGERS FALL FOR HIDDEN BALL TRICK
As magic tricks go it does not quite match up to making the Statue of Liberty disappear, but in terms of baseball, the Hidden Ball Trick is as good as it gets. The trick is to get a live baseball into the glove of an innocent looking infielder who stands near a base runner. As he takes his lead or just takes a foot off the bag, he is tagged out and the ball flashed to an umpire. You hardly see it anymore because, there are so many players and umpires calling timeout that the opportunity is never there to pass a live baseball between players. That did not stop the Rays from doing it on Saturday vs. the Dodgers.
In the fourth inning, bases loaded, nobody out, A.J. Ellis hit a sac-fly to centre. Wil Myers hit the cutoff man James Loney in the middle of the infield as all three runners moved up. Loney quickly flipped the ball out near shortstop to Yunel Escobar who casually flipped it to Evan Longoria several steps behind third base and behind the runner, Juan Uribe and coach Tim Wallach. As Wallach stepped away from explaining the game situation, Uribe moved his foot off the bag and Longoria slapped the tag on him. Very rare but it used to be a staple before every ball was thrown out of play with every batter.
BAUTISTA TOUCHED BY THE DEATH OF A YOUNG FAN
We already knew that Jose Bautista was an emotional player, but on Friday when Steve Lendosky, the father of a nine-year-old boy who had been killed in a tragic accident in Wisconsin sent @joeybats19 a tweet telling him about the death and that his son Derek was going to be buried in his Bautista 19 jersey with a baseball in his hands, the Jays’ star right-fielder was touched.
Bautista re-tweeted the tragic news from the family and then dedicated his Friday night game to the memory of young Derek. Steve Lendosky heard about the Bautista dedication from other mourners at the Friday funeral and the news of Jose’s emotional reaction was added to a Facebook page that had already been dedicated to its followers doing random acts of kindness in Derek’s memory.
“It’s part of the healing process for me,” Lendosky told The Star.
CANNON CUP IS A HIDDEN GEM OF YOUNG BASEBALL TALENT
The Cannon Cup is forever the final tournament of the year for the Ontario Baseball Association (OBA) and its province-wide affiliates, taking place every year in Oakville. All-star teams of 16-18 year-old boys from around Ontario compete for the trophy named in memory of the late Mike Cannon, an ardent supporter of amateur baseball, an Oakville resident and the Blue Jays’ first travelling secretary back in 1977. The high quality of baseball in the Cannon Cup over the years is just another example that there is still significant talent and enthusiasm for playing baseball across the province. Teams play a round robin format starting Sept. 12, with playoffs on Sept. 15. Games are played at three Oakville diamonds (Oakville Park, Riveroaks, and Glen Abbey).
THE LIST – 30 MILLION REASONS WHY A-ROD KEEPS PLAYING
As part of Alex Rodriguez’ re-negotiated Yankees contract in 2007, there is a clause that gives him a $6 million bonus for every MLB home run mark that he will equal prior to the end of his current contract and an extra $6 million for the one that gives him the all-time lead over Barry Bonds. That comes to a total of $30 million. If A-Rod is suspended a full season in 2014 and 49 other games as per MLB’s declared intention, and after hitting his first homer since his return this year, he would seem to have three years to hit 113 homers, needing to average 38 per season. If he sits out 50 games, or even the Ryan Braun penalty of 65 games, but plays the rest of 2013 and most of 2014, he would need to average 28 per year. Following is a list of all the MLB 600+ home run hitters in history:
1. Barry Bonds 762 (A-Rod $6M to tie and $6M to pass)
2. Henry Aaron 755 (A-Rod $6M to tie)
3. Babe Ruth714 (A-Rod $6M to tie)
4. Willie Mays 660 (A-Rod $6M to tie)
5. Alex Rodriguez, 648
6. Ken Griffey, Jr., 630
7. Jim Thome, 612
8. Sammy Sosa, 609
BLUE JAYS DOWN ON THE FARM
The Jays’ minor-league system is a combined seven games above .500, despite the A-Lansing Lugnuts being 17 games below the break-even mark.
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Mauro Gomez 28; Luis Jimenez 16; Andy Laroche 11.
AA-NEW HAMPSHIRE (58-62)
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Ryan Schimpf 18; Brad Glenn 16; Adam Loewen 13.
Top 3 team home run leaders are: K.C. Hobson 16; Marcus Knecht 9; Andy Burns 8.
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Kevin Patterson 18; Dwight Smith 8; Emilio Guerrero 6.
Top 3 team home run leaders are: L.B. Dantzler 7; David Harris 2; Daniel Klein 2.
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Dawel Lugo 6; Mitch Nay 5; D.J. Davis 4.
Rk-GULF COAST JAYS (19-25)
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Franklin Barreto 4; Gabriel Cenas 3; Nathan DeSouza 2.
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE JAYS (34-23)
Top 3 team home run leaders are: Ronnie Demorizi 5; Juan Tejada 2; Four tied at 1.
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
Aug. 12:1994 — The start of the devastating work stoppage that cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904 with the Expos in first place marking the beginning of the end of the franchise in Montreal . . . 1964 For the 10th time in his career, Mickey Mantle homers from both sides of the plate as the Yankees beat the White Sox 10-3 at Yankee Stadium. The home runs came RH off Don Mossi and LH off Frank Baumann.
Aug. 13: 1979 — The Cardinal great Lou Brock singles against Dennis Lamp of the Cubs for career hit 3,000. . . . 1945 –Branch Rickey, along with business partners Walter O’Malley and John Smith purchase 50-percent of the Dodgers from the Ebbets estate for an estimated $750,000.
Aug. 14: 1971 — At 35-years-old, Cardinals legend Bob Gibson tosses his first career no-hitter at Three Rivers Stadium over the Pirates, walking three and striking out 10.
Aug. 15: 1989 — At Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Giants LH Dave Dravecky, in his second start back from cancer treatment delivers a pitch to Tim Raines. In one of the most horrible moments, devastating sounds I have witnessed in sports, his weakened arm breaks completely and he screams in pain. He never pitches again, finally being forced to have his left arm amputated . . . 1975 — O’s manager Earl Weaver is ejected in the first game of a DH and then again as lineups are exchanged for Game 2 by Ron Luciano and Richie Garcia.
Aug. 16: 1984 – 1B Pete Rose is traded from the Expos where he had played for just two-thirds of a season to the Reds for Tom Lawless. Rose had snuck down the back stairs of a San Francisco hotel the night before without telling the P.R. guy and headed to the airport . . . 1920 — In the first fatal accident in MLB history on a baseball diamond, Cleveland SS Ray Chapman is hit in the head by side-arming Yankees RH Carl Mays. In an era before helmets, his skull is fractured and he dies the next day.
Aug. 17: 1973 — Mets OF Willie Mays homers off Don Gullett of the Cincinnati Reds. It is Mays’ career HR 660 and the final one of his career . . . 1957 — Either a mere coincidence or the greatest example of a player getting back at the media, Phillies’ OF Richie Ashburn, one of the greatest in history at running up pitch counts, hits spectator Alice Roth twise with foul balls in the same at-bat. The first one breaks her nose, while the second hits her as she is being carried up the aisle on a stretcher. Alice is the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth.
Aug. 18: 1995 — Cardinals reliever RH Tom Henke earns career save No. 300 against the Braves . . . 1967 — Almost 47 years to the day after the Ray Chapman tragedy, Red Sox young star OF Tony Conigliaro is hit in the head by a sidearm delivery by Angels RH Jack Hamilton. He misses the rest of ’67 and all of ’68 and is never the same player.
MLB POWER RANKINGS (as of Aug. 11)
TEAM (Last Week, Start of Spring)
1. Atlanta Braves 4-2
2. Boston Red Sox 1-16
3. Detroit Tigers 5-7
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 3-28
5. Los Angeles Dodgers 9-5
6. Texas Rangers 12-6
7. Oakland A’s 8-8
8. St. Louis Cardinals 6-13
9. Tampa Bay Rays 2-10
10. Baltimore Orioles 7-11
11. Cleveland Indians 10-20
12. Cincinnati Reds 11-9
13. Kansas City Royals 13-18
14. New York Yankees 15-14
15. Arizona Diamondbacks 14-17
16. Washington Nationals 16-4
17. Los Angeles Angels 17-12
18. Toronto Blue Jays 19-3
19. Seattle Mariners 18-21
20. New York Mets 21-27
21. Colorado Rockies 20-25
22. San Diego Padres 23-23
23. Minnesota Twins 26-26
24. Milwaukee Brewers 27-22
25. San Francisco Giants 24-1
26. Philadelphia Phillies 22-15
27. Chicago Cubs 25-24
28. Miami Marlins 28-29
29. Chicago White Sox 29-19
30. Houston Astros 30-30
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Seattle has fast become one of my favourite road cities in baseball. Forever it has been an interesting visit, what with the Space Needle, Puget Sound, Pioneer Square, Starbucks and the original Skid Road (where the current Jays have unfortunately found themselves). But those aren’t the real reasons Seattle has moved up the road-trip popularity ladder in my eyes. It’s the travelling Jays fans.
My preference is to stay at a hotel on Pioneer Square, just a 20-minute walk to the ballpark and for the three days of the Jays series it was always an interesting amble, running the gauntlet of Jays blue jerseys, 100s of them, maybe thousands, Lawrie, Bautista, Dickey, Alomar and others — even one Kawasaki. They come out from mid-morning for breakfast, to mid-afternoon for pre-game cocktails and camaraderie, planning the nightly invasion, the hijacking of Safeco Field. When the series ends, the highway back to Vancouver becomes jammed as do the roads and entry ramps around Safeco Field.
One of the smile-inducing attractions is the non-threatening party atmosphere around the ballpark in the hours after any M’s-Jays ballgame. On Tuesday night at a bar/restaurant called Elysian Fields, a short walk from the yard, the bartender spoke fondly of his experience with Jays fans.
“You know when the Jays are in town,” he said. “They are so patient. It was very busy in here after the game and there was just two of us working. I apologized to one table and they said, ‘Don’t worry about it, do you want us to come up there and get the drinks?’ You don’t hear that a lot.”
Just as he said that, a couple of drunk Jays fans in Lawrie jerseys walked in and asked for a beer. Quietly he informed them they had missed last call, expecting an argument, even as a handful of customers sat at the bar two-fisting their final round before Fields was shut down. That is always an opportunity for jilted customers to become irate, insisting they too could finish a beer in a half-hour. But the two young fans shrugged, said ‘Thank you. We’ll find another spot,’ and I’m sure they did.
As I pointed out, it’s an interesting walk back to the hotel and as the witching hour approached, I passed a honky-tonk pubby type bar called 88 Keys Duelling Piano Bar. With music leaking out into the street and being a sucker for duelling pianos, I ducked inside for a second last call of the night.
It was a clean, well-lighted place with some 15-20 Blue Jays fans, male and female, in team paraphernalia, on the dance floor, chatting up the one-man band peppering him with song requests (none of which was the creaky Let’s Go Blue Jays). There were no locals, just the Jays fans and the musician was having fun. The young crowd was well-behaved, finally being asked to leave and probably grateful that someone had the sense to stop them before the sun came up.
Luckily my hotel was just across the street from the Keys and with a 12:37 baseball matinee on Wednesday, that 7 a.m. wakeup call was on me before I knew it, leaving me rolling over dazed and confused looking for some familiar point of reference, like Manti T’eo on a blind date.
Following Wednesday’s disappointing 9-7 loss, the Jays headed out on their team charter while I killed time until the overnight red-eye through Chicago O’Hare. Landing at Pearson on Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m., I got home to Oakville, patted my wife, kissed my dog and headed to the ballpark for an impromptu practice for several members of the Minor Midgets (’97-born) who I help to coach.
We then played a Central Ontario qualifier on the weekend, getting the job done with a big 7-6 win over Brampton and now await Labour Day weekend to play in the Ontarios in Hamilton. Baseball at all levels seems to be a job that never ends, but I would not choose it any other way.