My one Cito Moment

Well this should at least be entertaining for everyone.

Put me in any ballpark with any team and I am just happy to be there – score, seats, obnoxious Yankee fan sitting next to me…I’m cool with all of it.  I just love the game.  Put me in a stadium with the Jays though and it’s like I’m 12 again.  I’m right down there when the gates open and reach a dead sprint about ten steps into the stadium, just to get down to the dugout and watch BP and get a few autographs. 

Last year, when the Jays were going to hold the monumental reunion in Toronto, I got a tonne of stuff to bring with me and try to get signed by my childhood heroes.  Everything went great and I even managed to come back with a few spares- notably a 1992 World Series ball (I had hoped to get Jimmy Key but you can’t be everywhere at once).

This year, as with every baseball season, a bunch of my friends and I all went down to Seattle for the two days that the Jays were going to be in town.  Knowing that it was going to be Cito’s last season with the club I brought that ’92 ball just in case I could get him to scribble on it. 

Now, I like to think of myself as a very polite and understanding ball fan.  I never get in the way of little kids, I never bad mouth anyone for not sticking around for (just one more) and I always respect the fact that these guys are busy and they have a job to do/prepare for pre-game.  I wasn’t going to get my hopes up.  The other years that I’ve been around ball diamonds Cito would usually give a friendly wave and a small smile and then go about his business.

I’d arrived at Safeco with a buddy early for the first game of the series.  We managed to get a great spot right on top of the dugout and watch the pregame ritual.  Then Cito stepped into view from underneath the dugout roof talking to one of the local media guys.  Instantly the crowd of fans around me (myself included) all gave him an ovation with chants of “You’re the best Cito” and “We’re going to miss you” interwoven in the clapping.  He waved and smiled, holding a coffee cup that he’d sip every so often.  We all started asking if he wouldn’t mind signing “a shirt, a bat, a card.”  In a clear voice I asked “Cito would you mind signing this ball I have?”

He looked up at me (first reaction – Good god, this great man of Baseball is looking at me).  He raised his hand up and gave me a bit of a nod.  I then gave that coveted ball a light but perfect toss straight to his hand.

His smile disappeared as he caught the ball.  He looked at me and said “I’ve still got my coffee here.” 

Silence, the fans on either side of me who were within earshot looked at me as my jaw dropped and my heart made a ball sized hole in the Safeco field concrete. 

“You know you’re supposed to wait until I point to you.”

Apologies started spilling from my mouth frantically in a giant ramble that could hardly be considered a sentence.

“I’m so sorry I thought you were trying to get me to toss the ball down I hope you didn’t spill your coffee I didn’t mean to I’ve just been saving this ball for a while and…”

He disappeared under the cover of the roof just long enough to set down his cup and then gestured to me to toss down a pen.  He looked at the ball with the official red printing and logo, gave it a bit of a smile and then gave it a well aimed toss back up to me.  “Thank you so much Cito.  I’m really sorry about that.”  He brushed it off with a bit of a wave and then gradually worked his way through the throng that had gathered around me as he signed autographs for a good ten minutes before getting back to the business at hand.

My jaw was still on the floor.  I turned to my friend “I thought he wanted me to toss him the ball.”  “It’s okay dude I thought he did too, besides he smiled after.”  A couple of more voices piped up that they might have made the same mistake (one of them was one of the Mariners employees stationed on top of the dugout) which made me feel a lot better. 

One of the things that has always struck me throughout the years of being a Jays fan is the respect that Cito commands.  He has brought out the best in his players and team as a whole, fans of the Jays and he alike, and, in some ways, he has helped bring out the best in the game in a Canadian cities coast to coast.  As a result, he is sometimes revered, sometimes criticized (as all people in sports are) but always respected.  For all that you’ve done to make baseball exciting in Canada, and especially for one fan, thank you Cito.  The Hall is waiting for you.

“Strasberg Era” Puts New Name to an Old Trend.

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July 29, 2010


A quick diversion from Jays news


There is no denying that Steven Strasburg has done some remarkable
things in his first five starts with the Washington Nationals.  After fanning 14 batters in his first start
against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the soon to be 22 year old rookie right hander
has gone on to average 9 punch outs per game on his way to an impressive 48
batters retired at the plate.  The hype
in the US capital is certainly deserved as this kid is one of the few things
they’ve had to cheer about since the team moved from Montreal in 2004 having
never posted a winning season in DC (their best recorded finish was 81 and 81
in 2005).  The hype around his skill
throughout the leagues is understandable too when considering the potential of
a player who can pitch 100 mph late into games bringing up visions of a Randy
Johnson or Sandy Koufax style pitcher in the making.  However, to call his entry into the League an
‘Era’ unto itself seems at least a bit premature and at most overstated when
putting him within the broader scope of today’s Major League aces.

In baseball, as with many things in life, there are definable
patterns and shifts in mentality that recur over the seasons as prospects
become available for active play and as the game itself evolves.  In 1995, Hideo Nomo entered the Major Leagues
with the Los Angeles Dodgers with the aura of hype similar to what currently
surrounds Strasberg.  Nomo’s hurricane
styled delivery baffled major league batters making him one of the game’s most
exciting pitchers at a time when baseball was still suffering the effects of a
player’s strike that prematurely ended the ’94 season.  Nomo’s 13-6 record, 2.54 ERA and 236
strikeouts (second only to Greg Maddux) were enough to get him a Rookie of the
Year nod and were a large part of the Dodgers finishing on top of the NL
West.  However, after a few season’s
dominance and reels of tape study, Nomo lost his edge, eventually bouncing
around from team to team and retiring in obscurity after being cut by Kansas
City in 2008.

As much as Nomo could be seen as a cautionary tale for
putting too much emphasis on a single rookie he was also part of a trend within
the Majors that saw teams shopping to put together pitching rotations that
could win games by holding down the explosion of offensive power that had
gradually climbed since the late 80s. 
Pitchers like Randy Johnson, David Cone, Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina
were all a part of that trend and all of whom saw action in different clubs
often making playoff runs with different teams as clubs tried to build on
starters who could go late into games and hold low ERAs.  Mussina and Cone both put together impressive
campaigns with the Orioles and Mets respectively before Cone was traded to the
Blue Jays (where he won a Championship in 1992) and the two found themselves as
members of the New York Yankees during times when the Bombers needed
pitchers.  Maddux, who started his career
in Chicago, found post-season glory as a member of the Braves while Randy
Johnson (best known for his time with the Mariners) with Curt Schilling
(formerly of Philadelphia) made up one of the most devastating 1-2 rotations in
history with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The late 90’s and first seasons of the new millennium saw the
fan focus shift back to the lineup and the homerun ball.  After all, it didn’t matter how many times
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire struck out in 1998, the point was that home runs
sold tickets and record breaking numbers meant huge business.  Barry Bonds extended the long-ball hype but
by that time the cat had long been out of the bag with congressional hearings,
tell-all books and random tests proving that the game’s biggest hitting names
had used steroids and had betrayed all that was holy in America’s pastime.  And so Major League Baseball suddenly found
itself in crisis mode again in a schism between fan and player that echoed from
the dark days in 1994.  Re-enter the
pitching gods.

Since the retirement of so many of the MLBs most renowned
power hitters (juicers) and the advent of a drug testing policy that has
placated Congress, the fan and team focus has again shifted back to the
starting pitcher.  In the past 4 seasons
team batting averages have slowly dropped alongside team ERAs and the number of
teams hitting more than 200 HR in a season. 
What we see now is an era, not defined by a single talent but by a new
generation of pitchers who are charged with reinvigorating faith in the game
and taking away the focus from the scandals of the past.  Veteran pitchers like those mentioned above
have been replaced by new battle hardened names like Halladay, Sabathia and
Carpenter while the rookies have included Lincecum, Jimenez, Greinke and now
Strasberg.  Since 2007 there has been
only passing mention made at who might be able to surpass Barry Bonds’ asterisk
while Cy Young candidates have become media and fan darlings.  It is true that Strasberg has some amazing
potential and that if he realizes it over the course of his career he may well
be a historic pitcher.  However, five
starts is hardly a measure for a career or deserving of the moniker given to
the era of baseball into which he has arrived.  
While I wish Strasberg every success throughout his career (god knows
the Nats need him) the era is still left wanting for a defining role model at
least, that is, until pitching stats can transcend an asterisk.

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And So, We Meet Again!

July 25, 2010

     Well today’s loss stung a bit.  Yes, it would have been nice if the Jays offense could have made it a close battle.  It would have been nice if Jesse Litsch could have duplicated his previous start and produced an epic pitching battle in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’  Still, deep down in the hearts of all Blue Jays fans today’s outcome is far from unexpected.  We all knew that ‘Doc’ would settle into his trademark pitching groove from which no emotional connection could possibly shake him.  We wanted to see him go to the mound every inning with the same stoic determination and stalwart focus that we had all come to admire in his years in Toronto.  Dare I say it, many of us wanted to see him win today.
     I know that may be a bit of a tough one to swallow but reach deep down and many of you, I’m sure, will find that you wanted to see Roy win today even at the expense of the Jays.  We have all watched his season progress in Philadelphia with happiness and heartache.  We celebrated with him when he finally had his perfect game, we felt sorry for him when Philly couldn’t buy a run over 36 innings.  Today, we hardly rejoiced at the the 9-0 pounding that the Jays received, but I’m sure a few of us Jays fans out there smiled a little when, catching the end of the day’s highlights, thinking to ourselves “He’s doing alright over in the NL East.”  Sure it’s not the success that we had hoped he would have had in Toronto, but we wanted him to do well and we still do.  We wanted to see the same fire behind every pitch that had characterized his time in Skydome.  We wanted to see him plow through innings like he used to do for us.  Sure it’s painful, and we hate when the Jays lose, but today’s loss really couldn’t have come from a better guy and we know it! 
      Cheers ‘Roy!’  Even though it’s hard to swallow, we’re glad you’re doing so well!