Roy Halladay, Blue Jay

It can be hard to accept certain things are real.

One of my earliest memories of realizing I dream I had could never come to fruition was that I could never be a professional baseball player. From a young age, I played in local rec leagues and was a player of middling ability. I held out hope for far too long that one day my body would realize it could make my arm throw hard and accurate enough to be a major league pitcher. Eventually reality sunk in. I could only ever be a fan of baseball and of the Toronto Blue Jays.

I am old enough to have been alive for the Jays’ back-to-back World Series titles in the early ’90s, yet I am young enough to have only a slight memory of jumping up-and-down as Joe Carter rounded the bases. Even still, the joy of that moment is ingrained in me. I thought baseball would always be like that. I thought the Blue Jays would always be the best. Starting in 1994, they were not. The team quickly devolved into basement dwellers of the A.L. East, leaving most of the city of the Toronto uninterested in baseball as the decade wore on.

When Roy Halladay made his major league debut for the Jays in 1998, I had just started high school. Baseball had taken a backseat for me as I got introduced to the painful awkwardness of puberty and the general awfulness of, well, being in high school. My fading fandom was also because the Blue Jays didn’t give us fans many things to be excited about. The team was just there, their mediocrity matching my experience in what pop culture had long promised me were going to be the best years of my life.

Notwithstanding hormones and bullies, Roy Halladay’s second career start is one of my best memories from high school. I wasn’t at the game. I don’t even think I watched the whole game on TV. But I remember he came within one out of throwing a no-hitter. I remember he pitched a complete game with only one hit. More than anything, I remember that he gave hope. For Blue Jays fans, it looked like the team finally had a young player who really looked like something.  For me, I saw a player I could rally behind. I thought he was a little awkward and gawky looking, much like me. But his baseball talent looked unreal. You wanted Halladay to be great. And you wanted him to help the Jays win.

As many other articles being written this week will explain, Halladay’s greatness didn’t unfold overnight like we all hoped. There were times where people wrote him off as another Jays bust. I remember rooting for him to figure it out over those three years, while I myself was trying to figure out the social intricacies of being a teenager. Confounded by the latter, I put a much larger focus on being a fan of the Blue jays and a fan of Roy Halladay. I won’t rehash his underdog story here because all that really matters is, by the end of the 2001 season, Halladay was in Toronto to stay.

His legacy as a Blue Jay will not read as a literal champion, but it doesn’t have to. Roy Halladay was the Blue Jays for so many years. He was the reason you turned the game on. He was the reason fans went to the SkyDome. He was the reason you took your non-baseball fan friends to a game. Sure, the team might not amount to much this year but at least you can go watch the greatest active pitcher in his prime. He made Toronto want the Blue Jays to be good again as a reward for him – for his effort, his commitment, and his humanity.

It is a testament to Roy Halladay’s greatness on the field and and graciousness off it that we ultimately wanted him to be traded. We wanted him to go to a team where he could win on a level the Blue Jays could not. He gave his all for the team and they couldn’t hold up their end. Watching him pitch a perfect game and then a no-hitter in his first career playoff start for the Phillies certainly stung, but only for selfish, city-pride related reasons. You could only ever want Halladay to be a champion for himself in the way that he was for Toronto.

And so today I find myself having a hard time accepting that Roy Halladay is gone. He hasn’t pitched since 2013, but he has remained a larger-than-life figure in my baseball fandom regardless. Not only because he was why I went back to watching the team and sport I now enjoy beyond reason, but because he seemed to relish life after baseball so thoroughly. His Twitter was a randomly updated collection of posts and photos about spending time with his family, coaching little league baseball and learning to fly. It seemed like he wore a smile in every single photo, something he never did much of as a player. You no longer felt like you had to root for Roy Halladay.

He was at peace.

20150726_180251

Advertisements

Why Sidney Crosby shouldn’t go to the White House, in terms he can understand

If you haven’t heard, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they would be accepting an invitation to visit the White House. They did this despite Donald Trump’s expletive-filled, racially-motivated tirade about black NFL players not standing for the anthem. To make this move even more tone deaf, Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby revealed he supported the visit and thinks it’s “a great honour.”

penguins-white-house-100616-620

That Crosby said this despite everything that’s happened in the last week is not very surprising to me. Aside from ingrained white privilege, the real trouble, I think, is that Sidney Crosby does not understand life outside of hockey. Have you ever seen an interview or documentary footage from his day-to-day life? The man does not look comfortable in his own skin unless it’s adorned with a jersey, pads and skates.

So allow me to try to explain to Sidney Crosby why he shouldn’t go to the White House the only way he’ll understand: with hockey terminology.

Hey Sid, look alive now.

Going to the White House is an offside. Your team won’t be advancing the play here. It’s actually like you’ve iced the puck and you have to go all the way back down the ice. You’re as far away as possible from where you want to be.

You’ve got to understand, Sid, that as a white guy, you were born on the power play. There’s a whole lot of people out there with different colour skin who live their whole lives like they’re defending a 5-on-3. And right now, Donald Trump is doing a whole lot of unsportsmanlike conduct to make sure they stay on the disadvantage. The refs have put their whistles away and they won’t be calling any roughing on him.

If you go to the White house, that’s gonna put you in the box. And we’re not talking about a double minor here. You’re looking at a game misconduct. Heck, you could be facing a suspension. Sure, you’ll still be able to put your stick on the ice in an NHL game, but you’re not likely to find yourself playing centre in many street hockey contests.

You’re putting yourself on the away team roster here, Sid. Everyone’s rooting for the team trying to play their way out of the 5-on-3. Going to the White House is like you taking a dive to break up their shorthanded rush. You’re not going to light the lamp playing like that. Your plus-minus will take a big hit after all this.

I know politics isn’t your style of play. But it’s time for you to do some serious backchecking away from this White House visit. You’ve got a chance to change the momentum here. If you give it 110%, you just might bounce back from this.

No more bonehead plays now, eh? Let’s go.

12 Tips For Those Joining The Blue Jays Bandwagon

The Toronto Blue Jays bandwagon has gotten awfully full in the last week, thanks to them trading for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price (among others). Here are a few handy tips for appropriate etiquette when you go to a Jays game:

  1. Don’t show up in the 4th inning. The game starts in the 1st.
  2. Don’t stand up to talk to your friends in the row behind you. You’re blocking my view of the game.
  3. Rogers Centre has strict regulations around selfies. You may only take a max of 3 per game and they must be taken between innings.
  4. Don’t participate in doing “The Wave.” What are you, 8?
  5. Don’t throw stuff on the field at opposing players.
  6. Don’t throw stuff at people in the stands because they didn’t laugh at or acknowledge your sweet burn of a heckle.
  7. Don’t boo Blue Jays players when the team starts to lose. Especially when it’s the 4th inning. The game goes for at least 9 innings. The game is not over in the 4th.
  8. There are 162 games in a baseball season. Even the best teams lose around 60 or more. If the Jays lose a game, it doesn’t mean they’re “fucking garbage” and that the team needs to fire Alex Anthopolous and John Gibbons. The most likely scenario is that you are garbage.
  9. The Jays aren’t suddenly winning because they traded away Jose Reyes. He was much better than you heard on the radio and read in internet comments.
  10. If you catch a foul ball, give it to the nearest kid. Not your girlfriend. Not your wife. A kid. It’s a baseball. You will Instagram a photo of it, take it home and never touch it again. Let the kid have it.
  11. Stop cheering for Kawasaki. He sucks. He sucks so hard. You are cheering for the idea of him being Japanese and you being mildly racist.
  12. You don’t have to be black out drunk to attend weekend Jays games. Strange but true.

Follow these simple steps and you’re on your way to not being one of the terrible people at the next Jays game. Enjoy the rest of the season!

Take Me To The Nosebleeds

Full disclosure: I’m a huge baseball fan. Specifically, I’m a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan. I grew up watching the team and caught their back-to-back World Series wins at the impressionable ages of 8 and 9. Maybe that’s why hockey never took hold of me the way baseball did. I’ve always followed the Jays and the sport very closely. That’s why I like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable fan. I know there are ups and downs in every season. I know a game doesn’t end when your team falls behind in the 5th inning. I know that with a 162 game season, eve the best players and teams waver and struggle. So I feel like I can fairly say that last night, sitting in great seats in the 100 level at SkyDome, I was surrounded by the worst fans our city has to offer.

SkyDome

I should start by saying that I have season tickets, but my seat is up in the 500s. The nosebleeds. That’s where I watch the majority of the 20+ games I go to every season. I got a seat in the 100s last night thanks to my girlfriend’s parents, and it was one of the best views I’ve ever had at a Jays game. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure any of the people sitting around us were enjoying themselves. It actually seemed like they were angry that they were even there.

Up in the 500s, people tend to enjoy themselves. Sure, there are people who are paying more attention to their beer than the game. But they cheer when the Jays score. They cheer when the Jays are in a jam and the pitcher’s trying to get out of it. They may have only paid $15 for their ticket, but they want the team to win. Or maybe they just don’t really care. Maybe they just want to have a good time and that’s why they cheer. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that the people sitting down in the 100s last night wanted to be angry. They wanted the Jays to lose. Because only then would all their negative thoughts about the team and this season be confirmed and they can go around declaring their “I told you so”s. Early in the game, I heard numerous people cursing R.A. Dickey, the Jays’ starting pitcher, as he struggled to not pitch a perfect game. Even more people were bemoaning the fact that Jose Reyes, newly returned from the disabled list, didn’t get a hit every at bat. One sterling gentleman in front of us went so far as to call Reyes a “stupid fucking Puerto Rican” when he went hitless in his first two at bats. Reyes is Dominican.

But it was more than the baseless, racially-fuelled criticism of Reyes (a four-time All Star) that bothered me. It was the fact that none of the fans, if you can call them that, sitting around us seemed to want to enjoy themselves. Last night’s game was a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Which to most fans, means it’s a really exciting game. But when the Jays took the lead, I’d hear things like “this won’t last long.” When the Jays were behind in the 4th inning, I heard someone say “I told you they were going to lose.” The 4th inning! We weren’t even halfway through the game and the team had already been written off by its alleged supporters.

As is often the case in sports, the lead kept changing between teams. The Jays were ahead and then they were behind. By the 8th inning, it was no longer just Reyes that was, to use that same gentleman’s words, “a piece of shit,” it was every Jays player that failed to hit a five-run home run in every at bat. With the team was down by a score of 9-7 at the end of the 8th, the game and season was widely being decreed to be over. Many of the people seated around us left the game disgusted yet exalted by confirmation of their eternally negative mind.

Then, in the bottom of the 9th, this happened:

The Jays won thanks to a walk off hit from their best player Josh Donaldson. But it was also thanks to a key hit from Jose Reyes. Now the meatheads loved him, at least until the last player had crossed the plate. Then I heard “the Jays didn’t deserve to win that one.” They couldn’t even enjoy a win.

The way I see it, if you feel that way about the Jays and you’ve got tickets in the 100s, you don’t deserve to sit there. Paying $60 for a ticket might make you feel entitled to complain and boo the team you’re supposed to be cheering, but it doesn’t make it right. It just makes you a jackass The Jays and their players are not immune to criticism but aren’t you there to enjoy the game? I know I am. I actually want the team to win. And I’d rather sit with people who feel the same way.

Enjoy your field level views with the clueless commentary. I’ll be in the 500s.

John Madden Is Everything Wrong With Sports

I don’t know how many of you reading this are baseball fans, but I assume at least some are Will Ferrell fans. So you might have heard about him playing every position for 10 different Major League Baseball teams in one day. It’s important to point out that he was playing in Spring Training games. It’s even more important to point that he did this to raise money for charity. Because as much as this was a media stunt, it was for a good cause.

Now, I’m usually the first person to let his cynicism make him question whether he’s allowed to enjoy or approve of something like this. I’ll admit that when I first heard about Will Ferrell doing this I figured he was just doing it to promote Semi-Pro 2 or something. Or he was using his celebrity status to fulfill a childhood dream. But then I watched some video from the day.

Will Ferrell look ridiculous out there. Of course he did. He’s in his 50s. But he still made the play. And more to the point, I enjoyed watching him and clearly so did the players on all the teams. Why? Because it’s Spring Training. The games don’t mean anything. The games are meant to get players tuned up for the season. Sure, some players are competing for rosters spots, but Will Ferrell played for one out at each position. He hardly had any impact on the future of any fringe big league players. He had fun and so did they.

So why, exactly, is John Madden — former NFL head coach and current video game shill — chiming in? Because apparently he thinks what Will Ferrell did “lacks respect” for the “game.” That’s right, John Madden is complaining that a famous comedian isn’t respecting a child’s game played by adults for ludicrous sums of money.

John Madden probably doesn’t care that Ferrell raised money for cancer. Realistically, he probably doesn’t even know. The man’s a fossil that travels the country by bus because he’s afraid of flying. No, John Madden only cares about “respect.” Even though he plays in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am golf tournament which, at its core, is the same thing. But he dismisses the comparisons by saying Pebble Beach has tradition that goes way back to Bing Crosby (himself a shining example of respect).

And with that, John Madden shows why he represents everything that’s wrong with professional sports right now. All the old timers (players and media alike) constantly whine about how things aren’t like they used to be. They say there’s no respect, honour or integrity. Tradition has been forgotten.

Baseball players are too flashy, show too much emotion and look as if they are enjoying being paid millions of dollars to play for three hours a day. NHL players are soft now. There’s no grit in hockey anymore. No fighting. NFL players run their mouths during media scrums when really they should keep quiet. They talk too much shit after games. They should obey the code of silence so they don’t humiliate the losing team.

Put simply: no professional player is allowed to do anything that might give them a personality, make it seem like they enjoy their job or use all of their skill to their full potential.

As a sports fan I ask, where’s the fun in that?

We all watch sports because they are fun to watch. We watch for pimped home runs, end zone dances, emphatic dunks and even breakaway goals. We watch because players that show off are either the ones you love (when they’re on your team) or the ones you love to hate (when they’re not). We don’t watch for cliched quotes, stone faced benches and gentlemanly handshakes after a championship win.

That’s why people were excited to see Will Ferrell to play baseball. It was silly. It was harmless. It was fun.

Fans don’t care about respect. They care about enjoying the game. Something I doubt John Madden (or 95% of sports media) could ever really understand.

Hockey’s losing me or: How I gave up my Canadian passport

I was raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. So it goes without saying that I grew up watching hockey as a Maple Leafs fan. When you’re from Toronto, you’re a Leafs fan. It’s as simple as that. (Except for those weirdos who root for the Habs.) So what I’m about to say is about as sacrilegious as a non-religious person can get: I’m pretty close to being done with hockey.

The first response to that is something like “a true hockey fan never loses their passion.” And that might be true. Maybe I’m not a true fan. All I know is that I watched every Leafs game from the age of 14 to about 25 or 26. Since then, the number of games I watch has been dropping with each passing season. A big part of that is that the Leafs are not a good hockey team and haven’t been for a long time. I’ve never bought in to their winning streaks or making the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season as signs that they’re a team a couple pieces away from contention. They are a team that is deeply flawed from the roster through to the front office on to the ownership. They aren’t close to being a good team. But that’s not the only reason why they’re losing me.

Hockey is still one of the most entertaining sports to watch, if not the most. And I say that as a huge baseball fan, one that knows watching baseball is pretty damn boring for most people. Hockey is easy to enjoy. So lately I keep asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sit through an entire game.

My interest in hockey has been in a gradual but steady decline. It started with the 2004-2005 lockout. Going a whole season without NHL hockey showed me I could live without it. The 2012-2013 lockout confirmed it. Two lockouts in less than 10 years makes it easy to grow tired of all the bullshit that come with any professional sport. For the record, I think the players were right for wanting more. I don’t blame them. I blame the owners. I blame Gary Bettman. And his stupid face.

221840-gary-bettman

But it’s not just him. It is the Leafs. It is nearly 50 years without a Stanley Cup and only a few legitimate shots at one within my lifetime. And it is the seeming indifference from the new ownership to create any sort of sensible plan to do anything about that.

You can’t really blame them. Seats in the ACC get filled no matter how bad the team is, how directionless they are, how lost they are. When Rogers and Bell bought the Leafs, they knew they were getting a property with a virtually guaranteed profit. They weren’t buying the team to make it better, they were buying it to make more money. If the team happens to win, it just means Rogers and Bell will make even more money.

They didn’t want to buy the Leafs, they wanted to buy the Canadian pastime. They want Rogers to be forever intertwined with hockey. That’s why they bought Hockey Night In Canada. That’s why they have exclusive hockey video apps with never before seen camera angles only available to Rogers customers. I mean, are you really a true hockey fan if you’re not a Rogers customer?

That’s where it seems like they’re headed, at least. And it makes it hard to watch HNIC now. The whole show feels like it’s just a vessel for shilling Rogers garbage. But it’s not just the Rogers apps, programs and services. It’s the hosts they brought over. Any sports program that has Damien Cox and Nick Kypreos as insiders is one I don’t want to watch. Plus, they kept Glenn “describing a professional hockey player as competitive is as in depth as my analysis gets” Healy.

It’s the same with the Leafs. I think there’s an argument to made that hiring Brendan Shanahan as team president is less about improving the team and more about showing Rogers’ connection to hockey. If he helps the Leafs win a Cup, even better. It’s an opportunity for exclusive downloadable content of video from the winner’s dressing room only available through Rogers.

With both the Leafs and with HNIC, there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the decisions other than “We’re Rogers and we can do whatever we want and you will like it.” I don’t feel like I’m watching a hockey game anymore, I feel like I’m watching hockey on Rogers brought to you by Rogers sponsored by Rogers.

Maybe I’m letting token corporate ownership get to me. Maybe a real fan wouldn’t let ultimately meaningless stuff like this interfere with their love of the game. Maybe I’m too jaded and pessimistic from watching my favourite hockey team never win anything. Maybe I should just shut up and watch the game. Or maybe losing interest in hockey is what being a Leafs fan is all about.