I usually don’t care about baseball until mid-summer, when the NHL (and sometimes even NBA) playoffs have wrapped up and CFL season is still a couple weeks away. That said, I once went to a Jays game during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals three years ago, but that was completely by accident, having bought the tickets well in advance. Even the team recognized that the 18,000 or so fans who came out to see ‘em play the Marlins would rather be elsewhere, so they put the game on all TVs in the concourse level sometime around the sixth inning. Alas, I’ve got no team to root for past the first round of the playoffs (if all goes well) this year–and you know what, the Jays seem to have a pretty exciting team.
In fact, this is Toronto’s best chance to make the playoffs for the first time since they won their two World Series trophies in the early 90′s–at least from a statistical standpoint, as MLB added an extra Wild Card team in each league, with the two teams playing one game to determine who gets to face the regular-season pennant-winner in the first round. No longer do the Jays have to finish ahead of either the Yankees or the Red Sox to make the playoffs–but they can’t be too far behind, especially with the Tampa Rays also lurking in the waters of baseball’s group of death. Toronto has a young team on the rise that should finish above .500 this year, but it remains to be seen whether they can get over the hump.
Mind you, their opening series in Cleveland this past weekend was awfully exciting, with two extra-innings games, including a series-opener that went 16 frames, the most ever on Opening Day. Though they took the first two in extras, the team fell just short in the third game, as Jose Bautista popped up with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth to cap off a 4-3 loss. The Indians are a pretty decent young team themselves, but let’s not forget that they finished 80-82 last year. The Jays will be facing a big step up in competition once they begin divisional play, starting tonite when they host the Red Sox.
To be honest, I think the home opener is a little overrated. I was there a couple years back when they played Chicago, and booed the shit out of Alex Rios every time he stepped up to the plate, but that was largely because I used to get a pretty sweet deal on Jays tix from my former employer. Sure, the atmosphere is great, but the optimism quickly dies down when attendance gets cut in half, usually by the next day–though that won’t necessarily be the case this year with Boston (and its obnoxious fans) in town. (True story: I was once in a hotel elevator with a coupla fat drunk Red Sox fans who were trying to pick up some 18-year-old college girls. Let’s just say they struck out…) Still, I don’t see the point in paying top dollar for a meaningless early-season contest when there are plenty of good sections available for most of the season. Hell, Opening Day is the only time scalpers charge more than the box office at Rogers Centre, but I digress. A good chunk of those people probably won’t go to another game all season…
As for me, well, I’ve already got Ricky Romero Bobblehead Day circled on my calendar. My fantasy baseball team is actually named “Ricky Romero’s Breakout” after the Jays ace, in reference to a trade I made a couple years back in my keeper league where I sent Cincy 2B Brandon Phillips away for him and future Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson, then with Arizona. At the time, someone spoke up saying Romero would be no more than an average pitcher, at best, so my moniker is a subtle reference to prove that guy wrong. Alas, the fate of my fantasy team is largely tied to Toronto, as aside from Romero and Johnson, I’ve also got Arencibia, Lawrie, Escobar, Lind, Santos and Alvarez. (Incidentally, I had both Santos and current set-up man Francisco Cordero on my team last year when they closed for Chicago and Cincy, respectively. Funny how that worked out…) As such, I probably won’t win my league this year if they don’t make the playoffs.