10 REASONS TO WATCH ME IN THE COMEDY BRAWL INSTEAD OF THE JAYS HOME OPENER: 1. The Jays have 80 more home games this year. I just have this one stand-up gig…

The Toronto Blue Jays home opener is TONITE, and Rogers Sportsnet is REALLY kicking it into overdrive.  After already putting out an MLB preview with R.A. Dickey on the cover, today Rogers mailed out its Blue Jays preview, including “scouting reports on all 25 men” and a sit-down interview with Ricky Romero–who didn’t even make the team.  (My Romero bobblehead is in mourning.)  Gee, they aren’t really over-hyping this team too much, are they?  Sure, the Jays ought to be much-improved this season, but don’t bother trying to buy tickets for Opening Day–they sold out within the hour.  And hey, there are 162 games in a Major League Baseball season, so whether or not they beat Cleveland tonight is of very little consequence.

On the other hand, there is a completely consequential comedy competition occurring this very evening that features yours truly.  I’ll be part of a field of eight amateur stand-up artists vying for the princely sum of 30 dollars!  OK, so that won’t buy you a pair of nosebleed seats at Rogers Centre, but it is three times what a typical comedian makes in a night.  (Sadly, that’s no joke.)  Anyhoo, the top four performers will advance to the next round of the Comedy Brawl, so I could really use your vote!  In case you’re still on the fence as to whether you should watch baseball on TV or live stand-up comedy on the second of April, here are 10 reasons to choose comedy.

Oh, and for more info about the April 2nd edition of the Comedy Brawl, click here.

10. I’m pretty sure I can throw straighter than R.A. Dickey.

9. There won’t be any anti-gay Spanish slurs on my eyeblack.

8. This won’t be anything like last time.  I promise.

7.  I don’t drink Booster Juice, so I’m not gonna put a baseball through your windshield.

6. I promise I won’t punch you in the face or put you in a headlock.  Can John Gibbons guarantee that?

5.  The Jays are playing against Cleveland.  C’mon man, Cleveland!?

4. I am in no way sponsored by, affiliated with or named after Rogers.

3. Nosebleed tickets are going on StubHub for 67 dollars.  This show will only cost ya 5 bucks!

2. It’s the day before my birthday!  No really, it is!

1. The Jays have 80 more home games this year.  I just have this one stand-up gig…

See all those highlighted dates on the Blue Jays’ calendar?  Let’s just say that my schedule isn’t quite so jam-packed.  In fact, if I don’t make it past the first round of the Comedy Brawl, I might consider stepping away from comedy to work on my golf game, or spend more time with my kids.  That’s right folks, this could be my last performance–though I’m sure I’d consider a comeback if you offer me my own personal beer tap.  Ain’t that right, Brett Favre?

Comedy Brawl Gauntlet #6 Tuesday, April 2nd @ Crown and Tiger, College and Bathurst, 8 pm. $5.

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10 REASONS TO WATCH ME IN THE COMEDY BRAWL INSTEAD OF THE JAYS HOME OPENER: 5. The Jays are playing against Cleveland. C’mon man, Cleveland!?

The Toronto Blue Jays home opener is less than a week away, and Rogers Sportsnet is kicking it into overdrive.  On Saturday afternoon, they aired a Jays spring-training game followed by Game 5 of the 1993 World Series.  Hmm, I think they might be trying to suggest something…  Sure, the Jays ought to be much-improved this season, but don’t bother trying to buy tickets for Opening Day–they sold out within the hour.  And hey, there are 162 games in a Major League Baseball season, so whether or not they beat Cleveland next Tuesday is of very little consequence.

On the other hand, there is a completely consequential comedy competition occurring April 2nd that features yours truly.  I’ll be part of a field of eight amateur stand-up artists vying for the princely sum of 30 dollars!  OK, so that won’t buy you a pair of nosebleed seats at Rogers Centre, but it is three times what a typical comedian makes in a night.  (Sadly, that’s no joke.)  Anyhoo, the top four performers will advance to the next round of the Comedy Brawl, so I could really use your vote!  In case you’re still on the fence as to whether you should watch baseball on TV or live stand-up comedy on the second of April, I’ll be giving you 10 reasons to choose the latter in the coming days.

Oh, and for more info about the April 2nd edition of the Comedy Brawl, click here.

10. I’m pretty sure I can throw straighter than R.A. Dickey.

9. There won’t be any anti-gay Spanish slurs on my eyeblack.

8. This won’t be anything like last time.  I promise.

7.  I don’t drink Booster Juice, so I’m not gonna put a baseball through your windshield.

6. I promise I won’t punch you in the face or put you in a headlock.  Can John Gibbons guarantee that?

5.  The Jays are playing against Cleveland.  C’mon man, Cleveland!?

Ever been to Cleveland?  I have.  They might make a mean Polish Boy sandwich at the airport, but the city’s really nothing special.  Aside from a small stretch surrounding the stadiums, there really isn’t much downtown–and the east end of the city is particularly rough.  That said, there are a few decent venues for metal shows and the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame is well worth the visit, if you ever happen to be in Cleveland.

Alas, the Mistake by the Lake’s baseball team also isn’t anything special.  The Indians haven’t had a winning season since 2007, and finished last year 68-94, five games worse than the Jays.  Unlike Toronto, the Tribe didn’t go on a massive spending spree this off-season, likely guaranteeing another year in the AL Central basement.  And it’s not like there’s much of a history or any bad blood between these two teams, either.

Wanna see the Jays play a big division rival?  Wait till the Red Sox are in town next weekend.  Care to see them compete against a winning team?  The White Sox and Yankees come to Toronto a couple weeks later.  Wanna see some real action on Tuesday?  Come to the Comedy Brawl instead!

Comedy Brawl Gauntlet #6 Tuesday, April 2nd @ Crown and Tiger, College and Bathurst, 8 pm. $5.

COMMENT OF THE DAY: Even in the absence of hockey, it seems cynical Toronto sports fans still have something to look forward to…

From: http://www.tsn.ca/mlb/story/?id=411823

And in other (more relevant) Toronto sports news, the Jays have reportedly agreed to a contract extension with Mets knuckleballer—and reigning NL Cy Young winner—R.A. Dickey, which would complete a trade sending top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, recently acquired catcher John Buck and a couple more prospects to the Metropolitans.  This latest in a flurry of off-season moves has many fans preparing to party like it’s 1992-’93, but despite the good news, some cynics still remain on Toronto’s sports scene…

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(I can only hope, for the city’s sake, that the Leafs win the Cup before 2967—if there’s anything left of the NHL by then!)

It’s official–we’re going to be paying more on our Rogers bills!

I was going to wait until the Jays’ blockbuster Gut the Fish trade was made official before I said anything.  After all, Jose Reyes was still hidden off in some faraway land–and had yet to pass a physical–while some people, like the fine folks at Fox News, were saying that Bud Selig should “save baseball” and veto the trade.  (Erm, make that Fox News Latino.  Don’t they know that most of the players Miami got from the Jays are hispanohablante?)  There were also rumours that players were unhappy with Canada’s (less unreasonable) tax rate on upper-income earners, while many media outlets bemoaned that Mark Buehrle’s pitbull couldn’t cross the border–they’re banned in Ontario.

But nevertheless, Selig officially announced yesterday that Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio were headed to Toronto for Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher Jeff Mathis and a gaggle of prospects.  The Jays also took the opportunity to announce that Melky Cabrera, the guy who didn’t actually take the supplements from that web site, would be coming to town for the next couple years.  With all this do-re-mi flying around, is it any wonder that they skimped on a manager, bringing back John Gibbons, he of the 305-305 record in his previous stint with the ballclub–which also happened to be the last time he managed in the bigs?

In any case, there’s no question that this trade makes the Jays more competitive.  It also increases their payroll to a hefty $112-million, with just 18 players under contract.  That final number is likely going to be closer to $120.  And the Jays haven’t exactly bought themselves a championship, or even a division pennant, either.  Keep in mind this is a fourth-place team that’s counting on the Red Sox rebuilding, the Yankees suffering a nasty hangover after that ugly ALCS, the Rays choking down the stretch and the Baltimore Orioles magic wearing off, just to have a shot in the AL East.  Sure, Reyes is an elite leadoff hitter–when he’s healthy–but Johnson and Buehrle, while solid starters, can’t be confused for Roger Clemens or Roy Halladay (in their Jays days).  Did I mention that Cabrera only hit above .280 once when he wasn’t on the juice?

Alas, it might be safe to say that the Jays will raise ticket prices to cover the increase in player salaries, but really, is it fair to the fans to charge more for a team coming off its second-worst season since 1995, in the hopes that the pieces all fit together, and that they’re bound to be better?  Methinks it’s no coincidence that Rogers is flooding its TV networks (ie Sportsnet) with season-ticket ads before the winter optimism fades.  After all, who’s to say that Buehrle doesn’t decide to stand by his dog in the end, or that Melky’s OBP won’t plummet without his pills?  Don’t get me wrong, I hope we have a winning team, but all I know is that if I see a dramatic increase in my cable bill come April, it won’t surprise me in the slightest.

Yo Yunel, ¡tu ere pendejo!

Last year, Jays shortshop Yunel Escobar was a starter on my fantasy team.  But when his batting average dropped about 50 points early this season, I cut him after a couple months.  And whenever I watch the Jays this year, it seems that he’s always arguing balls and strikes, and trying to show up the ump.  Not cool man, not cool.  Mind you, that’s nothing compared to his latest stunt, taking the field with “You’re a faggot” written on his eyeblack.  

Toronto Star readers are heavily divided on the issue, with 34 per cent saying he should receive no suspension, while 29 per cent want the MLB to throw the book at him, with a 20+ game ban.  Seeing as Todd Bertuzzi got less than that for breaking a man’s neck in the NHL, I kinda doubt baseball will side with three out of 10 respondents to the Star poll.  After all, they didn’t lift a finger when Ozzie Guillen said Castro was a sensitive man—in Miami, no less!  If I were to predict the most-likely outcome, I’d probably side with the 34 per cent here.

After all, there is some confusion as to what the expression “Tu Ere Maricon” actually means.  I’m no hispanohablante, but I did study the language for five years, and one thing I learned is that there are a lot of Spanish-speaking countries, each with their own interpretations and expressions.  I have heard the word maricón used in the context of “wimp” or “pussy,” but according to a couple Cubanos interviewed by the Star, it most definitely refers to a homosexual man in Escobar’s homeland—so I don’t think it’s wrong to attribute the most offensive meaning in this case.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it could have been done as a clubhouse prank by one of Escobar’s Spanish-speaking teammates, though I don’t know how someone could write on your face without you noticing—or looking in the mirror before taking the field.  It’s more likely that it was meant as a message to Laz Diaz or another one of Yunel’s least-favourite árbitros.  In any case, Escobar is set to address the media at 3:30 this afternoon.  Perhaps as a mea culpa, he could write this on his eyeblack for the occasion:

(FWIW, I learned most of my Spanish slurs from Mexican-American grindcore band Brujeria.  Not sure if it has the same meaning in Cuba, but pendejo definitely means asshole in Mexico.  I’ve also heard the word culero, which is pretty much the same thing…)

UPDATE 4:50 pm: Escobar’s official defence, as quoted by the National Post, “It’s just something that’s been said amongst the Latinos,” Escobar said through the translator. “It’s not something that’s meant to be offensive…I didn’t do it to make anyone feel bad.”  Funny, that.  Even taking into account Escobar’s grammatical deficiencies, typing “tú eres maricón” into Google displays How do i say, “your gay” in spanish? – Yahoo! Answers, Urban Dictionary: maricon:faggot and a translation page that defines maricon as “fucking queer” as the top three results.  If that’s not meant to be offensive, then I don’t know what is…  (Oh, and Escobar got hit with a three-game suspension, BTW.)

ONE WEEKEND IN PITTSBURGH: PNC Park is the best ballpark in America. It says so on their beer!

Now I’ve been to a buncha Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre, with its retractable roof and artificial turf, but I hafta say, I was looking forward to a more authentic MLB experience at the self-proclaimed “Best Ballpark in America.”  It helped that my hotel was right across the river from the stadium, the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals were in town and there were plenty of great sections still available.  What I wasn’t counting on were the frigid temperatures–a midday high of 44 degrees Fahrenheit, which translates to a balmy 7 degrees Celsius.

The ballpark largely lived up to its billing, though.  A well-designed, modern facility right on the river, twas just a short trip across the Roberto Clemente Bridge.  Outside the stadium were several statues honouring past Pirates greats–as well as a giant inflatable mascot.

Me, I was seated in Section 205, also known as the Pirates Cove.  A second-tier seat down the first-base line costs 20 bucks in Pittsburgh, and that also includes a 10-dollar food voucher.  As it turns out, a large trey of nachos and a plastic pint of local draught beer cost me 15 bucks, so that voucher covered two-thirds of lunch.  And hey, the view from 205 wasn’t too bad, either…

It’s worth noting this was taken about an hour before the first pitch, so that’s why the stands were empty…

Mind you, there weren’t too many people in the stands by the time this one was taken, either.

Local brew IC Light tastes kinda like Coors Light, but with a bit more flavour.

Sadly, the home team didn’t put up much of a fight against the defending World Series champs.  Held scoreless through seven innings, they finally got on the board in the bottom of the eighth, but any chances of a comeback were spoiled when they gave up two more in the ninth to lose 5-1.  The two Cards on my fantasy team didn’t do anything either, Holliday and Beltran combining for just one hit and three strikeouts.  So that was a little disappointing…

After the game, I headed over to the Jerome Bettis Grille to warm up and stifle my whooping cough with a few beers.  Apparently Hines Ward had just retired, which I wasn’t previously aware of.

As I watched the Bruins and Caps go at in in Game 6, I chowed down on a Bettis-sized burger.  Yes, that is a beef patty between two grilled-cheese sandwiches–with bacon, no less!

Alas, I didn’t stick around for the L.A.-Vancouver game, but I was quite pleased with the result. ;)

How I spent an entire weekend without watching any playoff hockey…

As I’ve said before, I’m not all that interested in this year’s NHL playoffs.  The lack of Canadian teams whose fans don’t start riots has left me with no one to cheer for (let’s face it, the Sens probably won’t get past the first round), and after an anti-climatic ending to another disappointing Flames season, I’ve decided to stay away from hockey for a couple weeks, overtimes be damned.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other alternatives in Toronto, the Centre of the Known Universe, including a coupla major-league sports teams at opposite ends of their seasons.

The last time I went to see a Raptors game, it was last season with Steve Nash, Vince Carter and the Phoenix Suns in town.  Suffice to say that Toronto lost–big time.  This year, I decided to settle for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics, along with the faint hope that the Raptors might catch their division rivals on an off night and sneak away with a win.  Not that I was getting my hopes up, or anything.

Mind you, Toronto came through for just the 21st time in this lockout-shortened season, handing the stunned Celts an 84-79 road defeat.  The first half of this game was worse than watching women’s basketball, with the home team trailing 36-30, shooting just 23 per cent from the field.  I think the 12-year-old kids who played at halftime made more of their shots than the pros did.  If you could even call them pros, that is–the Raps were without Bargnani, Calderon and Bayless and had a pair of D-League callups in their starting lineup.  Boston, meanwhile, benched most of their star players, even giving a pair of third-stringers some significant minutes on the assumption that they had this one in the bag.  But then a funny thing happened in the third quarter…

Toronto came out firing on all cylinders, particularly Linas Kleiza, who scored most, if not all, of his 17 points in the second half.  As a team, the Raptors nearly matched their first-half output with 27 points in the third, raising their field-goal percentage by 10 points in the process.  Section 109, which had been dead silent save one fauxhawked fellow, started to come alive, although some of the so-called fans were cheering for Boston.  Meanwhile, the Celtics, suddenly down 13 after the first basket of the fourth quarter, realized they needed Pierce, Rondo and company if they wanted to win this one.  They came awfully close, too, cutting the lead to one in the dying seconds, but DeRozan and Kleiza hit their free throws as the Raptors pulled off the upset.

From the perspective of wanting to see all of Boston’s star power on display, the game was a little disappointing (Ray Allen didn’t even dress), but if you’re a Raptors fan, you’ll take it.  I guess I am, though this might have been the first time I’ve sat through four quarters of one of their games this season.  The excitement of the second half was almost enough to make me forget the worst 24 minutes of NBA basketball I’ve even seen, so in the end, I suppose I’m a satisfied customer.

At first, the plan was to go see the (C)Raptors on Friday, then catch the Jays game on Saturday afternoon to remember what a real sports team looks like.  Toronto was playing Baltimore, the worst team in their division, so it looked like they could probably pull this one off.  Alas, if you had told me on Thursday that I’d watch the Raptors win and the Jays lose over a two-day stretch, I’d have called you crazy.  But you also would’ve been right.

Toronto got a solid seven innings from rookie right-hander Henderson Alvarez (fun fact: he was 3 when they last won the Series), but their bullpen gave up a pair of long balls to spoil a somewhat mild Saturday late afternoon/early evening.  Not sure what was up with the 4 o’clock start–I guess Sportsnet musta been showing an important soccer game or something.  But that didn’t stop a respectable walk-up crowd from heading out to the ballgame, with total attendance topping 28-thousand.

Now, I’ve been to about a dozen Jays games in the 6+ years I’ve lived here, but I’d never sat behind home plate before.  If you can spare the dime, I highly recommend it.  From my vantage point some 13 rows up, any balls fouled straight back went well over my head, and I could see every pitch just as well as home plate umpire Derryl Cousins–who didn’t do the Jays’ pitchers any favours, and called a whole helluva lotta strikes against Jose Bautista, to boot!  For the record, Casey Janssen clearly struck out Wilson Betemit with a 2-2 pitch in the bottom of the eighth, but after Cousins called it a ball, Betemit belted the next pitch over the right-field fence to tie the game.  Had Cousins made the right call, there’s no telling how that game would’ve ended.

Mind you, the Jays could’ve altered the outcome had J.P. Arencibia (he of the .071 batting average) not struck out swinging with runners on second and third in the sixth, or had Brett Lawrie not tried–and failed–to steal home with Bautista at bat in the second.  Remind me to look for a new catcher for my fantasy baseball team, by the way, cuz the kid’s just not cutting the mustard at the moment.  On the other hand, I really can’t complain about Lawrie…

Almost as disappointing as the Jays’ late-game meltdown on Saturday was the post-game meal at a nearby Baton Rouge restaurant.  From a place that’s supposed to be known for its ribs, I was not expecting barely warmed-up pork with sauce stolen from a Swanson’s TV dinner.  Guess they didn’t microwave ‘em long enough.  Also, the coleslaw tasted kinda funny.  Sad to say I can get better food at Swiss Chalet for a significantly lower price–and I guess I’ll be going there next time instead.

(Wait, do they even have a Swiss Chalet on Front Street?)