Happy September Call-Ups Eve

Wednesday, August 31, 2011  |  by 

‘Twas the night before September call-Ups, when all through the clubhouse,
The players were stirring, and flames of speculation ready to douse.
Their bags were all packed by the door with great care,
In hopes that Santopoulos soon would be there.

Ah yes, it’s that time of year we all look forward to … September call-ups. On the eve of the roster expansions, we await to hear which prospects will get the call to join the Blue Jays in Baltimore and embark on their major league career.

As a byproduct of where the Blue Jays are developmentally, we’ve been fortunate to watch most of the club’s highly touted prospects. Eric Thames, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Lawrie, Joel Carreno and Brian Jeroloman already occupy spots on the roster.

Jeroloman still has to receive a lick of playing time, and September could very well provide that window of opportunity for him. The Blue Jays do need a backup catcher for 2012, and a tandem of Arencibia/Jeroloman appears very enticing.

Arguably the two most anticipated September call-ups for the Blue Jays will be Dustin McGowan and Adam Loewen. While Loewen is not currently on the 40-man roster, there is a spot free for him to be added … which means he can join the big league club.

The countdown clock has been ticking on Adam Loewen now for quite some time, and with minor league free agency looming, the Blue Jays will need to decide what to do with him sooner rather than later.

Loewen has played his season in Las Vegas predominantly in right field, but also has experience at first base and centre field. Depending on how severe Colby Rasmus’ injury is, perhaps Adam gets playing time in centre field … but more than likely, it would be in left field.

It’s a very tricky situation for the Blue Jays because they essentially have to decide within the next four weeks if they want Adam Loewen to continue to be part of the organization. After three seasons rebuilding him as a position player, I can’t imagine the Blue Jays would let Loewen walk away that easily.

And then we have Dustin McGowan; it’s been a long and winding road back to the major leagues for the former mainstay in the Blue Jays rotation, and hopefully he’ll get another opportunity to reclaim that title.

I know the Blue Jays have said on multiple occasions they are trying to stretch Dustin McGowan out into a starting pitcher, but like most, I think he’s much better served in the bullpen.

Not that I claim to be a doctor or anything, but wouldn’t the strain from tossing 5-6 innings every five days be much more than throwing one inning on back-to-back days? Again, I know next to nothing on conditioning, but wouldn't 5-6 innings over the course of one week be better for a pitcher than lumped into one outing?

Aside from Loewen and McGowan, maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of Adeiny Hechavarria, David Cooper, Moises Sierra, or even Alan Farina or P.J. Walters? The bullpen could definitely use the backup.

What's Wrong with Adam Lind?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
At times, he's looked like one of the elite first baseman in the league. There have also been other times he's barely been above replacement level.

As the season nears an end, the Blue Jays appear to have an identity crisis with their first baseman. So which is the real Adam Lind?

It's something I've been racking my brain over the past few days. Aside from the obvious drop off in walks and home runs and skyrocketing strikeout rate, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with Adam Lind.

A few weeks ago, it was fairly easy to see that Jose Bautista's struggles were correlated to him chasing the high fastballs time and again. Adam Lind's issue on the other hand, is a completely different story.

After scouring through all the Pitch F/X data, there were no red flags alerting me to bad habit that Lind has suddenly developed. If anything, since mid-July he's actually done a decent job of not swinging at fastballs high in the zone.

The next option was to check out the percentages from his at-bat results over at Texas Leaguers. Now we're starting to get somewhere; I graphed his at-bat results from April 1st to July 19th, and then from July 20th to August 25th.

Adam Lind At-Bat Results - April 1st to July 19th
Adam Lind At-Bat Results - July 20th to August 25th
One might be concerned with Lind's increased strikeout rate and lack of singles since July 20th, but those don't really concern me. What is a little alarming is Adam Lind is grounding out way more and drawing a lot less walks.

During that span from July 20th to August 25th, Lind has drawn a free pass four times; and two of those were intentional, and one was a hit by pitch ... which means Adam Lind has drawn one walk in 33 games.

It was frustrating to watch Lind again last night because just when it appears he is on the verge of righting the ship after that  two-run home run, he falls back into his old bad habits and strikes out on seven pitches in his final two at-bats.

And all of this is happening while Adam Lind continues to occupy the cleanup spot in the Blue Jays lineup, arguably the most coveted slot on the lineup card. Lind has flourished as well as flounder in the role, and now I think it's time to get him out of that high leverage batting position until he can sort himself out.

I don't think a month-long slump like this is putting into question Adam Lind's future with this team, and yet it certainly has the odd few a little worried about the first base situation ... but by no means is Adam Lind is jeopardy of losing his job.

One interesting theory lobbed out there by avid Jays tweeter @coolhead2010 is that Adam Lind is having a tough time picking up the spin on the breaking ball. Which would explain why it appears all of Lind's strikeouts come on offspeed pitches down and away (otherwise known as Rajai Davis' mantra).

At this point in the season, there's no question we're witnessing Adam Lind at his absolute worst. However, we've also seen him at his best earlier in the year. So where exactly does the real Adam Lind lie? Somewhere in between.

Blue Jays and Rays Are New Divisional Foes

Monday, August 29, 2011  |  by 

One would think the big bad Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees would be the two most formidable foes for the Toronto Blue Jays. It actually turns out the Blue Jays greatest adversaries are the Tampa Bay Rays.

This season alone, the Blue Jays are 4-10 versus the Rays, and their track record doesn't bode well either. The past four seasons combined, the Blue Jays are 23-45 (.338) against the Tampa Bay Rays, compared to 26-40 (.393) versus the Red Sox and 30-36 (.454) versus the Yankees.

So if Toronto can rise to the challenge against a perennial contender like the New York Yankees, why do they have so much trouble with the Tampa Bay Rays? If anyone has an answer, I'm all ears. This series was just more evidence of the Blue Jays struggles against the Rays.

I got the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as when the Red Sox swept the Blue Jays at home back in mid-June. Toronto was outscored 35-6 in that series, and Tampa Bay has outscored them 24-6 ... and there's still one more game to play tonight.

It's a little disheartening because it really felt like over the past little while, the Blue Jays were really making some progress. The offense has been clicking, the starting pitching has been adequate, and the bullpen hasn't been awful.

Then comes a series like this against Tampa Bay where after treading water at .500 or above it since July 27th, the Blue Jays have now dipped below.500 for the first time in five weeks. The momentum they built up

Just more proof to show you how much of a dog fight it is playing in the American League East. Each and every single game is important, and sometimes you have to claw and scratch your way for those extra wins just to have a shot at the playoffs.

As Jonah Keri says, it's that extra 2% that helped propel the Tampa Bay Rays into the post-season. They didn't need to be astronomically better than their competition, they only had to be a little bit better. That 2% was the difference maker.

But for two teams that seem to have a very similar strategy, one team is 14 games above .500 and the other is one game below .500. Similar strategies, slightly different results.

Until Bud Selig imposes a balanced schedule, the Blue Jays are Rays are going to continue to meet approximately 18 times a year. And if this young Blue Jays squad wants to return to the playoffs, they're going to need to fare much better against divisional foes ... especially the Tampa Bay Rays.

Flashback Friday: The 1996 Blue Jays Sing "This Land Is Your Land"

Friday, August 26, 2011  |  by 

Have you ever wanted to see Carlos Delgado dressed up as a lumberjack? How about Mike Timlin as a farmer ... or even Joe Carter as a fur trapper? Believe it or not, such a thing exists in the Blue Jays video vault.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the 1996 Blue Jays rendition of "This Land Is Your Land".

1996 was the very first year the Blue Jays decided to wear their famous red jerseys on Canada Day, and to accompany this momentous occasion, the roster also put out this video inspired by this classic by The Travellers.

At the time, the only two Canadians on the Blue Jays roster were Paul Quantrill and Paul Spoljaric. I couldn't find Quantrill anywhere in this video, but if you look closely, you'll catch sporadic glimpses of Spoljaric.

Here is a look at some of the guest spots:

Gord Ash: Maritimer 1
Alfredo Griffin: Maritimer 2

I realize the likelihood of Alfredo Griffin actually singing in this song is next to nil, but he does a pretty good job of belting out his lines ... even if it is just lip syncing. Former Blue Jays General Manager Gord Ash is not too shabby either.

Pat Hentgen: Lumberjack 1
Carlos Delgado: Lumberjack 2
Charlie O'Brien: Lumberjack 3

In the lumberjack scene, Pat Hentgen looks like he's going to burst out laughing at any given moment. Carlos Delgado is dancing up a storm, and Charlie O'Brien looks like he could legitimately pass for a lumberjack.

Just to reiterate how much Carlos Delgado loves to dance, check out the very end of the video at the 2:45 minute mark where he's swaying back and forth like a lighter at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.

Mike Timlin: Farmer
Otis Nixon: War of 1812 General

Although they were once adversaries in the playoffs, Mike Timlin and Otis Nixon's relationship really came full circle during this video.

In 1992, they were both involved in the final play of the World Series. Then four years later, they were singing a song together in costume for the Blue Jays. It's truly amazing how music can really bring folks closer together.

Joe Carter: Fur Trapper/Davey Crockett

Lastly, Joe Carter dressed up as a fur trapper ... or is it Davey Crockett? It's hard to tell, but he seemed to really enjoy singing the last verse of the song, even if there's a dead raccoon sitting on his head.

With Brett Lawrie leading the charge as a new crop of canucks don the Blue Jays uniform, I'm sure it won't be long until the entire roster re-records this track in a new rendition for a future Canada Day celebration.

The Jose Bautista Staredown - Version 2.0

Thursday, August 25, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of @NevStoski
This is what it must have felt like to stare into the eyes of Medusa before turning to stone, as Jose Bautista's piercing staredown claimed yet another victim last night.

One thing's for sure sure, if a pitcher ever displeases Jose Bautista, they'll be sure to know about it. Whether they try to sneak a buzzball past Jose's head as Ivan Nova did last year, or as Luke Hochevar hit Yunel Escobar last night, Jose Bautista gets his retribution with his bat.

Click on the image below to see the Animated Gif of the epic staredown by Jose Bautista and the subsequent slow trot down the first base line. Just more visual proof that you should never mess with Jose Bautista.

Click image for Animated Gif
For those who missed the subtle cues from that very short Animated Gif, here is the sequence of events performed by Jose Bautista in that very staredown:
  1. Watch the ball go yard.
  2. Give a quick glance to the pitcher as if to say "nice try".
  3. Admire the home run once again.
  4. Drop bat on the ground like a dirty towel.
  5. Slowly trot out of the box and head down the line, all while staring down the pitcher and instilling the fear of God in him.

John McDonald's Top 10 Defensive Gems

Wednesday, August 24, 2011  |  by 

During his time in Toronto, he was known as the human highlight reel. Every time John McDonald took the field, you knew you were in for one heck of a show.

It was always a treat to watch John McDonald in action, whether it was at third base, shortstop, or even second base. No matter what position he played on the infield, his defense was always impeccable.

So it seems only fitting to honour John McDonald by looking back as his Top 10 Defensive Gems. Unfortunately, the MLB footage only goes back as far as 2008, as there were a few other plays that stand out in my mind (namely his diving catch into foul ground from 2007).

Despite that, there were ample highlight reel plays to choose from. And as difficult as it was, I think I've compiled the 10 best defensive plays from John McDonald's career with the Blue Jays.

10.) June 29, 2008 vs. Atlanta Braves

In 2008, you'd be hard pressed to find a better defensive duo of the left infield than John McDonald and Scott Rolen. As the video demonstrates, even if one ever got past Rolen, Johnny Mac was there to pick up the slack.

9.) September 9, 2009 vs. Minnesota Twins

John McDonald is the definition of a "pitcher's best friend", and nobody can vouch for that more than Roy Halladay. In this play, McDonald demonstrates his range and throws from his knees to get the out at first base.

8.) August 28, 2008 vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Not every play that John McDonald was involved in was a thing of beauty, but he got the job done. Although he didn't have time to grab this one, Johnny Mac's glove did the work of fielding and throwing to get the force out.

7.) August 2, 2009 vs. Oakland A's

Again, we have another quintessential John McDonald flip play to the bag, but this one was even more impressive. The quickness in which he's able to get to the ball allows Aaron Hill to turn the double play. Bonus points!

6.) September 21, 2010 vs. Seattle Mariners

When a baseball comes screaming down the line, you better be ready to grab it. Johnny Mac reacts quickly and snags this liner down the third base line and robs a base hit and a run away from the Mariners.

5.) September 6, 2009 vs. Kansas City Royals

With Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill handling most of the middle infield duties, John McDonald only played 73 games in 2009. But what time Johnny Mac did get there, he always made the most of his opportunities on the diamond.

4.) April 10, 2011 vs. Boston Red Sox

This one should still be fresh in everyone's mind; it was the ball in foul territory that John McDonald nearly overran, but at the least second made an adjustment and leapt to grab it in foul ground.

3.) April 21, 2010 vs. Kansas City Royals

With so many Johnny Mac patented scoops in the Top 10, I'm beginning to think John McDonald really enjoyed playing with those tiny plastic shovels in the sandbox as a child. Another timeless defensive gem here that we'll see on Blue Jays highlight reels for years.

2.) July 11, 2008 vs. New York Yankees

This one could just as easily been number one, but it was more of a team effort between Marco Scutaro and John McDonald. And you know it's a defensive gem when even Roy Halladay shows his admiration in the way of a subtle smile.

1.) August 26, 2009 vs. Tampa Bay Rays

The funny thing about this play is had John McDonald caught the line drive outright, it would not been as impressive. The fact he knocked the ball down mid-air, found it, and threw across the diamond from his knees in time makes it all that more dramatic and exciting to watch.

Farewell Aaron Hill and John McDonald

Image courtesy of CityNews
They had a combined 1424 games with the Toronto Blue Jays. With 14 seasons spent in the same uniform, they were the two longest tenured members of team. Now, Aaron Hill and John McDonald are Arizona Diamondbacks

Both Hill and McDonald will head to the desert with a chance at playing for a playoff spot, as the D-Backs attempt to hold off the Giants for the NL West title. Also, both guys will have the opportunity to be every day players.

The allure of playing in the post-season is something that the Blue Jays could not offer these past few years, and although both players are leaving the comfort of the team they've called home for the past seven seasons, at least they get to what they've always dreamed of; win a World Series.

As disappointing as it's been to watch Aaron Hill fall from grace after his storybook 2009 season, it's still a little disheartening to see a player who's been with the Blue Jays for so long suddenly move on to another team.

I think both the Blue Jays and Aaron Hill sensed the writing was on the wall for him, and that his options were likely to be declined in the off-season. With his salary set to increase and his offense declining, the time was right to cut the cord.

Aaron Hill will land on his feet, and maybe he'll even experience a resurgence out in the desert with the Diamondbacks. He's still a great defensive second baseman, and at least the potential for power is there. If Arizona can somehow harness it again, it would bode well for their pennant race.

For me, losing John McDonald is the bigger blow than Aaron Hill being traded away. I was prepared that Hill was going to be gone by 2012 anyway, but in the back of my mind I felt like John McDonald was always going to be a Blue Jay ... and might even retire with the team.

Johnny Mac was like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Blue Jays roster; he made the impossible look easy, and his experience and wealth of knowledge helped the players around him as well. I just assumed he would always back up the next up and coming shortstop, and pass his knowledge onto them.

His bat may have left something to be desired, but I'll always remember John McDonald for his glove and his arm. He played the middle infield like nobody has with the Blue Jays for a very long time. His range and ability to turn every play into a highlight reel moment were always worth the price of admission.

Something that I thought was extremely classy of the Blue Jays organization was that they had both Aaron Hill and John McDonald speak at the press conference in which they announced they had been traded.

It's not very often where you see outgoing players get a chance to say goodbye and reflect on their favourite memories with the team, as a love letter to fans so to speak. It was a great way to end Aaron Hill and John McDonald's time (at least for now) with the Blue Jays.

The good news is there were several indications that Alex Anthopoulos had talked to both guys about the prospect of coming back next year. It didn't seem like the prototypical empty breakup promise "let's still stay friends", it genuinely felt like John McDonald was convinced he was coming back to play for the Blue Jays next year.

Ultimately, this game is a business and the owners have to do what's best for the team moving forward. But when Aaron Hill talked about how this organization was all he's ever known, you really understood how much this team has been a part of these player's lives for the past 7 years.

It's been fun watching both Hill and McDonald blossom before our eyes; with Aaron Hill coming into his own as a starting second baseman, and John McDonald solidifying himself as an extremely talented fielder whose reputation will live forever in Blue Jays folklore.

I wish John McDonald and Aaron Hill all the best in Arizona, and hopefully they get that very much sought after taste of October baseball. And they're back in a Blue Jays uniform next year, we'll be sure to give them a warm welcome back home.

AA Gets His Man: Kelly Johnson Traded to the Blue Jays

Tuesday, August 23, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Images
I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who has received absolutely everything they've asked for; first it was getting rid of Vernon Wells contract, next it was acquiring Colby Rasmus, and now the final item on the wish list has been crossed off.

Seems like Santa AA has been hard at work these past few weeks, as he finally got the man he was rumoured to be after for so many years; Kelly Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I’ll address the Aaron Hill and John McDonald aspect of this trade in greater deal tomorrow, but at the onset I really like this deal for the Blue Jays. Hill and Johnny Mac get a chance to play in the playoffs, and the Blue Jays receive a great second baseman in return.

It might seem counterproductive to trade one impending free agent second baseman or another, but I imagine Alex Anthopoulos is hard at work to sign Kelly Johnson to some sort of contract extension.

The Blue Jays were all but certain to decline Hill’s options anyway, so this at least buys the club a little bit of time to figure out what to do at second base. Perhaps they fast track Adeiny Hechevarria to the majors, or maybe they hang onto Johnson for a couple years until Hech is ready.

In Kelly Johnson, the Blue Jays receive a bit of a defensive upgrade, a guy who can at least draw the occasional walk (career .342 OBP), and somebody who likes to strike out a lot (639 career SO’s).

Johnson is having an off year, but that could play in favour of the Blue Jays when it comes to signing him to a contract extension. A team-friendly contract of two years at $5-6 million per with an option at seems fairly reasonable … something that was far more attractive than Aaron Hill’s options.

Kelly Johnson has been on Alex Anthopoulos’ radar for quite some time, and by acquiring him now, it allows the Blue Jays to gain an advantage in negotiations rather than overpaying in free agency.

Worst case scenario, the Blue Jays offer Johnson arbitration and walks away, which nets the Blue Jays net a Type B pick … so it’s not all bad. But I’m confident something will get done by season’s end or shortly thereafter to lock up Kelly Johnson for at least 2012.

Just like his counterpart Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson looks to be a good candidate for this "change of scenery trade". Both have excellent seasons under their belt, but the future of Hill and Johnson appear to be a bit of a question mark. Overall, I think the upside on Kelly Johnson far outweighs the upside on Aaron Hill.

One could argue Johnson comes with less risk as his subpar outlier years (2009 and 2011) are less concerning than Aaron Hill's (2010 and 2011). The prospect of having a second baseman that can hit for average intrigues me more than having a power-hitting player at the same position.

Johnson has shown flashes of power, and it would be great if he could kindle that power stroke, but I'm more concerned with Johnson getting on base ... something that Aaron Hill struggled with, even during his most productive season with the Blue Jays.

Ideally, I'd like to see the Blue Jays lock up Kelly Johnson to a two-year contract with an option, but like I said earlier ... even if he declines arbitration and hits the free agent market, the Blue Jays receive compensation.

But knowing how hard Alex Anthopoulos has pursued Kelly Johnson these past few years, I don't think he's going to let him get away that easily.

Casey Janssen for Closer?

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Bar none, Casey Janssen has been the best reliever in the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen this season. Even though the bullpen has seen its highs and lows (emphasis on the lows) in 2011, Janssen has been a beacon of hope through the clouds of despair.

In a relief corp that has seen its fair share of meltdowns (46 in total), Casey Janssen stands head and shoulders above the rest of the relief pitchers. Naturally, you’d think this information would dictate your best pitcher should be your closer.

And since the closer’s role has been a revolving door through the first 127 games of the season, I can see why some folks want to entrust Casey Janssen as the Blue Jays closer. I’m advocating that we don’t.

Again, it seems like a natural transition to give the ball to Casey Janssen in the ninth; he’s been the most dependable reliever thus far, and that’s when those three outs are crucial to securing the win. However, they aren’t always the most high leverage situations.

It seems as though Janssen is back to his old 2007 self, when he was arguably the best set-up man in the American League. He threw 72.1 innings that year before being sidelined the entire 2008 season with a torn labrum.

One could argue that bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer is actually the most pivotal part of the ballgame. Depending on how the lineup matches up, it can be the set-up man or middle relief guy who actually works against the opposition’s most volatile hitters.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t doubt that Casey Janssen would flourish in the closer’s role, but would he be best served only getting those final three outs of the game? Perhaps leaving him in a 7th/8th inning situation would be most effective for John Farrell.

If the Blue Jays were in a pennant race right now, there would be a greater sense of urgency to get the most reliable arm in as the closer as soon as possible.

However, sitting 12 games back of a playoff spot with 35 games left to play doesn’t warrant throwing Casey Janssen in as the closer. It doesn’t make sense this late in the season ... just to help lock down a couple of ballgames.

Why not keep Janssen where he is and continue to get him acclimatized back into that set-up role, and keep him there for 2012 as well? We’ve seen that good middle relief help in the free agent market can be hard to find, and the ones that you do find often come with a hefty price tag and multi-year contract.

Rather than go out and get a high-priced closer like Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell, I’m much more excited at the prospective internal options within the organization. Henderson Alvarez, Joel Carreno and even Dustin McGowan are much more viable (and cheaper) options as closer moving forward.

If Frank Francisco goes on the DL, then by all means give Casey Janssen the opportunity to close; the Blue Jays wouldn’t really have any other options at that point. However, it would merely be until Jon Rauch or Frank Francisco comes back.

Although his name starts with a capital ‘C’, let’s just hold off for the moment on bestowing the capital ‘C’ for closer upon Casey Janssen.

Jon Heyman Tweets AL MVP Favourite, Villagers Revolt

Monday, August 22, 2011  |  by 

I typically try not to get too perturbed about writer's personal opinions, but Jon Heyman got some folks all hot and bothered again over the American League MVP voting.

With about a month and a half left to play in the season, it's a topic that's going to become much more prevalent over the coming weeks. Like others, I just can't believe that Jose Bautista isn't even in the conversation for MVP when it comes to certain voters.

In this humble blogger's opinion, there may not be anybody better on the New York Yankees roster right now than Curtis Granderson, but there is no chance he is the head and shoulders best player in the American League. There are three other guys who would like to argue otherwise.

Then again, that's the great thing about democracy; everyone's allowed to have their own opinion. For whatever reason, Jon Heyman believes Curtis Granderson is most deserving of the MVP. Others might say Dustin Pedroia or Jacoby Ellsbury, most folks around these parts would say Jose Bautista.

That's why it's so difficult to get mad at Jon Heyman because that's his own opinion. And it wasn't really all that surprising either when Boston writers overlooked Jose Bautista entirely in a piece gushing about Jacoby Ellsbury.

Aside from playing in the big lights in New York and subsequently under the biggest microscope in baseball, the thing Curtis Granderson has going for him is momentum. Jose Bautista has had hot streaks and cold streaks all season long, yet Granderson has maintained a fairly consistent pace.

It's unfortunate that x factors like this are taken into consideration to determine a winner a la Deadliest Warrior, but it's a part of the voting process. If a writer wants to weight part of their vote on whether or not that team makes the playoffs, so be it.

Bar none, the best player in the league should win the award. We all know it shouldn't matter if he comes from a first place team or a last place team, but it's a reality that exists amongst BBWAA voters.

I have a feeling this is an argument we'll beat to death collectively within the Blue Jays blogosphere, but all we can really do is state our case and hope that the voters make the correct decision when it comes time to cast their ballot.

Fortunately, they made the correct decision when it came to voting for the the past two American League Cy Young winners in Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke, as well as a the 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer.

Sure, there are still your old school guys like Jon Heyman who are going to vote the way they're going to vote regardless, and yet it seems a younger generation is helping buck that trend. Things like pitcher wins and RBI's do not carry the weight they used to.

If Jose Bautista even just maintains the numbers that he is currently putting up, then I'd say he should win the American League MVP award. He may not come with the glitz or glamour of a Curtis Granderson or Dustin Pedroia, but winning an MVP just might propel Jose Bautista into that stratosphere.

Flashback Friday: Vernon Wells Attacks Aaron Hill with a Dart Gun

Friday, August 19, 2011  |  by 

My apologies for the lateness and briefness of this week's Flashback Friday post, but on the heels of Wells' return to Toronto last week, I thought I would share one of my favourite Vernon Wells memories.

It's Vernon up to his old tricks in the Blue Jays clubhouse shooting Aaron Hill with a dart gun while Hill was mid-interview. It made for some pretty entertaining television.

What adds to the hilarity was the fact that Vernon Wells was wearing only a towel as he planned the hit on his teammate. Props to Aaron Hill for maintaining his composure as he was pelted with numerous nerf darts in the shoulder.

Photoshop Fun: Eric Thames Moonlights as Popcorn Vendor

Thursday, August 18, 2011  |  by 

Popcorn, peanuts, fly balls! Get your popcorn, peanuts and fly balls!

While chasing down a fly ball down the left field side, Eric Thames made an incredible catch in the stands (replay here), and afterwards he even joined the fans and offered them their favourite refreshments.

Hat tip to @TheRealJeffS for the screngrab

Design Ideas for the Blue Jays New Uniforms in 2012

Wednesday, August 17, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of Flickr user Adam Finley
I'm about a week late to the party, but the Toronto Star got the inside scoop on a uniform revamp for the Blue Jays next season. It was rumoured about earlier this year, and now it appears a change is definitely in the works.

Back in early April, I took a crack at a hybrid merging old and new Blue Jays logos, and even more changes could be in the works with the club hoping to make the Blue Jays uniforms more Canadian.

Aside from plastering an Anne Murray album cover on the jerseys, I'm curious to see how the Blue Jays are going to accomplish that ... aside from reverting to the Canada Day red jerseys.

So the Toronto Star asked for submissions from readers for new Blue Jays jersey designs, some of them could be legit Blue Jays uniforms, others were just straight up comical (the Bret Hart and lumberjack ones were my favourite).

Now that the "Man in White" scandal and the Brett Lawrie Express calmed down a little bit, I had a chance to play around with a couple of Blue Jays uniform ideas.

I'll be up front with you guys; my favourite all-time Blue Jays uniform is the navy blue 1994-1996 alternate. It always holds a soft spot in my heart because my parents bought me that jersey when I was a kid, yet I couldn't fit into it until I grew up.

Also, the Blue Jays just recently came out with a special Roberto Alomar shirt for his induction into Cooperstown, which I thought looked very sharp and thought it would be great as an official jersey.

Naturally, this design was inspired by that iconic jersey and the Roberto Alomar Cooperstown shirt. Essentially it's just three slight variations of one prototype, but have a look below and let me know what you think.

All three feature the classic Blue Jays font piping, because in my opinion there is no font in the world that is as elegant as this one.

Draft One

This design takes that hybrid old bird/new bird logo and places it in the middle of the jersey like the powder blues. I changed the colour to that navy blue because as I previously mentioned, I just love that colour for the Blue Jays.

It might be a bit too much blue going making it a little on the monochromatic side, but I think it actually works pretty well. It also somewhat ups the Canadian content on the jerseys by having the maple leaf front and centre.

Draft Two

The second draft forgoes the logo on the front of the uniform entirely, and this one instead puts the player's number on the right side of the jersey.

Typically, the Blue Jays have not stitched player's numbers on the front of their uniforms, and the only Blue Jays jersey to feature that was from the dreaded "T-Bird" era from 1997-2003.

Draft Three

This one is perhaps my favourite; instead of the arched text, I decided to keep it straight across the uniform. And to get a little more Canadiana in there, we have the maple leaf underneath the player's number.

Feel free to vote on your favourite design and let know your thoughts in the comments below. Or if you have any ideas for tweaks on these designs or completely new ones, suggestions are always welcome.

Which new Blue Jays design do you like best?

What's Wrong with Jose Bautista?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
There was a time earlier this season where Jose Bautista could do no wrong. He was the man with the Midas Touch; it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold.

Whether it was moon shot after moon shot, line drives ripped into the outfield, or even just a simple walk, Jose Bautista was on pace for another monster season. Lately, something doesn’t feel quite right with Joey Bats.

With the Brett Lawrie Express at the front of centre of Blue Jays fans minds, Jose Bautista’s recent struggles at the plate have flown under the radar. Amazingly enough, even with a mediocre second half thus far, Jose Bautista is still putting together an MVP-worthy season.

The first and most obvious thing is Bautista’s power numbers; his home runs have dried up significantly since the All-Star Break. With 31 jacks before July 14th, Jose Bautista has only hit three home runs since.

Where Jose Bautista used to hit a home run approximately once every 9.7 at bats, he’s now going yard only once every 28 at bats since the All-Star break.

But why the sudden power outage for one of the biggest sluggers in the majors? For a quick answer, all we have to do is look at his hot zones against right-handed pitchers.

I’ve broken it down into two time frames: pre All-Star Break (April 1st to July 10th) and post All-Star break (July 14th to August 15th).

Jose Bautista Hot Zones vs. RHP: 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Hot Zones vs. RHP: 07/14 - 08/15
Given, the sample sizes from post All-Star break pitches are quite small, but we can see that right-handers are favouring fastballs up and away from Jose Bautista, and the strategy appears to be working in the interim.

Where Jose Bautista used to murder fastballs in the upper part of the zone earlier this season, he's either not connecting at all on heaters or putting them into play for outs.

The offspeed Hot Zones also look troublesome to me, but I'm not as worried about Jose Bautista hitting offspeed pitches because he tends to do a good job of laying off those anyway. Catching up to fastballs appears to be the primary concern.

If we travel a little further down the rabbit hole, there is a little more evidence to corroborate how Jose Bautista is handing pitches up in the zone. He used to get fooled pretty often on pitches down in the zone, but Bautista appears to have curtailed that trend in the past month.

What is troubling however, is the Pitch F/X that show Jose Bautista's home runs compared to swinging strikes.

Jose Bautista Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes - 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes - 07/14 - 08/15
Once again, keep in mind the smaller sample size of pitches from post All-Star break, but it looks like Jose Bautista has shifted from missing on pitches below the strike zone to missing on pitches up in the zone.

Which isn't to say he wasn't missing before, it's just that Bautista was also hitting plenty of home runs on those pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. Not so much any more.

Lastly, the Contact vs. Whiff Pitch F/X graphs echo the same sentiment as the Hot Zones and Home Runs vs. Swinging Strikes:

Jose Bautista Contact vs. Whiffs - 04/01 - 07/10
Jose Bautista Contact vs. Whiffs - 07/14 - 08/15
Aside from the huge shift in whiffs out of the zone as shown in the pitch f/x chart above, is the significant drop off in line drives. By my count, Jose Bautista has only hit 8 line drives since July 10th compared to 42 in the first half.
Time FrameAt BatsLDLD RateFBFB RatePUPU Rate
04/01 - 07/10299427.11417.292213.59
07/14 - 08/1584810.5184.67117.64

The remedy in itself is simple, it's the execution that's difficult. It's easier said than done, but Jose Bautista needs to hit less pop ups and fly balls and get back to hitting more line drives. A jumping off point is for Bautista to focus on is catching up to those fastballs up in the strike zone.

I don't know whether it means Bautista just needs to get started earlier or if his bat speed has been dropping off since mid-July. Maybe it's just the wear and tear of a 162 game season, perhaps it's the culmination of a couple of injuries that Jose Bautista has been dealing with.

Whatever is wrong with Jose Bautista, hopefully Dwayne Murphy and John Farrell can pinpoint the issue and get Jose Bautista back on track.

I hate to rag on a guy who's leading the league in OBP, SLG and OPS, but when you're among the elite players in baseball, there's always room for improvement.

All graph data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's PitchF/X Tool

Mike McCoy: the Ultimate Frequent Flyer

Monday, August 15, 2011  |  by 

When it comes to the Blue Jays most frequent flyer, I think Joanna from Hum and Chuck said it best when she tweeted this about Mike McCoy:
"I bet he has a bag always packed, like a woman 9 months pregnant."
Anytime a player from the Blue Jays roster goes down to injury as Rajai Davis did yesterday, you know the Blue Jays were on the horn to tell McCoy to catch the next flight out of Las Vegas.

In fact, I bet Mike was grabbing his suitcases out of the closet the second he saw Rajai Davis wince while running down the first base line. It's probably gotten to the point where Mike McCoy doesn't even have to check in at the airport ... security just lets him go right through.

Incredibly, Mike McCoy will be making his sixth ... yes, sixth stint with the Blue Jays this season alone. I don't know what the Major League record is for being called up/sent down in a season, but Mike McCoy must have that one nailed down.

The travels of everyone's favourite proverbial Swiss Army knife on the Blue Jays roster can be followed at The Great Flying Mike McCoy. Just in the first two months of the season alone, McCoy traveled 13,447 miles due to transactions.

Image courtesy of The Great Flying Mike McCoy
McCoy has been as versatile as the Slap Chop for the Blue Jays, spending time at second base, third base, shortstop, the outfield, and an uncanny (yet effective) relief appearance. But when it comes to roster moves, he's been sacrificial lamb.

And since his option for 2011 has already been used up, the Blue Jays are free to send down and call up Mike McCoy as many times as they wish this season. All I can say is, wherever Mike McCoy is living ... I hope he's renting.

Any time the Blue Jays need to make way for an injured player in the minors or they want to call up a prospect, I always feel bad for Mike McCoy because if he's already on the big league roster, chances are he won't be there very much longer.

Baseball is a business after all, but I can't imagine Mike McCoy enjoys bouncing back and forth between Las Vegas and Toronto all season. It might be enough to send some players over the edge, yet McCoy doesn't have all that much service time under his belt, so I guess we can just chalk that up to paying your dues in the big leagues.

At least McCoy can seek solace in the fact that 40-man roster expansion is on the horizon in September, which will prevent the Blue Jays from sending him back down to Las Vegas for the fifth time this season.

Then again, there are 17 days until September 1st ... and one can only imagine what can happen as far as roster moves between now and then. You can bet Mike McCoy's Minor Leagues Advisory System (MMMLAS for short) is on high alert in the meantime.

Will Vernon Wells Receive a Warm Welcome?

Friday, August 12, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of The Star
Will he receive a warm welcome home, or will he be booed to no end? Aside from SpyDome, that seems to be the hot topic mere hours before Vernon Wells makes his return to his former stomping grounds at the Rogers Centre.

There were some promos running on Sportsnet earlier this week which promoted Vernon’s homecoming and apparently they didn’t paint him in a very good light, which lead to some viewer complaints and in turn RSN pulled them off the air.

Even though Blue Jays fans may have the reputation of being pretty cold-blooded when it comes to former players, at least that news restored some faith that not all Blue Jays fans will boo former Blue Jays.

Having said that, I think the boos and hisses will be very audible towards Vernon Wells at the Rogers Centre this evening. Where Roy Halladay received a standing ovation in his return, I think the boos will overshadow the cheers for Wells.

It’s a shame because for someone who spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, he deserves a little more respect. He may not have been the best outfielder in Blue Jays history, but he certainly should garner a tip of the cap.

If there were ever any feelings of disdain towards Vernon Wells, it had to do with the money. After he was signed to that $126 million dollar contract extension, there was virtually no way he could ever possibly live up to it.

The way I think about Vernon Wells tenure now is … subtract the money from the equation entirely, and then look back on what he did for the Blue Jays. Bloated contracts notwithstanding, Vernon Wells was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

It’s impossible to ignore his giant salary, and I think that’s where I (and many fans) had a tough time separating these astronomical expectations from reality. In my mind, if Vernon Wells was going to be paid like a top-tier player, he should have played like a top-tier player.

Instead of being angry with the player, where my frustration should have been directed was towards the front office which decided to table that much money towards Vernon Wells in the first place. It wasn’t Vernon’s fault the Blue Jays wanted to give him $126 million dollars.

Vernon Wells made a lot of money during his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he also gave a lot of it back to the community. His work with the Perfect 10 Foundation benefited families in Toronto and his home state of Texas, and he continues to support singles mothers and children in need in Los Angeles.

Rather than sit on his pile of money and flash sports cars and a million dollar home on MTV Cribs, Vernon chose to use his money for good and help those who were less fortunate. It’s an admirable quality in a baseball player that can be hard to find in today’s age.

It can be difficult to look past the money, but if you merely look at the player himself without the dollar signs, Vernon Wells time with the Toronto Blue Jays can be looked back on as a positive era.

If you’re heading down to the Rogers Center tonight, I urge you to treat Vernon with respect and refrain from booing him. You don’t have to give him a standing ovation like Roy Halladay, just show some respect … that’s all.

Vernon may not have been one of the best Blue Jays of all time, but he was definitely one of the best overall people to put on the uniform.

Acid Flashback Friday: Blue Jays Javex Commercial

Ever had laundry that was Jim Clancy tough to clean? Just grab a bottle of Javex from the Blue Jays clubhouse and start scrubbing!

For this week's Acid Flashback Friday, we take a look back at this Javex commercial from 1988 featuring members of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

This video prominently features Blue Jays Equipment Manager Jeff Ross, and amazingly enough Jeff is still with the club. In fact, he is one of the few remaining original employees of the Blue Jays, along with Paul Beeston.

Jim Clancy even makes a cameo in the video, and around the 5 second mark, there's a mysterious moustachioed man in the background that appears to be Dave Steib. Then again, it could just be an extra with a moustache.

At the four second mark, there's a player diving for a ball with the number 2 on his jersey. A little bit of detective work helped me discover that #2 on the Blue Jays that year was Nelson Liriano. Again, it could just be an extra, but we'll never know.

My favourite thing about the video is that it appears Jeff Ross has trouble keeping it together, almost laughing through his lines. It was reminiscent of Jimmy Fallon's years on Saturday Night Live. And once again at the end, Ross cracks up again when he gets a towel thrown at him.

Then again, if you can't have a sense of humour about baseball players throwing dirty towels and jock straps at you, then I guess you really can't have a sense of humour about anything.

Video courtesy of the ever-awesome Retrontario Channel
Hat tip to Toronto Mike.

SpyDome T-Shirts Now On Sale

Thursday, August 11, 2011  |  by 

Now anybody can be the "Man in White" (or "Woman in White" for that matter)! Starting today, the all new SpyDome T-Shirts are available in the BJH T-Shirt Shop.

Of course they're available in the quintessential white colour, or for those sign-stealing hipsters out there, you'll also find SpyDome shirts in a wide range of colours.

Visit the BJH T-Shirt Shop and get your SpyDome shirt today before the Man in White signals you to do otherwise!

Animated Gif: Brett Lawrie Celebrates Grand Slam, Flings Helmet in Process

Click here for the Animated GIF
I think it's safe to say that Brett Lawrie was pretty excited about his first big league grand slam?

It was awesome to watch Lawrie's reaction as he rounded the basepaths and received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout. My favourite part was when Lawrie got so jacked up, that it caused his helmet to come off, and he just flung in in the dugout.

Then he proceeded to bro shake with Edwin Encarnacion, and even Eddie thought it was hilarious as there was a brief glimpse of him either smiling or laughing after the whole thing happened.

Click here to watch the animated gif of the celebration. Welcome to the show, Brett Lawrie!

Introducing the "Man in White" Stealing Signs

Wednesday, August 10, 2011  |  by 

Image courtesy of Notes from the Asylum
He's known only as the "Man in White"; a faceless and nameless man who is secretly pulling strings behind the curtain and coordinating the lives of dozens for a single cause. I'm sorry, are we talking about baseball or "Lost"?

No, I'm not talking about the keeper of the island simply known as Jacob, I'm talking about the elusive "Man in White" identified in an article put out this morning by ESPN accusing the Blue Jays of stealing signs.

I won't get into the intricacies of the crux of their argument, but suffice it to say if you're going to accuse a team of stealing signs, you better have some cold hard evidence to back something like that up.

For a moment, let's just think about the logistics of this; the Blue Jays have a man sitting in the stands in a white shirt approximately 375 feet from home plate, and somehow he is magically able to see the signs flashed by the opposing catcher over a football field's length away?

Unless he had the aid of high-powered binoculars or was being relayed the signs by someone else in the stands via bluetooth or something like that, it's nearly impossible to coordinate in the span of a fraction of a second.

I'm not denying that this is completely impossible to pull off, but it would be extremely difficult to do all of this without anybody noticing. Keep in mind that fans in the stands at the Rogers Centre are very astute, and they would surely also catch on very quickly if a pattern of sign-flashing emerged.

This article is coming off the heels of Russell Martin and Joe Girardi insinuating there may have been something fishy going on at the Rogers Centre during their last series in Toronto back in July. The accusations are as ridiculous then as they are now.

But that was merely the match that lit the flame of controversy, because once you irk one of baseball's biggest cash cows in either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, if there's smoke then there must be fire somewhere.

If the shoe were on the other foot and someone from the Blue Jays or any other "small-market" team accused the Yankees or the Red Sox of stealing signs, there would be an uproar of epic proportions by their fans.

Not that this story about the Blue Jays is flying under the radar, but had a big market baseball team been accused of the same thing, I don't doubt it would have been just swept under the rug and chalked up to the other team being a sore loser.

Without any sort of proof of the "Man in White" or any other evidence proving the Blue Jays were stealing signs, this is all just hearsay. I just can't believe a trusted sports institution like ESPN would run with a story like this.

I hope all the fans sitting in the outfield tonight (or anywhere for that matter) will wear a white t-shirt as a sign of protest against these accusations against the Blue Jays.

Maybe if we look close enough in the stands, we will discover the "Man in White" ... only to realize he's a season ticket holder that enjoys wearing white shirts has involuntary arm movements before every offspeed pitch by opposing pitchers.

Boom Shakalaka! Edwin Encarnacion's On Fire

Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
Earlier this season, he may have been on the cusp of becoming waiver wire bait, but now you would be very hard-pressed to find a hotter hitter on the Blue Jays roster than Edwin Encarnacion.

He's so hot, that it's like Encarnacion has been throwing up trios of three-pointers like John Stockton. Every time Eddie rounds the bases, I'm waiting an announcer in an over-modulated Super Nintendo voice to say "he's on fire!".

EE has been on a tear since the All-Star break, and in the past 30 days Encarnacion holds the 6th highest batting average in the American League. Not to mention, he's single-handedly been keeping my fantasy baseball team afloat these past few weeks.

A couple of fellow BJH Fantasy Baseball League managers @1BlueJaysWay and @Roll_Fizzlebeef were remarking how that $3.5 million dollar option for 2012 is looking better and better as the season progresses.

Initially, I thought Encarnacion was being groomed to be a Type B free agent, but the more I think about it, it appears Edwin adds more value to the team as DH next year. Also, his ability to play both corners of the infield (albeit, not very well) is an asset that could come in handy in an emergency.

Also, considering how the designated hitter market has fared in the past few years, $3.5 million isn't really all that much to pay for Edwin Encarnacion to DH. Even if he puts up another streaky season, I'd prefer to have him than say Jim Thome or Vladimir Guerrero at a much higher price tag.

Unless Alex Anthopoulos can find a suitable trade partner for Edwin Encarnacion, I don't think he's going anywhere any time soon. The Texas Rangers are a strong possibility, but if any one of 10 other teams in the AL put in a claim for EE, then the Rangers are SOL.

That option for 2012 is especially attractive at this point for any prospective teams interested in a DH or somebody who can play the corner infield positions. Again, not somebody who can play them well ... but at least it's a body out there at third or first base.

We may as well prepare to buckle in for the long haul, because I have a feeling we'll be seeing Edwin Encarnacion in a Blue Jays uniform in 2012 as well. Get comfortable with Encarnacion, because we'll be playing a lot of NBA Jam, EE-dition.

Vacation Catch Up: A Week's Worth of Blue Jays News

Tuesday, August 9, 2011  |  by 

So ... did ya miss me? I have to admit, it was very odd being unplugged from Blue Jays fandom for a week. That meant nearly no live baseball for me at all, and the odd check of the boxscores and Twitter.

Apparently I picked the second worst week of the season to go on holidays for Blue Jays news, ranking second only behind the week of the Colby Rasmus trade.

A lot happened in Blue Jays Land over the past week, but the three things that stood out in my mind were the handlings (or mishandlings) of Travis Snider and Jesse Litsch, and Brett Lawrie's promotion.

The Snider Saga Continues

Earlier this year, Alex Anthopoulos said once Snider was called back up, he was here to stay. Which is why I was so surprised to learn Travis Snider was sent down to make room for Brett Lawrie.

I guess it was a toss-up between Snider and Thames, and I just assumed that Travis would stay due to seniority alone. Players are sent down to the minors all the time, and it's not always necessarily performance-based.

Had Eric Thames been the sacrificial lamb, I don't think many folks would have said much about it. Thames' time will come, and hopefully he will have a long and fruitful career with the Blue Jays. With his million dollar smile, I can't imagine Eric would be frowning too long about being sent down.

Travis Snider on the other hand has much more to lose by going back down to AAA. It can't be great for a player's psyche to have an organization tell you they believe in you wholeheartedly, only to have the rug pulled from under you only four weeks later and be sent back down to the minors.

So now here we are four years into the Travis Snider experiments, and we still don't know exactly what we have with him. It still is just exactly that ... an experiment.

I know this is the typical cynical approach (however uncommon around these parts) to prospects, but from now on I think I'm setting my expectations for Travis Snider very low.

It really pains me to say this, but at this point in his career, it feels like Snider is still a prospect with just over a year of big league service time.

The problem is the Travis Snider experiment has been a long time in the making, and he's been hyped and built up so much over these past four years that anything less than A+ from Snider feels like a disappointment.

The Litsch is Back ... in the Bullpen

Speaking of potential strained relationships with players, it appears the Blue Jays have soured on keeping Jesse Litsch as parting of the starting rotation ... at least for the time being.

The first red flag that Litsch might not be back immediately as a starting pitcher was when he was sent down to Las Vegas after his rehab stint. The second was the fact the Blue Jays kept him in the bullpen even after Carlos Villanueva's injury cleared a spot.

My initial thought was perhaps they were hoping to reinvent Jesse Litsch as the new Marc Rzepczynski, because the bullpen has been a weak spot for the Blue Jays nearly the entire season and they have the arms to spare from the rotation.

With so much help in the way of starting pitchers, the Blue Jays must have thought Jesse would serve the club better as the new long relief man rather than the fifth starter.

I'm not saying the door is closed forever for Jesse Litsch to be a starter, but it certainly feels like the door is closed at least in the short term. By all indications from the initial results from having Litsch in the bullpen, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

All Aboard the Brett Lawrie Express

The final and biggest piece of news from Blue Jays Land that happened last week was the call-up of Brett Lawrie. It was merely a matter of time before Lawrie would make his debut, and now it's time to see if he can live up to his reputation.

Expectations are astronomically high and for the time being, Brett Lawrie is rising to the occasion. However, as was evident with Travis Snider, we have to be very careful with expectations for Brett Lawrie.

Which is not to say I don't believe Brett Lawrie will fare well in the Major Leagues, it's just that sometimes things don't always go according to plan with prospects. Very rarely do players ever get called up and never get sent back down to the minor leagues.

As was apparent in Baltimore, there are still going to be some growing pains for Brett Lawrie at third base. He hasn't quite mastered the art of the hot corner, and I'm okay with that so long as he continues to improve at the position.

I mentioned this a few weeks ago in the aftermath of the Colby Rasmus trade, but I believe that move pushed up the timetable of contention for the Blue Jays to as early as next season. That's why they need to get Lawrie in there now to see if he can hit big league pitching and if he can hold the fort at third base.

If Major League Baseball indeed adds two more Wild Card teams to the playoffs as early as the 2012 season, the Blue Jays need to get their ducks in a row now to see if they can begin contending for one of those five playoff spots. And there's no question Brett Lawrie would be a big part of that.

The Vancouver Canadians Experience at Nat Bailey Stadium

Monday, August 8, 2011  |  by 

It's an organization shrouded in history. It's where small town atmosphere has big city ties. Last week while on vacation in BC, I visited one of the Toronto Blue Jays affiliates, the Vancouver Canadians.

Upon arrival at the ballpark, the first thing I marveled at was the location. Nat Bailey Stadium backs upon beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. I found it was especially gorgeous inside the stadium looking out beyond the outfield where trees are very prevalent.

Admittedly, I'm not very well versed in my minor league ballparks, by the closest thing I can compare the overall look too from the stands is Labatt Park in London, Ontario. Not necessarily the ballpark itself, but the view it provides of the outlying surroundings.

Throughout the concourse, there are a wide array of food options; from your traditional hot dog to chicken fingers, to even locally made sushi. There were also a few small things they do at The Nat which you won't see at your typical ballpark.

For one, having Spitz sunflower seeds and Cracker Jack for sale were a couple of small touches I really appreciated. Given, you are allowed to bring your own food into the Rogers Centre, but to me it just makes sense to sell those things at a Blue Jays game. Luckily, the Vancouver Canadians had that all taken care of.

Another small touch I appreciated at Nat Bailey Stadium was they those cardboard trays where you could place your food in the middle, along with a couple of drinks on each side.

It's a genius idea, and I can't count how many times I've been walking around the concourse at the Rogers Centre trying to do a balancing act with a hot dog, peanuts and a tall boy.

If you travel to the corners of the concourse, there are several historical displays along the walls. It tells the story of which organizations have been affiliates with the Vancouver Canadians, as well as some displays with old baseball cards, jerseys, and a wall featuring some Canadian baseball history.

You can also journey to The Dugout, where there is Vancouver Canadians merchandise for sale. They have a wide array of caps, jerseys, shirts and other merchandise ... including Blue Jays affiliate gear as well. Or for those who can't make it to the Nat, you can always check out the Vancouver Canadians online store.

As far as the game itself, it was a very close affair the entire way through. I was very fortunate to see one of the Canadians big up-and-comers throw five innings, Justin Nicolino. He came exactly as advertised: 5 IP, 0 ER, 5 K, 1 H.

I noticed that the outfield wall at The Nat was quite high (maybe 15 feet), which means hitters really have to get a hold of one to send if out of the park. There was one well-struck ball during our game which was about 3-4 feet short of clearing the wall, but an impressive feat nonetheless.

Another thing that was very prevalent at The Nat was the amount of promotions that take place during a Vancouver Canadians season. We were there for Japanese Heritage Night, and during every C's homestand they feature former Blue Jays during their "Superstar Series Appearances".

Ed Sprague was the last Blue Jay to participate last week, making a cameo at the Canadians game. Sprague even went so far as to ask fans what to do for fun while in Vancouver. Having narrowly survived the Capilano Suspension bridge, I suggested that.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Vancouver Canadians experience at Nat Bailey Stadium. They truly make a concerned effort to ensure fans not only have a great time at the game, but that they come back again to enjoy another Canadians game.

The couple that sat next to us at the game were greeted by almost all the ushers at some point during the game, which really reiterated the community atmosphere the Canadians are going for.

It made for a very friendly environment, which every fan looks for at the ballpark. In today's sports culture, I think fan appreciation is a forgotten art that's fallen by the wayside, but the Canadians keep it alive and well.

If you're ever in Vancouver, I highly recommend taking a trip to historic Nat Bailey Stadium for a Vancouver Canadians game. Even if you're on Vancouver Island, it's definitely the right price to go inland to see the Canadians.

From what I've heard from folks on Twitter, a Vancouver Canadians nooner is an absolute must to see. So if you're there for an afternoon game, it's reminiscent of those classic day games at Wrigley Field.

Nat Bailey Stadium is a beautiful ballpark with an incredible amount of history, and you'll really enjoy the small town atmosphere at the ballpark. It's a must-see for any Blue Jays fan or baseball enthusiast.

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