Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's -10 degrees in Toronto, Let's talk about the Blue Jays


Sometimes it is good to be wrong...

As regular readers will know, I gave up on baseball after the Montreal Expos left for Washington to become the bumbling Nationals. As I began to watch and write about the Can-Am baseball league two years ago, my love for the game returned. When I moved to Toronto last February, I begrudgingly began to follow the Toronto Blue Jays. Their fast start last season got me hooked and I became a fan again for the first time in years. As the team began to talk about rebuilding and trading away Roy Halladay, I began to wonder here at The Voice of Sport, would Toronto become the 2000's version of the Expos - a team about to disappear...

When the work stoppage of 1994 hit the Montreal market, the end was near for the franchise. A city accustomed to winning thanks to years of Stanley Cup Championships by the Canadiens, could not comprehend why their team was denied a trip to the post season. Fans began to walk away from the game and the famous Expos Fire Sale had begun, eventually leading to years of struggles on the field and at the gate. A tremendous roster of talented young players would find new homes in the baseball world due to Montreal's inability to re-sign their players.

Maple Ridge BC native Larry Walker played 674 games in an Expos uniform, hitting 99 home runs and driving in 384 runs. He would move on to Colorado as a free agent in 1995, playing in 1,170 games for the Rockies and hitting 258 home runs, while driving in 848 RBI's. His time in Colorado included an MVP Award in 1997. Great numbers for a player signed as an amateur free agent by the Expos in 1984.

Other players in the Expos organization that would become stars and move on to other franchises includes, Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Geurrero. By the time the Expos franchise was on its last legs in the early 2000's, fans were haunted by what could have been if all or some of these players were able to finish their careers in an Expos uniform.

A few nights ago, unable to sleep, I had a vision... I see the blueprint for the plan that new General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has put in place and I have changed my mind about the Toronto organization. The Jays are not about to disappear; in fact, they could be on the verge of challenging for the East Division title. Call me crazy but unlike the situation in Montreal, where every young star was traded away due to lack of funds, the Jays are in the enviable position of grooming some great young talent and actually re-signing them as they mature into a winning team.

With the emergence last season of Aaron Hill and the American League’s Designated Hitter of the Year, Adam Lind, along with a tremendous crop of young pitchers with experience at various levels of professional baseball, the Blue Jays could surprise a few analysts next season. If Travis Snider and Randy Ruiz continue to improve at the major league level and Vernon Wells returns to form, this young squad could shake up the baseball world.

Along with some talented hitters, the Blue Jays are blessed with a tremendous crop of young pitchers; any one of them could be on the verge of a breakout season. Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan or Shaun Marcum could join Brandon Morrow, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero and Marc Rzepcynski in the starting rotation. The bullpen will be strengthened by the return of Brian Tallet, along with Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor and my personal favourite, Dirk Hayhurst (aka - The Garfoose).

The Yankees and Red Sox can spend, spend, spend and challenge for the World Series every year, but throwing money around does not buy the most important factor in baseball - heart. The 2010 Blue Jays will be a heart and soul team, fighting for and earning every victory. When teams struggle or are expected to struggle, the fans disappear, only to return when things are good again. Well, my challenge to Jay’s fans in 2010 is this - show up to the ball games, watch on television, and listen to the games on the radio. Who knows what this team can do with some support from their city? They will certainly show up every day, it is up to us as Jays fans to do the same... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.com

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