Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Opening Day In Toronto

Opening Day at the Rogers Centre.
My first major league opening day, courtesy of my generous hosts at Ubisoft Toronto. 
Jerseys everywhere in the crowd - a sea of Lawries and Bautistas and Dickeys and Reyeses. A few Encarnacions and others mixed in here and there, with a smattering of old school Carter and Halladay and and Molitor bobbing through the crowd of 48000 plus. Those who aren't wearing jerseys are wearing Jays themed t-shirts, ones commemorating Opening Day, or seasons past, or a bunch of guys proudly displaying shirts that say "I LOVE BJs". Hats are everywhere to - retro Jays caps, modern ones, a fedora someone has attached a stuffed bluejay to, and more. Everyone is excited, everyone is here for the new team full of airlifted former Mets and Marlins and Giants and Angels that is finally going to challenge the Sox and the Yankees atop the AL East.
And floating through the crowd, one guy in a Miami Marlins jersey. It's a #7, a Reyes. Which means he got it cheap.
Just like the Jays.

#

R.A.. Dickey is having a bad night, and it's not his fault. The man everyone assumed would be his personal catcher, Josh Thole, has been sent down to AAA. Instead the offense-minded J.P. Arencibia is there to try to wrangler Dickey's hard knuckler, and by the bottom of the second, it's clear the experiment isn't working.
Oh, the knuckler is knuckling. Jason Kipnis gets so befuddled by one he loses his bat, and it flies into the stand. It's a cold night, and the knuckler is darting and weaving and bobbing, and often ending up anywhere but Arencibia's glove. Four balls roll to the backstop by the end of the 2nd inning. And it becomes clear that Dickey is frustrated, that he's reining in his arsenal. That means jucier pitches for Cleveland to hit, and eventually, Asdrubal Cabrera plants one.
Dickey's gone after, having thrown well over 100 pitches. 3 earned runs, 4Ks, 4 walks, 1 wild pitch, 3 passed balls for his catcher. By then, the Jays are in a hole they'll never climb out of.

#

The chant only rises when Jose Bautista, # 19, comes to the plate. He's in constant motion there, hips waggling, bat circling, head bobbing, and all around him the sound cascades down:  Jose, Jose Jose Jose, Jo-seeee, Jo-seee.....it goes on and on. None of the other Blue Jays have chants. None of them have proven themselves to be the sort of thundering monster Bautista has been. Tonight, he's 1-3 with a walk and 2 strikeouts. He does no damage. But the chant, it is only for him.

#

Justin Masterson has been overrated, then underrated. Overrated because he was a Red Sox prospects, and all of them get the shiny halo of Peter Gammons' approval and the benediction of WEEI, and underrated after he went to Cleveland in a trade and didn't immediately become the new Greg Maddux. Tonight he works quickly, hitting 97 and pounding the zone with fastball after fastball. He flashes the curveball occasionally, but there's no need. He gets strike one on roughly half the hitters he faces, which is another way of saying the top of the Jays' lineup chases the first pitch all night and does little damage as a result. Most of his strikes are called; he gets very few swings and misses. But tonight, he doesn't need them.

#

Sergio Santos comes snorting out of the bullpen in the 8th, much to the chagrin of the guy sitting next to me. It's not a save situation - the Jays are down 3 and haven't gotten a hit since the 3rd - but the team plays it up anyway. There's a hard-rocking montage video on the big screen in center, and White Zombie's "Dragula" blasts out of every speaker. He's in because Aaron Loup has allowed a baserunner, and before the last notes of Rob Zombie's masterpiece have quieted, Santos has given up a wicked double. The crowd mutters. Santos' 2012 was wrecked by injury, an Andrew Bynum-esque series of "almost readies" that turned into a lost season. Now he's finally live again, and it's all blowing up in his face.
Except the next batter, he drops on 3 straight pitches. And the batter after that, he gets on 3 more strikes. 7 pitches, all strikes.
They replace him with another reclamation project, thick-glassed Brett Cecil for the 9th, but it doesn't matter. Cecil doesn't get White Zombie.

#

Aaron Lind has himself a bad game tonight.  You want to like the guy; he seems affable enough, even if his player portrait does make you suspect he runs out between innings to try to put a few rounds in Sheriff Raylan Givens. (To be fair, his teammate Colby Rasmus looks like he should be painting van art; a nice wizard riding a polar bear to fight a dragon would be awesome, thanks.) It's Lind who grounds into a double play when it looks like Masterson is on the ropes. It's Lind who swings at just about everything.


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The guys in the section to our right try to start a wave. It fails. They try it several times. It always fails. Occasionally, someone tries to start a wave counter-clockwise. This fails, too.
"You suck!", one of the would-be wave starters yells at our section, the section where the abortive wave always dies. Nobody argues.

#

Eighth inning. Vinny Pestano comes in. The guy sitting next to me says "He's named Vinny. We talked about him. We've got to be due."
Vinny gets the Jays.
The ninth inning rolls around. The family sitting in front of us leaves. My neighbor starts chanting "let's go Blue Jays" and hammering the chair in front of him in time. Hundreds of other people join him. "The kids, they were messing with my mojo," he says, mostly seriously. "Now we're gonna score some runs."
Grizzly Adams lookalike Chris Perez comes in. Encarnacion, the former E5 reinvented as a slugging 1B, flies out. The next batter flies out. A guy walks up the aisle, looks at us, and says, "Hate to say it, guys, but it's over." Then the Jays get a hit, their first since the third inning. The crowd surges to its feet.
And then it's over.

#

Geddy Lee throws out the first pitch. Lee's renowned for being a huge baseball fan. I've got tickets for Rush in May in Raleigh - taking my wife, who's never seen them live. Hopefully, he'll be over the night's disappointment by then. I'd hate to have the ghost of Justin Masterson haunting "Tom Sawyer".

#

J.P. Arencibia is having a bad night. His walkup music is Billy Squier's "The Stroke".
That's enough to call it a bad night.

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The crowd spills out into the streets after the game ends. They're talking about what they're going to do next, where they're going to go. Some are headed for the King Street streetcar, some are headed for bars, some are headed home. One guy stands out there offering cash for used tickets. Art supplies? A memorabilia dealer? Who knows. And two guys float through the crowd against traffic, chanting "Let's go Leafs! Let's go Leafs!"
But just two. Because it's Opening Day.
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