The subway train paused between stops headed to Union Station… and I thought… how funny would it be if the train broke down and I missed the Leafs opener? Fortunately, within minutes, I was at the pre-game party at Maple Leaf Square amongst a few thousand enthusiastic Leafs fans. It was what could be described as a playoff type atmosphere.

Deb joined me for the first of 82 Maple Leaf games I’ll attempt to attend this year. After speaking with a number of well-wishers in the Square, we decided to head inside the newly named Scotiabank Arena for the pregame skate. In the past we’ve attended many season-opening games. While the excitement surrounding the team is probably the highest in the history of the franchise, there was definitely a buzz of nervousness amongst the throng of supporters. I could relate to that nervousness because after months of talk to follow the Leafs for every game this season, it was now showtime.

Speaking with fans as we circled the hallways of Scotiabank we heard tales of families bonding watching “Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday evenings. Clark and Gilmour were the inspirational heroes for the 35-45 age bracket. And for fan Greg Hale, it was Nikolai Borschevsky’s game 7 overtime winner against Detroit in 1993 that turned the 49-year-old into a lifetime fan.

MLSE Chairman of the Board Larry Tanenbaum invited Deb and I to the Directors lounge between the first and second periods to wish us well with our Maple Leafs project.

Police Superintendent Scott Baptist shared a story of his aunt gifting him a team signed stick from the 1950-51 Toronto Maple Leafs. The stick was his pride and joy.
He sold it about 15 years ago, regretting it everyday since. The pained expression on his face as he relayed the story certainly drove the point home. I tried to comfort Scott by suggesting he not look at the loss of the stick but instead the memory of the artifact that will bond him with his aunt and the Maple Leafs for the rest of his life. A big smile came across his face and he shook my hand saying that made him feel a lot better.

My old pal, the flamboyant ex-Dragons Den star Mike Wekerle, stopped by between the second and third intermission. We chatted and after a few hugs, a passionate well-wish, a number of selfies with curious onlookers, he was gone as fast as he arrived.

Deb and I both agreed on the subway ride home how fast the night went. What a blur it was with all the excitement around us. It certainly wasn’t lost that the Leafs didn’t play very well, but won anyway. I pointed out to Deb-that is the sign of a good team. But our guys will have to play much better. Opening night jitters.
We also both agreed that the highlight of the night (sorry Wek) was 30 year Leafs fan Mike, who was attending his first game. His best friend Julian brought him. When asked what the Maple leafs meant to him growing up, he said it was watching the games with his dad. It bonded them forever and they shared the passion for the Maple Leafs as father and son. With tears streaming down his face, Mike said the last words his dad ever spoke to him before he passed away were, “What was the score?”. This kind of memory and engagement is what it’s all about for me.

I’m ready for the next one! Another division rivalry game at home hosting the Sens on “Hockey Night in Canada”. I can’t wait to step foot back in the thick of the excitement. Hearing the stories and connections we have as fans is what continues to inspire me on this journey.

See you at the rink!

The idea to attend all 82 Toronto Maple Leafs games in a season is something I’ve pondered for years. A Notre Dame friend of mine has attended every Irish football game since 1977. My first reaction to this feat was the impact it must have on his day-to-day life. But college teams have their schedules five years in advance, so for him, the planning was fairly straightforward. The more I thought about it, the more I thought why not attempt this with the Leafs? They are an iconic franchise with worldwide appeal. The Centennial Season would’ve made a wonderful platform to leverage. Unfortunately, that “work thing” was still affecting my social life at the time so it never materialized in 2016-17. But the idea wasn’t thrown out completely, just put on the backburner.

Now retired, walking with Deb in Florida last winter, I bounced the idea off her again. A little pushback was expected, but her reaction was the total opposite; she immediately embraced the idea. She “got” that this was the natural progression for me, culminating my life-long passion for the Leafs. I’ve been an acquirer of artifacts for over 50 years. We built a shrine to display the collection in our home and used the collection to raise millions of dollars for charity. Our brand has reached fellow Leafs fans and collectors, and I connect with them almost daily. We have now moved most of the collection to the Museum of History in our Nation’s Capital. These days I spend my time researching and speaking about the history of the team and these pieces. So… what’s left to accomplish?

The Maple Leafs brand is stronger today than ever in the history of the franchise. Why not spend my time uncovering how that’s possible, especially given a 50+ year Stanley Cup drought?!

Foster Hewitt first broadcast Leafs games from the Mutual Street Arena in the 1920’s. But it wasn’t until they went across the country in 1933 that the true love of this team began to expand. Radio was in its infancy stages but growing exponentially across North America. Families would gather around the radio on Saturday nights to listen to the hockey game. Foster’s hockey broadcasts entertained the Canadian troops overseas during the war. He became more famous than the Prime Minister of the country!

The love of the team has been passed through generations of families. Brendan Shanahan once told me the one thing his family did religiously was watch Hockey Night in Canada together, every Saturday night. There are thousands of Canadian families with a similar story, but that’s just scratching the surface. This inspires me to want to experience, first hand, what other Leafs fans go through in their respective cities. Maybe they quietly cheer for the Leafs after moving to a new city when they were already a Leafs fan. Or maybe it’s a family tradition that dates back generations. Whatever ties them to the team, I’m hoping they will share their story with me and I in turn will pass along to Leafs Nation through this project.

The connection someone has to the team may be as simple as a one-off game, like the female recruiter I hired while I was still in school. She once went on a date to a Leafs game. She didn’t like hockey but figured the guy was worth the effort. The game in question was February 7, 1976. That one-off game turned into one of the most historical on record, when Darryl Sittler scored 10 points. She has that story to tell for the rest of her life.

Unlike other sports that broadcasted games in the early days (starting in 1921), teams like the New York Yankees or Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t the only game in town like the Maple Leafs were throughout Canada. That exclusivity is what separated the Leafs from other teams. They became the team for fans not only in Toronto, but also as far as Vancouver. It was the common thread that bonded children with their grandfathers. They talked about the rich history of those times and what the Maple Leafs meant to them.

The Leafs have the mark of not winning for over 50 years. Sometimes that curse can be the bond that holds public interest in a team. The Argos have a record 17 Grey Cup Victories, but there was a 31 year drought (1952-1983) where they were dubbed “the loveable losers”. At the time, the Argos regularly drew 40,000+ fans to old CNE Stadium with the attraction, “How will they blow this one?”…thus the derogatory chant “ARRRRRRGGGGGOOOOS.” When they finally won and broke the curse, the interest in the team faded. Today they are a sad shadow of themselves drawing fewer than 15,000 fans per game. The Chicago Cubs were baseball’s “lovable loser” for 71 years, finally breaking their curse in 2016. However, they continue their tradition of an engaged fan base. The Boston Red Sox were also the perennially cursed going 86 years (1918 to 2004) before winning again. Now, like the Cubs, they are a regular contendar and continue to have a huge fan following. Ironically, both the Cubs and the Red Sox also boast the two most iconic sports stadiums (Fenway and Wrigley) in professional sport. The experience and environment in those stadiums made them league-wide attractions and is a big part why the teams stayed relevant during their decades of failure.

The public interest and undying, fanatical passion for the Leafs survives the ups and downs of the teams on-ice success. The Leafs hold a generational bond like no other team. Their tradition has extended itself over decades. The passion continues to grow as they inch closer each season to the pinnacle of hockey, The Stanley Cup. What would a Championship season mean for Leafs Nation? Stay tuned…

“Loyal employees contribute extensively to the productivity of your business. They are able to create the value required to put your business on the path to success. Customers are always on the lookout for value and nothing else.”

Loyalty became a hot topic earlier this summer after the Raptors traded DeMar Derozan to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. It wasn’t so much the trade that became a contentious issue but rather DeRozan’s claim that Raptor President Masai Ujiri assured him he wouldn’t be traded this off-season.

First off how any GM could ever make that promise is beyond me especially with a team like the Raptors that haven’t advanced in the playoffs with players like DeRozan and his sidekick Kyle Lowry. This became even more apparent after a franchise record 59 win season and they were not only easily eliminated but also embarrassingly schooled by Cleveland. A change was inevitable .

It’s understandable DeRozan was upset because the immediate reaction was he’s the problem. Lowry equally upset still won’t speak. Mind you the guy on the other side of the trade won’t speak either. What’s with these guys?

A couple days ago the Jays for reasons still unexplained traded (gave away) 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians. The fractured relationship between Donaldson and management centered on the recovery of a calf injury sustained last season. Donaldson claims the rehab exercises provided by the Jays inflicted further damage and wanted to use his own training regiment until he was 100%. Management questioned the length of recovery (it did seem excessive) that I’m sure had some baring on contract extension talks and the feud escalated into the player being moved.

This is no ordinary player in Donaldson who’s possibly the best Blue Jays player of all time (or close to it) and why management felt the need to dump him (along with cash for balance of salary owed) is beyond reasoning. Why not offer him a qualifier next season; if he produces like he’s capable, move him at the deadline for some assets, but this is just ludicrous. Spite. Stubbornness. Loyalty?

I was on Bay St for 40 years spending the last 20 at a firm I helped build into a powerhouse for 10 of those years. Management as a goodwill gesture for my loyalty said I had a spot on the desk until I called it a day, my terms. In December of 2015 the same head of the desk asked if I would commit for five more years. I said I would. The following month they bought me out. Loyalty?

If my story isn’t convincing enough then how about the go-to cliché, “If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can.”
Loyalty?

The Blue Jays Troy Tulowitzki injured his leg over a year ago and a few days before spring training decided he not only needed bone spurs removed from one foot but the second as well. This stiff who will go down as one of the softest players I’ve ever seen, even had the audacity to call his teammates out for not playing hard earlier in the summer. Loyalty?

Pitcher Aaron Sanchez has missed most of the last two years with blisters on his fingers. He soaking his hands in Palmolive?

Toronto pitcher Al Leiter had a similar blister injury between the 1991-93 seasons; the Jays stuck by him, he rebounded with a good year and in the off-season signed with another team. Loyalty?

I’m 64 years old and had full hip replacement in March; was on a stationary bike 3 weeks later and playing hockey less than 6 weeks after the operation. Conversely, we know that baseball players are extremely soft athletes, but these guys take the cake. Aren’t they supposed to be elite level athletes who look after themselves in the off-season? Loyalty?

In 1992, the Jays signed Dave Winfield as a free agent; not only did he perform beyond expectations on the field, his leadership in the locker room guided the Jays to their first World Series Championship, climaxed with the Series clinching hit in game 6 against the Atlanta Braves. The day of the parade and Pennant raising ceremony Jays GM Pat Gillick informed Winfield the Jays wouldn’t be protecting him two days later when free agency began. Most teams during that era out of loyalty would have extended Winfield for a few more years and come to regret it.

Instead, Gillick used the opportunity to sign Paul Molitor who not only finished second to team mate John Olerud in the American League batting title but was also MVP of the 1993 World Series.

Making tough decisions is not only loyalty to the team, players and fans but disciplined decisions creates winning organizations. The number one rule in sports; management should never get to close to the players. The best-operated companies/ sports franchises have strong leadership and employees/players know exactly what’s expected of them. People do not like change. Period!

Owners that continue to sign troubled players who’ve been released or suspended by another team are just kicking the can down the road. Is this loyalty to the player by giving them a second chance or greed?

A few years ago Lebron James announced on National TV he was leaving Cleveland to sign with the Miami Heat
that not only crushed the team but it made a mockery of the NBA. Self-Serving. Loyalty?

He returned to Cleveland a few years later, had the coach fired (they were in first place); the young players were traded away and this year he’s decided to play in LA leaving the team in shambles again. Loyalty?

Toronto Raptors GM Glen Grunwald in the mid 1990’s used the same approach as Cleveland to keep Raptor star Vince Carter happy that not only cost Grunwald his job but also put the franchise in disarray.

Speaking of Carter, this clown went to his school graduation ceremony the morning of the 2001 game 7 Eastern Conference semi-finals and missed the game winning shot. Poetic justice. Loyalty?

Carter recently had the gall to criticize Raptor management for the DeRozan trade questioning their loyalty to the player.

This is the same Carter who was traded away from Toronto in disgrace for quitting on his team. Delusional. Loyalty?

Greedy owners for decades took advantage of players and even with the pendulum now swinging the other way; management still has the final say. Who do you think has more staying power in a standoff; the billionaire owners or the players? There has to be a happy medium for both sides, but how will that ever be decided?

Athletes must come to the understanding that similar to anyone working for a living entitlement doesn’t exist. For too long they’ve believed they are immune to the unjust realism of everyday life. Not only are they given the opportunity of financial reward and stability faster than the average working guy, concessions are made because of what they do for a living.

Granted those concessions are heaped upon the athlete by the media, fans, and owners, but at the end of the day, like any long-standing employee, their usefulness runs its course. Business. Loyalty?

The NFL is the most popular and financially lucrative of all sports in North America. The NFL currently finds itself in a real pickle with the players over standing for the National Anthem.

Now first off, I think the playing of the National Anthems is the biggest waste of time in sports.
Played during the Olympics or a major International sporting event makes sense but for a regular season game? Pointless.

Right or wrong the league has to take a firm stance; if the rule is standing for the Anthem and a player doesn’t? Fine, suspend or cut him. Period. How long would an employee last if they staged a sit-in at work that had nothing to do with their day to day job? Business. Reality. Loyalty?

Owners with the insatiable desire to win at all costs continue to over look the indiscretions of a player that can help them win, never mind how loyal they are. That’s the problem in a nutshell. It’s about winning and I have no problem with that as long as they remain unified in the approach.

Only when the four professional leagues regulate with consistency and enforce them as one, will we see unity amongst owners and players.

Sadly until that day arrives (and I don’t see it happening anytime soon) the inmates will continue to rule the asylum.

It’s been a few weeks since the Leafs have been banished to the sidelines, as observers while the chase for the Stanley Cup continues and is usually the case, the questions about what went wrong are plentiful. One storyline that won’t go away is the relationship between Mike Babcock and the team’s best player Auston Matthews.

In the 1971 NHL draft, Guy Lafleur was selected first overall and was heir apparent to the long succession of French-Canadian superstars. Under the demanding four-line system of Scotty Bowman the twenty-year-old Lafleur struggled his first few years and scoring just 21 goals in his third year, he was booed at the Forum. He considered jumping to the WHA to play for the Quebec Nordiques and when Montreal had to make a decision to stick with him or let him walk, they turned to Bowman for an assessment of just how good he would prove to be. Bowman thought he’d be a good player but never more than a second-liner, “ a Bob Nevin type.”

Two years later he scored 53 goals.

Punch Imlach had a less than grade-A relationship with Frank Mahovlich that may have lead to one of the few breakdowns the Big M had during their 10-years together.

The 1960-61 season, Mahovlich’s best as a Maple Leaf with 48 goals, Punch was asked what Frank did that year to have that kind of success.

“He was aggressive; take a look at his penalties, he had 131 minutes about one third more than his average.”
Imlach for years tried to motivate Mahovlich to play that way and during stretches of games he would show that aggression with success. Before game six of the 1967 Stanley Cup final and coming off his worst season as a Leaf with 18 goals, Imlach teed off on Frank again,

“If I landed on him hard he could go anyway so I took a chance; in other words I talked to him like he was any other player I thought was letting us down.

At one point I looked at him and said I don’t know where you’re from, Chicoutimi or some place but you should have stayed there so I wouldn’t have to be bothered with you.”

The Leafs won the Cup that night.

You think playing for successful coaches like Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka, Woody Hayes or Bobby Knight to mention a few was easy?

Temperamental baseball manager Billy Martin once defined managing a ball club with this analogy, “On a 25 man roster you will always have 15 guys who will run through a wall for you; you have 5 who absolutely hate your guts and the remaining 5 are on the fence. My job as manager is to make sure those 5 guys who hate your guts don’t speak to the 5 guys on the fence.”

There is a fine line for coaches to push players, especially ones new to the professional ranks. Remember most of these kids have been superstars all their lives and could do no wrong; played as much as they physically were able to and pretty much given the keys to the kingdom on every team they played. They reach the pro ranks and are suddenly surrounded by 25 guys just like them with another 25 looking for a shot as well. Why do you think some of the most successful careers are from lower draft picks?

It’s simply because those lower picks had to make every team they’ve ever played for and are mentally prepared to challenge for a job.

Young players are not only impressionable but also fragile and coaches are cognizant of this molding a player into their particular system. It can be a very difficult transition for a young player who’s basically let his skills carry him to this point in his career. It’s why coaches have shelf lives.

The Mike Keenan 3-year plan is a trap most coaches can fall into easily. The first year you can preach and instruct just about anything because the young star is happy to be in the league. Year two comes around and if there is some success from year one, the model will continue, but year 3 is the critical year because if it’s the same constant pressure from the coach and no further team advancement, the player can soon tune him out. I never believe a player quits on a coach but definitely plays more defensive to job preservation than risk going the extra for that coach.

Mike Babcock has three years under his belt as Leafs coach and the honeymoon is over. The pressure to succeed will only accentuate moving forward next year and some of his moves questioned; such as why isn’t your best player on the number one power play? He must scrutinize these situations very carefully because not only are the players watching closely, so is management. Remember when things turn for the worst, the quickest solution is to fire the coach because you can’t fire the whole team.

It would almost be impossible to find a successful company or team today that had an environment that everyone got along. If that were the case, then someone is patronizing someone and disaster cannot be far behind.
We live in a results orientated world and I could care less whether Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews even speak as long as they’re on the same page for the few hours they are together at the rink. If your boss weren’t in a power of position would you even speak to him? Maybe you would or maybe you wouldn’t, but for those 8 to 10 hours a day you find a way to make it work regardless.

Lanny McDonald told me that the players in Montreal hated Scotty Bowman, but they respected him. Respect wins championships; friendship gets you unemployed.

Three years ago the Leafs were dead last in the NHL. The progression since has been fun to watch and the depth in the organization (Marlies in Calder Cup finals) is second to none in the National Hockey League. With a solid foundation built through the draft it assures the Leafs will be competitive for years to come and isn’t that all we can ask as fans?

As long as Matthews and Babcock have the same result in mind once the puck is dropped and remembering that actions speak louder than words; who cares how they get there?

Beginning this week with first round match-ups set, the NHL unleashes the professional hockey version of Spring Madness. Parity has afforded the league the luxury of a playoff season that really is open to any of the sixteen participants to be crowned Stanley Cup Champion. Beginning back in September, the seven months of blood, sweat, and toil to qualify for the extended season drives home the cruelty of sport with the reality, it could all be over in a week. The roller coaster ride of emotions during this period reek havoc on a city but nothing unifies one more than a deep playoff run. Bring it on!

So much has to go right for teams to win starting with the surprise hero from nowhere; a hot or cold goalie depending which side of the goal line you are cheering from; upsets tilt the tournament bracket to the unknown and in a way level the playing field. These occurrences are what make the NHL playoffs the best in sports, bar none.

Entering the playoffs in a much stronger position this year, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to challenge for a shot at the sixteen victory parade. However, along with the improved success comes higher expectations coupled with a controversial playoff format (two of the top 3 seeds in each division go head to head in the first round). Simply put, four very good teams will be eliminated in the opening round and while this makes for heart pounding excitement it will suck for the losers. But isn’t this what great sports are all about, a wide-open playoff format available to any team that qualifies? How envious is the NBA that has maybe four teams who have a chance at a title and the rest are basically schedule fillers? The MLB season opened over the weekend and by the end of May, twenty teams will pretty much be eliminated from post-season play.

While this signifies why the NHL is the best pro league in North America hands down, it also means your team could quickly be watching from the sidelines. Which brings me to the Leafs.

Does Toronto have a realistic chance to win the Cup this year? If everything goes right they sure do.

No team ever wins a Stanley Cup with out great goaltending so that’s a given. The simplicity of the game is to keep the puck out of your net and score one more than the other team. That concept hasn’t changed since the game was played on regular basis starting in 1875. The Leafs defensive zone play will be the key to success or failure thus it’s imperative the forwards be committed to defense first and foremost. The transition to offense with Toronto’s skilled forwards will take care of itself and similar to Pittsburgh the last two years, they didn’t have big forwards either, yet they prioritized defense and the result are back-to-back Championships.

The Leafs have an edge with the depth up front and if utilized properly (with Babcock’s experience there’s no doubt they won’t) this is what could separate them from whomever they play. Besides great goaltending, the other obvious is the best players have to outplay the other teams best players. No question about that.

The difference maker is usually how the bottom three or even the bottom six play versus the opponent. If the Maple Leafs can take advantage of this and get production from the bottom six this will be a difference maker (they have 4 or 5 players with limited ice that would play regular throughout half the league).

The Leafs recently played the Winnipeg Jets and some labeled it a preview of a possible future Stanley Cup match-up maybe as soon as this year (the odds for the Leafs to win the Cup went up after losing that game). That’s all well and dandy but I like to look at that loss as a reminder game. With the score tied at one in the second period Blake Wheeler drove the net and charging hard, Mark Scheifele was set to pounce on a loose puck but unintentionally ran into Leaf goalie Frederick Anderson. He tried to brace the impact by putting his arms around Anderson but was going to fast to slow the contact and even apologized after. The Leafs bench was incensed at the non-call (should have been a penalty) and moments later Jake Gardiner in uncharacteristic fashion crosschecked Scheifele into the boards behind the net. While serving the penalty not only did the Jets score but a minute later had a second in the back of the Leafs net. They lost the game 3-1.

As the playoffs approach the compete level is ratcheted up and things aren’t going to go your way all the time, calls will be missed or let go and any lack of discipline will end up with the puck in the back of your net. Expect the unexpected; ignore the cheap shots, late hits or anything that may upset your game. One goal can end a season very quickly and remember it’s an easier game with five skaters on the ice. Stay out of the box. Discipline and hard work create opportunity.

Mitch Marner knows better than anyone about increased intensity once the post season begins; last year Washington targeted him and he was pretty much a non-factor. I will bet that doesn’t happen again this year who ever the Leafs play starting with Boston.

The shock factor will be replaced by nervous energy.

First off the Leafs power play is very effective and the number one unit doesn’t even feature the best player on the team. Teams like Boston will be a little less likely to entice a player or take a cheap shot but they still will (insert Brad Marchand’s name here). The Leafs also have enough scoring on every line that the opponents can’t cover them all!

As I said earlier, if the Toronto forwards can limit the scoring chances of their man once the other team has puck possession it increases the chance for success. Again the plan is pretty simple, which is, if you don’t have the puck, go get it!
Much easier said than done, yes I understand that (the other guys are paid to score as well) but if the Leafs can efficiently manage their own end with the help of all twelve forwards?

It could be a fun spring!

If you haven’t read Doug Michel’s account retracing the early growing pains of the WHA and his franchise, The Ottawa Nationals, I’d highly recommend the book “Left Wing and A Prayer.” The context of the story is the signing of Chicago Black Hawk superstar left winger, Bobby Hull to the Winnipeg Jets with the rest of the teams picking up a portion of the contract; this would give the league instant credibility trying to sign established stars away from NHL clubs. The Prayer, using your imagination I think is pretty straightforward.

With baseball season kicking off and the Jays ready to open against the Yankees, it is with subdued optimism the media and fans are approaching the upcoming campaign. With this thought in mind I compare the Jays upcoming season similar to that of the original Ottawa Nationals, only the title would read “Left Corner and a Prayer.” The Bobby Hull version of the story is the Blue Jay’s superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson (left side of the diamond), with hope and prayers falling to the performance of the remaining 24 roster players.

Donaldson may be the most talented player to ever wear a Toronto uniform since Robbie Alomar. His “hockey player” mentality (he must have some Canadian genes) endears him to the fan base, teammates and admiration from the rest of the league.

JD’s talents and worth to the Jays are indisputable.

Management has certainly not done itself any favours alienating themselves with the “back again” fan base with some questionable moves. President of baseball operations Mark Shapiro seemed more concerned eliminating long standing administrative personnel rather than focus on the numerous holes in the lineup. GM Ross Atkins using the same party line insists the team will be competitive and the playoffs are not a pipe dream.

Russ Martin has been a solid addition behind the plate with more to give but he’s a notoriously slow starter at the plate along with the issue he has that incurable disease, A G E. Despite endorsements from the pitching staff of his value, Luke Maile as Martins backup with a .146 batting average won’t cut it. On a good hitting club you can hide a weak bat, but this team will be fighting for hits and it’s a wasted spot in the lineup (remember R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher Josh Thole?).

While Devon Travis is a talented second baseman, his durability is a concern. Last year Travis was hit on the hand protecting his head in the batters box but went on the DL the next day with a banged up knee.
He’s a guy who risks injury putting his uniform on in the locker room everyday; never mind the playing field. As of this writing Gift Ngoepe is the backup. Exactly.

Since arriving in August of 2015, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki highlight as a Blue Jay appears to be having the coolest nickname on the team. Tulo in two and half years work has a below 250 ave, a little over 100 RBI’s, 36 home runs and played less than 240 games. His range appears below average and he like Travis risks injury tying up his spikes (he’s out with a ankle sprain from last August).

I’m 64 and in the last 4 months had a knee scope and 2 weeks ago hip replacement; I expect to be skating before the end of May.

Never mind the fact Tulowitzki’s been a complete dud (well he did hit a 3-run homer vs KC in the playoffs a few years ago), he’ll collect over $20 million this year for lack of effort. Tulo’s backup, another cast away, Aledmys Diaz, has similar numbers, adding another weak bat to the lineup.

Kevin Pillar leads the outfield core made of castoffs along with up and comers like Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez (they may not start in Toronto but will finish is my bet). With a little luck this could offer a glimmer of hope.
Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales should benefit from Donaldson back in the lineup full-time. Again there is some promise at the top of the order.

The bullpen has some question marks with Osuna’s mind set obviously the main concern. The bright spot if everything goes right are the starting five that have a chance to be the best in the American League. Early reports on Sanchez are very encouraging while Stroman needs to put aside the Showboat Bob theatrics and pitch. Period.

Any kind of injury to one of the five will be devastating with no depth in Buffalo besides Joe Biagini.

Good teams do the little things right and that formula filters throughout winning organizations. The Leafs as far back as the Ballard era ignored that concept, preferring quick-fix methods to bolster weak lineups that only created a dysfunctional environment top to bottom. The MLSE operate the Maple Leafs today with strong leadership, defined roles and a pecking order that’s unmistakably clear and are now enjoying the results in the win column.

After nine years Deb and I cancelled our season’s tickets with the Jays. The reason wasn’t the failure of last year; the horrific start was a combination of injuries, bad luck and poor play that happens to all teams in sports. Rather it was the bumbling ways of upper management beginning with the replacement of Paul Beeston the summer of 2015 and giving control of the ball club to Mark Shapario thus making Alex Anthopoulos redundant. What was the rush to sign him?

Since taking control of the helm, Shapario has replaced long time, loyal employees with his own from Cleveland; hasn’t acquired a front line player and with a team that fell to last place, raised ticket prices 17%.

We regularly attended over 50 games a year and if we weren’t using our seats, one of the kids would go. Deb had a corporate relationship with the Jays for many years and continued to book packages for business, friends, family etc. Our Jays rep was awesome and always accommodated us for last minute tickets or what ever our needs were. The never-ending upheaval with new management became too much and sadly he left the organization. Our service was never the same since he departed.

Deb asked for a 20-pack in our seats (section 115, row 15, 1,2) but was offered 20 rows higher in another section. We declined.

The Blue Jays haven’t sold out the opener; forward sales are weak, season’s sales down substantially and out of 20,000 season ticket purchases last season 50% were to ticket brokers, not real fans.

After suffering through recent bad seasons and purchasing hundreds of extra seats over the years, you think someone might want to ask why we cancelled.

No one from the Jays has contacted us to find out why. I don’t expect they ever will. Years ago, the Jays did contact subscribers who cancelled.

The only offering of an explanation from Shapario concerning the bump in prices was so that the Jays could compete with Boston and New York in free agency and to retain their own players.

The Jays have a very average team with some exciting kid prospects headed for double A so there is some help coming in the near future. However, every other team has the same plan.

Blue Jay’s management has to realize Toronto is a major market team and the fans deserve not only transparency but also vision. Continue to build the farm system and develop homegrown talent using free agency as an option to bolster the lineup with a missing arm or bat. Maybe Mark Shapario needs a tutorial in Shanaplan?

But all is not lost because despite concerns at backup catcher, 2nd, short, and hoping Curtis Granderson can turn back the clock, Randal Grichuk, can play fulltime in right and bullpen additions John Axford, Seung-Hwan Oh can get people out and the Jays stay injury free, GM Ross Aitkens really likes this team.

I hope he’s praying!

Oxford Dictionary defines superstition “A widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.”

One morning while living in Markham years ago and working downtown, I used a car service after a late evening the night before. As the sedan slowed in front of our building at York and King St. it suddenly dawned on me the driver had taken a different route than was the norm. It was my error not instructing the driver the preferred directions, so to right the situation he circled back to the DVP and drove my regular arrival route.

John Madden coached the Oakland Raiders during the glory years of the 1970’s and adamantly insisted that travelling to road games the team used the same airline and stayed at the same hotels. Everything was exact in each city, including room floors, taping and meeting rooms, dining Hall, bus departures to and from the stadium, along with the travel itinerary given to the wives of each player.

In 1984 Wayne Gretzky went on a 51 consecutive games point streak that actually extended 10 games from the previous year but wasn’t recognized. In this remarkable time frame Gretzky put up astounding numbers (61 goals, 92 assists, 153 points) and would go on to break the 200 point total (in 74 games) for the 2nd time in his career.
During the streak he wore his traditional Daoust skates, but constant wear split the leather heel inside the boot piercing his Achilles tendon, causing Wayne considerable discomfort. The Oilers training staff failed miserably attempting to correct the problem because usually a player would just replace the skates with new ones but double 9’s wouldn’t change. He wore them through the streak.

Between periods the late Pelle Lindbergh drank a Swedish Beer (had to be Pripps) with no more than two ice cubes in the glass, served by the same trainer.

Wade Boggs only ate chicken on game days and with 40 recipes to choose from his wife would make hundreds of meals each season.

Players are known for rituals that may seem trite or trivial but it’s more about feeling comfortable without distractions. John Madden’s anal-like approach to team travel was directing focus to the opponent rather than a player upset the Westin didn’t blend milkshakes like the hotel they usually stayed or the egg-salad wasn’t made similar.

Nothing defines the copycat world of sports more today than the also ran’s trying to match the winning formula of the successful teams. Five times Wimbledon Champion Bjorn Borg prepared for the tournament each year by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt. Teams in the NHL (1980’s Islanders were thought to be the first) picked up on the beard ritual that’s become almost a pre-requisite to participate in the playoffs. For some players everything from sitting on the team bus, getting dressed, taping a stick, to leaving the ice, is a process Batters choreograph an approach for each plate appearance, from the walk up song to getting set for the pitch.
Patrick Roy talked to his goal posts during games; Mark Fidrych became an overnight pitching sensation with the Detroit Tigers in 1976, spoke to himself between pitches and manicured the mound to start every inning. Glenn Hall threw up before every start in goal; Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Bulls uniform every game; Gretzky drank a diet coke, water and Gatorade between periods, in the same order; Ken Dryden wouldn’t leave the pre-game warm-up until he made one last save. Certain players like to be last on or off the ice after every period; the Pens broke the supposed jinx of touching any Cup other than the Stanley Cup a few years ago, they won.

Throughout my career I refused to listen to the news driving to work for fear I’d have preconceived ideas about what was happening in the markets, choosing instead to play rock music loud. My objective was to react to the impact of what was happening when I turned on the News screens at my desk, creating my own ideas.

Incidentally before turning in each night, I religiously checked the wake-up time on my alarm clock and tested the radio 3-times to make sure it was perfectly positioned. I was up 10-minutes before it was set each morning and the alarm never woke me once throughout my time on Bay St.

It’s of no consequence whether you play sports professionally or are a part of the working world; we all have our own quirky habits to get us through the day.

On a daily basis you may wake up, have breakfast, arrive at work by car or transit, read the paper with a Tim’s coffee sitting at your desk and answer emails before you start work. Is this superstitious because you follow the same ritual everyday? Of course not!

Do really think because Stan Mikita used to smoke between periods and then toss the butt over his left shoulder it contributed to his Hall Of Fame career? Goalies who religiously clean there crease every stoppage packing snow around the goalposts; does this slow a puck from entering the net? (Some used to place snow along the goal line). During the 1976 Playoffs against Philadelphia, Leafs coach Red Kelly without the player’s knowledge placed pyramids under the bench and dressing room. The Leafs came back and tied the series but lost in 7-games.

According to scientist our brain represents, “3% of our body’s weight but uses 20% of the body’s energy;” thus the clearer the mind, the more energy to concentrate on the challenge presented. If you apply that to a professional athlete, by ridding the mind of distraction by a set routine, ritual or if you insist a superstition, then they should react quicker in game situations. It makes sense.

Failing that you could apply ex-Maple Leaf Jim McKenny’s approach to success in the NHL, “Half the game is mental and the other half is being mental”

Recently I posted a piece about collecting autographs as part of the hobby. While I’ve never really been a big acquirer of signatures (funny I have a few hundred) I get the attraction to collect theme autographs of 500 goal scorers, Hall of Famers, teams, photos, etc. My passion is more about the artifacts that carry the story of the piece than having it signed. If the signature adds additional provenance or closure concerning the item, then by all means if the opportunity arises I’ll have the player sign. Standing in lines, waiting outside a hotel or rink, have never been things I’ve done with respect to my collection. While most of my experiences have been nothing but pleasant with the athletes there have been a few that didn’t go so well.

Years ago I attended the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago and with the weekly pass I purchased entitled me to a couple of autographs. I didn’t really have any interest in standing in a line but my curiosity got the best of me and decided to see what actually happens in the line (nothing) and waited for Johnny Unitas to sign a football. I thought by adding a Hall Of Fame quarterback would not only diversify my collection but also broaden the scope of topics to discuss. After forty-five minutes passed I started questioning myself why I was enduring this painful experience. Approaching the table set on a platform and handing Johnny the ball, he looked irritated with zero interest engaging in any kind of conversation with me, let alone a friendly nod. The feeling was mutual believe me.

I started to ask Unitas if he’d write his Hall of Fame induction year under his signature, but before I could blurt half the sentence, the staff member standing beside him shouted, “Mr. Unitas will only sign his name, so move along”

That would’ve been fine except for Unitas’s snicker of disgust that I could be so stupid asking such a thing.

My blood was boiling as I said, “Geez I guess after standing in that line for forty-five minutes my simple request must really be a burden on you Johnny. Just so we are clear I’m not trying to date you, just a little courtesy on your part might have been sufficient. You’re lucky I don’t drill this back in your face, but you’d probably sell it”

That certainly got Johnny’s attention as we glared at each other for what seemed a minute but was more likely a few seconds. I gave the ball away.

Joe Morgan ex-star of the Cincinnati Reds had just started his career hosting Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and was a guest signer at a Sports Collectors show.

Again I had a free autograph and reluctantly stood in a small line to get Joe to sign a baseball. Approaching the table I thought I’d offer a comment about something he mentioned about the Jays on a telecast, but he didn’t even acknowledge my presence. He took the ball, scribbled his name while gazing in another direction making me feel like a stalker and a foot tall. Leaning over the table I said, “Sorry to disturb you but in case you aren’t aware, you’re getting paid to do this, at least humour us, Jesus.”

He looked through me and said nothing. I decided that unless a player was in the same room with me, I’d never ask for a signature again.

I appreciate they are busy (so am I) but clowns like these two fail to realize the reason they are seated at the table is because of the fans standing in line.

I’m asked constantly what certain athletes are like to deal with and if I ever feel intimidated? Never.

They are superior athletes at sports we all played as kids (and even as adults) but I always say give one of them a seat at a trading desk on Bay St and we’ll see who’s the star.

My firm was a major sponsor of the Special Olympics black tie dinner held every December broadcast live on TSN. It was a star-studded affair with Toronto society out in full force along with a who’s who of celebrity guests.

It was near the end of the evening and I was walking back to check on a few things Deb and I were bidding on in the silent auction. I noticed Raptors star Vince Carter who was having a breakout season, capturing the hearts of Toronto including our two young boys at home. Carter was standing by himself so I decided to break my own rule and ask him to sign the two programs I had for Ryan and Jules. Approaching I said, “Vince you will make two young boys very happy and me a star if you can sign these to Ryan and Jules.”

He continued leaning against the wall, rolled his eyes and said, “Really man?”

Stunned I look at him and replied, “If its too much trouble don’t worry, they’ll never know”

He snatched the programs, scribbled his name shaking his head the whole time staring at the roof of the Convention Hall. It was all I could do to restrain from ripping into this goof but I just said thanks and walked away a non-Carter fan.
Carter was paid to be at the event and mingle; it wasn’t like I was following him around a mall or interrupting his dinner at a restaurant. The look on his face was like I’d asked him if he wanted a dose of aids!

Players like Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Ernie Whitt and Darryl Sittler showed the classy side of athletes taking photos and signing autographs until the end of the evening. By the way, Shawn Green had been traded to LA but still made a point to attend the event even though he easily could’ve bowed out.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was also at the same Special Olympics event and Deb’s son Jules was a fan of his. Deb bought his book in the silent auction and when Johnson had a free moment she approached him to mention what a fan Jules was and how much she was sure he was going to enjoy reading this book. Dwayne Johnson couldn’t have been nicer, personalized the book and passed a message along to Jules appreciating his support as a fan. Is it a coincidence The Rock is regarded as one of the classiest and truly “good guys” in Hollywood?

Most of the athletes I’ve encountered have a sincere appreciation for the fans and nothing defines a person’s character both professionally and personally than by the way they treat others.

Vince Carter is the same guy who attended a morning graduation ceremony rather than preparing for a game seven-playoff later that afternoon. Really Man!!

This same jerk quit on his team, played soft, sat out a game supposedly hurt but was spotted at a night club after the game and so on. Really Man!!

And they want to bring this stiff back and retire his number? Really Man!!

When someone is in the public eye I get the fact fans can be overbearing and demanding; it’s a small price to pay to afford the life they live. The public pays the freight and even though they have no financial interest in the team outside of purchasing merchandise and tickets, fans still think they own the franchise.

Fans Matter!

Maybe these Prima Donna’s forget they were kids once themselves and may have asked an athlete for an autograph or just a friendly handshake or greeting? The short encounter with an athlete can leave a lasting impression forever on a fan that’s either pleasant or otherwise.

If guys like Carter, Unitas, Morgan and so on, are so put out dealing with public life, then maybe they should say no in the first place? Oh but do you really think they would give up the money they are paid to attend card shows, fundraisers etc.? Not on your life would they.

I’ll guarantee when they get free meals, comp tickets, deals on houses, cars, boats or whatever it may be; they have a friendly smile for that fan.

A few years ago a friend of mine was escorting Jean Beliveau to a number of Hall of Fame events over a few days and was walking him back to the Royal York one night. Beliveau’s health was failing, it had been a long day (now close to 11pm) and there was a crowd of fans in front of the hotel waiting for the players to arrive.
My pal said to Jean,

“Mr. Beliveau I know you are tired so I have way through the back of the hotel that can avoid this big crowd and get you quickly to your room”

Jean looked at Kevin, “Thanks but those people made me who I am today and I wont disappoint them”

He stood and signed autographs for 45 minutes.