Left Corner and A Prayer

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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!