“I’m reliving the same day over and over.” – Bill Murray, Groundhog Day
Mother Nature decided to irresponsibly skip spring—who doesn’t enjoy an extra month of winter coats?—and usher in summer with Aroldis Chapman-like heat for Hogtown.
In Toronto, if you can depend on anything, it is the inconsistency of weather and the failure of meteorologists to assist you in planning out your day.
Baseball fans in Ontario’s capital know all too well the additional recurrence during the sunny season: looking up from the American League East basement.
It is June 9, and the fourth place Blue Jays (the universe wouldn’t be right if the hapless Orioles weren’t trailing Toronto) are enviously chasing New York, Boston and those pesky Tampa Bay Rays from behind.
On the ninth of June last year, the Jays were in the exact same position in the standings. A year before that the blue birds were proudly hugging onto third place like a sad bunch of chachka hoarders.
June 9, 2008? Dead-last place.
You may want to be sitting down when you read this. The only Major League Baseball franchise playing north of the border has not been higher than third place in the AL East on June 9 since 1993.
Interestingly, that season there were only two divisions comprising each league, the Expos still existed and the Jays were in second place, a game behind Detroit.
Toronto fans have heard it all ever since the Blue Jays' second of back-to-back World Series titles. But after a while, “five-year plans,” “three-year plans,” and “rebuilding seasons” start to fall on deaf ears.
Along with the food at the SkyDome, now Rogers Centre (don’t ask), the team got worse following its two glorious seasons perched atop the baseball universe. They then stayed worse and have now been condemned to an eternity in standings purgatory.
While a healthy fan base still hangs on every pitch, attendance numbers rank 25th out of 30 teams. And if there ever was a Jays’ bandwagon, it has likely been sold for future considerations.
J.P. Ricciardi was to be the saviour of the franchise, touted as a precocious character who could bring lessons learned from his mentor Billy Beane and the low-budget Oakland A’s.
But one misstep led to another, the rebuilding plan was delayed—as all construction jobs are— and Torontonians began to naturally tune out as management vacillated over the timeframe to respectability.
Alex Anthopoulos, a former Expos scout, was promoted to his current role of GM after the 2009 season, pitched as the young mind that could alter Toronto’s stale baseball malaise and provide sustenance to the organization.
Since his installment, Jays supporters are no longer being force-fed meaningless deadlines for improvement but instead a holistic approach for the ballclub.
Going forward, the team will develop talent from within, spend what’s necessary to compete with the big dogs (although within reason), and maintain a stockpiled farm system that was essentially bare.
Unfortunately for Toronto, 2011 reeks with an immutable familiarity.
Boston currently possesses one of the most frightening lineups possibly ever assembled in baseball—one-through-six are a pitcher’s nightmare—and the Yankees are not only finding ways to win despite an aging roster and questionable depth in their rotation, but Bartolo Colon is making unique advancements in stem cell research.
Expanded scouting departments, high-school draft picks and a legion of area scouts all sound lovely, but it is once again June 9, and the Jays are in all-too-familiar territory.
However, this time around the outcome just might be altered. Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia look to be forming an imposing middle of the order, the type in which opposing pitchers simply find no solace.
Youngsters Brett Lawrie, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose, and Deck McGuire among others, are showing immense promise in the minor leagues, and could be key cogs in a powerful near-term lineup.
Toronto will not be throwing copious amounts of cash at free agents like Prince Fielder; they are sticking to a plan.
Quick digression, Lawrie’s injury might have been a blessing in disguise. The kid was on the verge of drowning in a pool of his own hype, and overbearing pressure has been known to ruin a swing or two.
Die-hards won’t waver, and kudos to the staunch supporters of this consistently inconsistent team.
But don’t blame skeptics who choose to keep the Jays at arm’s length. Sporting letdowns in Toronto are become increasingly sour to imbibe, no matter how plush the farm system or deeply stocked the inventory of radar guns may be.
After a numbing winter, summer has arrived, and the Blue Jays are hovering .500, trailing the plutocrats of the AL East.
If you buy what Toronto’s front office is selling, then this may be the final uniform June 9th for some time.
If not, there is always a five-year plan.