Friday, March 31, 2006


Play Ball-2006

The Toronto Blue Jays open their regular season on Tuesday, April 4, 2006, at 7:15pm.

In many ways, the first game of a baseball season is similar to the opening night of a theatrical production. The curtains open, for the first time. The players are ready, the spectators present, and the production begins.

Watching the activity taking place in the southern United States is like peeking behind the curtain before the play begins. When one leaves the northern climate to view the boys of summer in February or March, the experience is enhanced.

When a team has new personnel, we peek a little more keenly behind the curtain to see what goods the producers and directors have in store for the fans in the upcoming season.

We find that the supporting cast---those considered to play secondary roles---are working hard in case circumstances dictate they are needed.

In sport, injuries often influence the success or failure of a team. From the get go, the manager considers the condition of his players when filling out the starting line up card. Last season, the Jays’ “Doc” Halladay fielded a line shot off his shin, and spent the rest of the season on the shelf. The moment he hit the dirt, you could hear the collective sigh of disappointment from the Blue Jays’ brass.

Ten years ago, I got my first taste of spring ball in Florida. It is indeed a thrill---one that no fan should miss. You cannot help but catch an instant feel for the game---the usual colour and pageantry, the stretching and jogging in the outfield, the pop of a catcher’s glove warming up a pitcher, the sweet sound of a ball well hit in the middle innings.

Disney has a baseball complex near the Orlando site. The Atlanta Braves work out their winter kinks there, and I witnessed a glimpse of the season preparation there.

A couple of weeks ago, I had another look at the spring activity in Dunedin. The Jays have called Dunedin home since their inception. They play at Knology Park, nestled centrally in the town on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

The Game Program is a must---and most informative, especially for the casual fan. Latest line ups, photos of the current roster, news and views from Major League Baseball. ( And, just in case you had forgotten on your flight south, the words for “O Canada” are prominently displayed on page one.

The Jays and the Pittsburgh Pirates got under way at 6:06pm. Pleasant, shirt-sleeve conditions enhanced by Vernon Wells’ first home run of the season---in the bottom of the first inning. The Jays went on to thump the Pirates, with timely hitting and solid pitching. Gustavo Chacin started, without his sunglasses. He notched three strong innings, and was followed by Walker, Ryan, Speier, and Schoeneweis to seal the deal

Adams at short and Hill at second were solid up the middle. They seem to be working out nicely together with management hoping to erase memories of “O Dog”---Orlando Hudson, who was traded in the off-season. Both Hill and Adams served as the brunt of a pre season prank when they watched, in amazement with the other players as a small plane towed a banner across the Florida sky---with a proposition of marriage from Aaron to Russ. Now legal in Canada, if they insist.

Another great Canadian tradition, a Labatt’s Blue at the ball park---available in Dunedin---at almost the same price as it is at the Rogers centre in Toronto. Dig deep.

With Wells coming around, with newcomers Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay supplying power in the middle of the line up, with Alex Rios and Eric Hinske battling for position in the outfield, the Jays will put up some runs.

Good health remains an important issue with the pitching staff.

Expectation for the Jays runs high---albeit slightly moderated from a couple of months ago—when the pundits had them hoisting the hardware in October, 2006. The doubts remain, and the Yankees and the Red Sox are not expected to roll over and expire just yet. A long, tough season ahead. I will see you at the Rogers.

James Hurst

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