Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Opening Day in Toronto-2006

The Toronto Blue Jays opened their regular season at the Rogers Centre in magnificent fashion.

More than 50 000 fans roared their approval to the new-look Jays---and most of them were still in their seats when the Jays new closer, B. J. Ryan raced in from the bullpen to mop up in the ninth.

The Jays thumped the Minnesota Twins 6-3 to begin the quest for the North American championship. Two Cy Young Award winners faced each other---Halladay from the Jays and Johan Santana from The Twins. A quality matchup.

And now the question arises: How many fans will be in those same seats a month from now?

Suffice it is to say that Toronto has the reputation as a bandwagon city. True, the Leafs will always sell out---no matter what. They will be golfing very soon, and that may add a few fans at the former SkyDome. The Raptors are also on the brink of another disappointing season, and they will be heading to sunny climes soon.

Jays’ fans welcomed back their players in the pre-game ceremony, with a little extra applause for newly acquired Jays. They also added a little extra for Ernie Whitt, who managed the Canadian team in the World Baseball Classic, and for Justin Moreau, a Minnesota Twin who played for the Canadian squad.

I spoke with the Jays new catcher, Bengie Molina, after Tuesday’s game. Molina considers that his primary role as a Jay is to provide good defence, and support for his pitchers. In the fourth inning, he launched a towering blast into the far reaches of the park. It was drifting foul as he inched down the first base line. “I just prayed, and prayed, and prayed that it would stay fair. It was really exciting.”

Scott Schoeneweis, the crafty Jays’ veteran left hander, came into the game in the eighth inning to induce Twins’ catcher Joe Mauer to ground out to first. “Doc” Halladay received a well-deserved ovation at that time. He spent the latter part of the season last year on the mend from a broken shin bone.

Schoeneweis knew most of the new Jays through past baseball experience. “I knew the new guys would fit in well,” he told me. “And it’s really nice to get back at it.”
Now in his early thirties, he broke into the majors in 1999 with the Angels, spent a couple of years with the White Sox, and donned the Jays uniform last year. A graduate from Duke University, he told me he lost interest quickly in the recent NCAA tournament when the Blue Devils came up short.

Managers often use quotes from a variety of sources to motivate. On John Gibbons’ bulletin board was a quote from Branch Rickey, the venerable Dodger GM who was primarily responsible for breaking the colour barrier with Jackie Robinson. “Good luck is the residue of a well-conceived design,” were the words scratched on the board in his office. “This win, and the way the fans greeted the team was a cool thing for the new guys,” Gibbons stated in his post-game interview. When asked to summarize Halladay’s performance, he added: “Doc is a real pro.”

More than twelve million dollars was spent sprucing up the Rogers Centre. The Jumbotron, or whatever the big screen in centre field is called, has been tweaked and now has incredible graphics. The food has improved dramatically as well. Don’t forget your wallet, however.

The euphoria from the first game quickly subsided when the Jays lost their second game to a very good Twins team. Josh Towers got rocked, and the bats were more silent. And the attendance? Just over 18 000! Ask someone from Montreal what happens to sport franchises when the ballpark has empty seats.

With another hundred and sixty games to go, it will be a roller coaster ride to the finish. Jays’ fans hope that, come October, the ride will be a successful one.

The Twins’ Morneau faced B. J. Ryan with two out in the ninth inning. The fans were on their feet. They roared approval with every strike. They groaned in misery when the umpire signalled a ball. They exploded hysterically when Morneau went down swinging to end the game. So much for the polite applause at the start of the game for the loyal Canadian!

For other sporting news, check out the site at: “sportslices.blogspot.com”. Your comments are always most welcome!

James Hurst

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