Monday, March 28, 2011


Opening Day-2011

They are packing their bags here in Florida for the annual trek north. On Friday, the Blue Jays open their regular season against the Minnesota Twins. As has usually been the case, the Rogers Centre is sold out for the first game; however, rest assured there will be plenty of seats for all eighty subsequent games.

The Jays have made some moves in the off-season, some quite unpopular. Vernon Wells will not be patrolling centre field this year for the Jays. As you might expect, that has freed up some necessary cash to fill the void. Other notables who have taken their skills elsewhere include: John Buck, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, Fred Lewis, Shaun Marcum, Bryan Tallet, and Dewayne Wise.

Last Friday night the Jays travelled south to tangle with the mighty Red Sox. The Sox fielded a strong lineup for their fans at City of Palms Stadium. There is a little political intrigue at work here in Fort Myers. Next year the team is moving to a completely new complex, not entirely supported by everyone in the community. Their current home is not yet 25 years old, and is in fine condition. But the practice fields are almost three miles down the road. There are very few “money boxes”, suites for better income. The current neighbourhood around the ball park was supposed to develop as a result of the building of the stadium. No such luck.

In many ways, the teams hold the cities hostage in the game of location, no matter what the sport, or the time of year. To turn a phrase from the wonderful baseball movie, Field of Dreams, the baseball moguls insist, “If you don’t build it where we want, we won’t come”.

Starting for the Red Sox: Ellsbury, Pedroia, new addition Carl Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Varitek, and Marco Scutaro. First rate squad. The Jays countered with: Corey Patterson, Mike McCoy, Eric Thames, Encarnacion, Cooper, Arencibia, Adam Loewen, Jonathan Diaz, and Anthony Gose. On paper, it looked like a complete mismatch.

The Jays started Jesse Litsch, the Sox Josh Beckett. This had the potential to be a strong pitcher’s duel. As the final score of 11-8 indicates, nothing could have been further from the truth. The Jays had 15 hits, the Sox 17 hits. There were stolen bases, hit batsmen, catcher interference, the whole gambit of baseball goodies.

With such a lineup of relative newcomers, I had a chance to focus on a couple of relatively new players. Adam Loewen has spent the last couple of years digging into the batter’s box for a chance to play major league baseball. His mission began almost ten years ago when he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, fourth overall, as a pitcher. He is presently 26 years old, and is working hard to re-invent himself as a player.

A native of British Columbia, Loewen knew he could hit. But it had been several years since he had stood at home plate. In the Orioles chain, up until 2008, he had been a pitcher. A stress fracture in his throwing arm kept him on the sidelines. In July of that year, he announced that he would convert to the outfield, or first base, or any place else except the mound.

He has spent the past three springs in the Jays’ spring training camps, vying for a position on the big league squad. Last Friday night, he clobbered a double of Josh Beckett, then sent a towering blast into the Florida sky. His batting average hovers around the .400 mark.

Could the Jays use such a bat? Are there others also lurking in the shadows, waiting for that opportunity to run the bases at the Rogers? You bet there are. That is why they are here.

Both the Jays and the Red Sox got hits from every position in the lineup. Pitching coaches got the night off. Don’t be surprised to see some of the aforementioned names in the starting lineup for the Jays in a week or two. Spring training is also an exercise in finding that “diamond in the rough”. That refers to the talent, not the field. Perhaps another metaphor would have been more appropriate!

Vladimir Guerrero. Carl Crawford. David Ortiz. Justin Morneau. Joe Mauer. Jim Thome. Just a few of the baseball personalities that we have seen this spring. Primed and ready to knock the cover off the ball. On the stage at Spring Training, 2011, now heading north.

James Hurst
March 28, 2011

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