July 09, 2007

Chicks Dig The Long Ball

When Alex Rios began his career back in 2004, Toronto Blue Jays fans were told that Rios was something special. That he was the prototypical "5-tool player" and that it was just a matter of time before he was an all-star. The key was to be patient. Rios, we were told, had all the tools to become an exceptional outfielder. In his first season in the big leagues, Rios hit a solid .286 with one home run in 426 at bats.

The home runs, we were told, would come.

In 2005, Rios sent 10 balls over the fence, this time in 481 at bats. A respectable number for a 23-year-old learning to hit in the major leagues, but we wanted more.

Patience. It's a virtue. One I have learned that fans in Toronto simply don't have. There was talk, after the 2005 season, that Rios should be traded to solve the Jays pitching problems. J.P. Ricciardi would have none of it, however. Alex Rios, in his eyes, was un-tradeable.

Although it had only been two years since Rios joined the Blue Jays, it seemed as though the fans weren't willing to wait for him to develop. I'll admit it, even I toyed with the prospect of the Jays trading Rios for a solid arm. We had Adam Lind in the minors, after all.

In 2006, Rios broke out. It seemed like he finally put it all together. The power stroke that Jays fans had been salivating for had finally arrived. Rios hit 15 home runs in the first half of the season and was off to his first All-Star game. He wouldn't play, because of a staph infection that caused him to miss two months, but he had arrived, in Toronto at least.

For some strange reason this past winter, it was Rios' name again that came up in trade rumours. It was Rios that was to be dealt in order to get the Blue Jays some much needed pitching. Once again, J.P. Ricciardi would have none of it.

Thank you, J.P. Ricciardi. Thank you for holding on to Alex Rios and believing in him. We were all wrong. You were right. This guy is the real deal. Rios is now an All-Star in back-to-back campaigns, and Adam Lind is back in the minors. Good call.

After a solid first half that saw Rios hit .294 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI, Alex Rios was named to the 2007 All-Star team. Rios was also a late addition to the Home Run Derby, and he didn't disappoint.

It's been said for generations that chicks love the long ball, and there were certainly a ton of them tonight. After a sluggish first round, the home run hitters woke up.

After hitting five home runs in the first round, Rios went buck wild in the second round. He put on a show for the San Francisco fans, and for all those watching at home, as he clubbed 12 home runs in round two, the highest single-round total of the night. A number of them ended up in the deepest parts of the ball park, a testament to Rios' power.

Rios went into the final round with a derby-leading 17 home runs, but he ran out of gas. He was only able to hit two balls out of the park when it mattered most, and Guerrero deposited three home runs to claim the 2007 crown.

There's certainly no shame in losing to Vladimir Guerrero. He is one of the greatest hitters of our generation and a man with immense power. He hit the longest home run of the competition, a ridiculous bomb that went 502 feet out to left field. To hit a batting practice fastball that kind of distance is just absurd. Guerrero's a beast.

Props out to Guerrero for winning the competition, but I've got to show crazy love to my man Alex Rios. Last year, Troy Glaus of the Blue Jays was in the Home Run Derby, and he managed to only send one ball over the fence. It was a bit embarrassing. Rios stepped up to the plate in this year's challenge and looked calm, cool and collected. He's got a beautiful swing and when he puts his 6-5 frame together on a fastball, there isn't a sight much prettier than that.

Playing in Canada, Rios is overshadowed by a lot of other ball players down in big American markets. It's good to see that he's still getting recognized for his talent and exploits with the Blue Jays.

The patience the Jays have shown with Rios has paid off. For a team with a payroll above $90 million, the Jays' lone All-Star makes less than $1 million a season. Talk about a bargain. Rios is due for one hefty raise when his contract is up, and I hope he's patrolling right field for Toronto for a long, long time. The scary part is, he's only getting better.

After tonight, no longer will people say "who?" when they hear the name Alex Rios. Although Vladimir Guerrero was the winner of the 2007 Home Run Derby, tonight was all about Alex Rios for me, and his arrival on to the mainstream in Major League Baseball.

Welcome to superstardom, Alex Rios. Enjoy your stay...


Dheeraj said...

Watching Rios last night brought excitement back to Toronto. Toronto hasn't had that bonafied mainstream star since the days of Roger Clemens and Roberto Alomar before him.

While we have great stars, Doc Halladay, a cy young winner and Vernon Wells, possibly one of the two best centre feilders in the game. They don't have that star power that Clemens & Alomar had when they sparkled in the blue and white.

It's incredible how Doc, in my opinion one of the best pitchers in the game doesn't even get mentioned south of the border. I never hear Doc mentioned among the so called best pitchers in the game. We all know baseball is a game of numbers, so let's look at the numbers.

Over the last 5 yrs, from 2002 on,
Doc has a record of 87 - 34, that's an incredible 53 games over 500. Santana has a record of 85 - 34, 51 games over 500. Then there's Roy Oswalt who is 92 - 49 for a very impressive 43 games over 500. You then have the always injured Chris Carpenter who has a record of 55 - 24. There's now Jake Peavy the young kid who's only been in the league since 2002 and has a record of 66 - 48 for 18 games over 500.

So why does Halladay not get mentioned when the best pitchers in the game are brought up. I mean even playing in Canada can't subdue those numbers. Not to mention, Halladay is the only player of those other 4 pitchers that has never played for a playoff team. So on a team that isn't good enough to make the playoffs he is 53 games on the plus side. WOW.

I steered off course, back to Rios, my whole point is that players in Toronto don't get the league wide stardom that players in bigger markets do.

BUT, Rios has the makings to be that new league wide star the Jays haven't had since Clemons left. This city and this team needs it. Rios, we have been waiting for someone like you for a long time. He's got speed, power, defence and a swing that reminds me of Griffey when he was winning the home run derby in Seattle, effortless.

Alright, i have to get to the store, i have a #15 jersey to buy.