April 30, 2010

Stealing Home: Birds of a feather flock together

"Man, I hate the f**king Yankees."
- Random Baltimore Orioles fan

Those were the words which had me feeling, almost immediately, as if I belonged at Oriole Park in Camden Yards; as if I was, in a way, at home.

Read about how for one night, and one night only, I rooted for Baltimore's birds at GlobeSports.com.

And, yes, the baseball amphitheatre down in Maryland is just as magnificent you've imagined her to be. I'd highly recommend the Baltimore baseball experience.

Philly, Friday night. I'm not going to lie: it's going to be rough seeing all those Roy Halladay jerseys. Definitely not looking forward to that part.

Chicago on Saturday. Minnesota on Tuesday. #TBRTOAL continues ...

April 27, 2010

Stealing Home: The death and rebirth of baseball

Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., was the next stop on my journey, and I found it impossible to not think about the departed Montreal Expos. May they rest in peace.

You can read my latest column where I wax nostalgic on the Expos, ponder the Blue Jays' future, and describe my visit to Nationals Park, including my brushes with Abraham Lincoln and The Roots' Black Thought, at GlobeSports.com.

Baltimore, to watch the OrioLOLes host the New York Yankees, tonight.

April 26, 2010

Stealing Home: Mass(hole) Appeal

Fenway Park. She remains as I left her: a fantastic place to watch a ball game. Read all about my visit to one of the Meccas of baseball, and what I have to say about the "Massholes," at GlobeSports.com.

Up next on #TBRTOAL, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

April 22, 2010

Stealing Home: Back to Boston

Three years ago to the day, I visited Fenway Park for the first time.

Read all about what happened that night, and what I'm looking forward to seeing Thursday night, at GlobeSports.com.

April 20, 2010

Stealing Home: The Amazin' Mets

Citi Field. She was the next stop on #TBRTOAL. What I was trying to find out was: how do New Yorkers decide their baseball allegiance? Mets or Yankees; how does one choose?

Read all about it at GlobeSports.com.

April 19, 2010

Stealing Home: Fighting baseball imperialism

I journeyed to the mothership of baseball's Evil Empire Sunday afternoon: new Yankee Stadium, in the South Bronx.

Read all about: how I fought, and failed, against baseball imperialism, my Mariano Rivera moment, and my brush with a "Bleacher Creature," at GlobeSports.com.

If you'd like to subscribe to Stealing Home's RSS feed, you can do so here. And you can keep up with my exploits on Twitter: @eyebleaf.

Thanks for reading.

April 18, 2010

Stealing Home: A night of firsts in Steeltown

I've crossed beautiful PNC Park in Pittsburgh off my list. You can read all about: my man-date with a Pirates fan, my first ever rain delay, and one incredible sandwich, at GlobeSports.com.

New York, next.

April 14, 2010

Stealing Home: Detroit with Dad

Greetings from Cleveland.

The Baseball Road Trip Of A Lifetime began in earnest yesterday, with a visit to Comerica Park. Read about it at TheGlobeAndMail.com.

Stealing Home: Opening Night

"You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen."
- Joe DiMaggio

April 12, 2010

"Stealing Home"

The Baseball Road Trip Of A Lifetime (#TBRTOAL) kicks off tonight. Along with my collaboration with The Globe And Mail: "Stealing Home."

April 11, 2010

Valuable Life Lessons

I'd tell you I'm not pitching a tremendous baseball boner excited over Toronto's 5-1 start to the season, and Vernon Wells' 1.450 OPS a week into the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season, because I learned a valuable lesson last season (27-14!!!1). But I'd be lying.

Before I go any further, let's take a minute and give thanks to the baseball Gods above for not making us Orioles fans. Always a pleasure, Baltimore.

Five wins in a row out of six to start the campaign. On the road. From a Doc-less rotation. Without, for the most part, the services of Aaron Hill. It's like a fairytale. Throw in four home runs from Alex Gonzalez, half his long ball total of 2009; flawless performances from Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Dana Eveland, and Kevin Gregg; yeoman's work from Casey Janssen, Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero and Brian Tallet; and, well, I'm feeling fantastic, without having had anything to drink.

It's early, sure. But it's never too early. Not for visions of grandeur. You know: a Cito sendoff worthy of "The Manager."

Why not us?

Difficult Choices

The sweep aside, it's been a rough weekend. I'm faced with a tough question, the answer to which escapes me. I need your help.

What Vernon Wells inspired sign should I take to Monday's home opener:

1. The tried, tested, and true "I Believe In Vernon Wells"?

2. With his scorching start, and his being a fantastic human being, I'm not sure how anyone could, but what do you think about "Don't Boo Vernon"?

3. Or the Volkswagen inspired "VW: Das Awesome"?

UPDATE: I'm going with "I Believe In Vernon Wells." Why? Because I'm lazy, and the sign's ready to go from last year. It only makes sense. And as much as I too love the "VW: Das Awesome" idea, it's far easier to scribble "Playoffs!!!1" on the back of what I've already got.

April 08, 2010

The Good Foot

"Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance."
- Richard von Weizsaecker

In two games, Vernon Wells' three home runs represent 20% of his 2009 total.

We remember 2009. And 2007. It is the memory of those two utterly shitastic seasons that will make Wells' 2010 exploits that much sweeter.

He's healthy. He's back. Rejoice.


April 06, 2010

Why You Should Believe In Vernon Wells

I believe in Vernon Wells. You know that. Even more so after his performance yesterday in Arlington; he left me tingling with excitement. You know how I roll: I don't hop aboard the nearest lifeboat, or even reach for a life jacket. I grab an instrument, and start playing. I go down with the ship.

But this isn't about me. It's about you. And why you ought to join me on the Vernon Wells Express. Next stop: Redemption City.

Before I get into the details, it's important to, once again, point out that Wells' play will never justify his contract. Never. Ever. The perfect storm led to Wells signing for $126 million over seven years (!!!!!111) back in 2006, and you can't be mad at him for signing on the dotted line. You would have done the same. It's best to let your anger go, and instead hope that Wells can once again become a functioning member of baseball society here in Toronto. Because the good Lord above knows he won't be plying his trade anywhere else.

Since becoming the Toronto Blue Jays' everyday centre fielder way back in 2002, Wells has posted four sub-.800 OPS seasons. Here they are:

2002: .275/.305/.457; 23 HR, 100 RsBI; .762 OPS
2005: .269/.320/.463; 28 HR, 97 RsBI; .783 OPS
2007: .245/.304/.402; 16 HR, 80 RsBI; .706 OPS
2009: .260/.311/.400; 15 HR, 66 RsBI; .711 OPS

I know what you're thinking: I'd love an hour alone with former Jays president Paul Godfrey, too. In Vernon's defence, his 2005 OPS+ comes in at 104; very slightly above average. But the injuries, and the recent drop in power numbers, are deeply concerning. Again, what's done is done. Here's what matters: Wells has always bounced back.

2003: .317/.359/.550; 33 HR, 117 RsBI; .909 OPS
2006: .303/.357/.542; 32 HR, 106 RsBI; .899 OPS
2008: .300/.343/.496; 20 HR, 78 RsBI; .840 OPS
2010: (projected) .750/.750/1.500; 162 HR, 486 RsBI; 2.250 OPS

Injuries limited Wells to only 108 games in 2008, but he was on pace for one of the better seasons of his career. And those 108 games proved, to these eyes, that Wells doesn't need a Carlos Delgado or a Troy Glaus batting behind him to succeed. Wells was Toronto's only legitimate power threat two years ago; no other Blue Jay hit more than 15 home runs.

The point is: history only repeats itself. If Opening Day is any indication, 2010 will be the year of Vernon Wells.

(You know that bit about history only repeating itself? Let's hope that's not the case in terms of Wells following up a great year - 2006 and 2008 - with a tremendously awful one.)

April 05, 2010

Opening Day

"There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem - once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit."
- Al Gallagher

As you can see, Vernon Wells is ready to start the season. His exasperated-after-another-strikeout pose is already in mid-season form.

I'm ready, too, for regular season baseball that doesn't involve the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Or Neil Diamond, for that matter.

When Cito leads the boys into battle one final time this afternoon, deep in the heart of Texas, a new era will have officially dawned on the Toronto Blue Jays.

A toast: to new beginnings.

Game one of 162. Enjoy. And remember: Playoffs!!1

April 04, 2010

The Cito Effect

While you're fawning over Adam Lind's new contract extension -- and you still ought to be celebrating the deal, considering it's worth, over seven years, $45 million less than Nick Markakis' -- please do me a favour: take a minute and recall that it was "The Manager" who made it his first order of business, after he was rehired in June 2008, to assure young Lind that he'd seen the last of the minor leagues; that he was from then on, and forevermore, a big leaguer.

Let's not forget that for all the dirt thrown on Cito Gaston's name, it's been under his tutelage that Lind has blossomed into one of the finest designated hitters, and a Silver Slugger, in the American League. Clarence Cito isn't all bad. Mostly bad. But not all bad.

A Flying Start

Who does this Alex Anthopoulos guy think he is?

First he makes, by all accounts, a great trade -- if there ever could be one -- for Roy Halladay. Next: spring training, and his lauded efforts in making the Toronto Blue Jays a more transparent organization. Then AA beats out, ho-hum, the New York Yankees for the services of Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechevarria. Finally, the extension for Lindiana's Finest.

Tell me: what's not to like? While the coming season will certainly have its trials and tribulations, Anthopoulos certainly seems like the right man to lead the Blue Jays out of the post-season wilderness.

The Money Quote

"We believe in the player, just as we believed in Aaron."
- Alex Anthopoulos

An ode to J.P. Ricciardi, it makes me that much fonder of the new general manager.

April 01, 2010

Change of Plans

If I've learned anything over the past six months, it's that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- goes according to script. A few short months ago I was living in Toronto, engaged to be married, and working as a broadcast journalist. None of those three apply today.

On February 2nd, I left for India, scheduled to return at the end of June. But I'm back. Yes, already. (Admit it: you missed me.) Five months on the subcontinent became only two. They were two glorious months, but I had to cut the trip short. For good reason. You see, my travels aren't yet complete; I've still got my backpack, and it's ready to go. There are just a couple of minor changes: I've traded in my copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to India for Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball, and instead of the Motherland, I'll be traveling through the USA. Beginning April 12th in Toronto with the Blue Jays' home opener, I'm setting off on the baseball road trip of a lifetime: 30 cities and 30 stadiums in 60 days.

Between India and TBRTOAL (The Baseball Road Trip Of A Lifetime), it's a no-brainer; the opportunity to make this trip happen will likely never present itself again. Plus, the game holds a special place in my heart. The way I see it, I've got no choice but to hit the road. Even better, I'll be collaborating with The Globe and Mail - GlobeSports.com specifically - as I document my experiences.

I'm genuinely excited; baseball boners abound!1 Over the past two years, I've fallen in love with baseball all over again, and see this journey as the perfect way to renew our vows; the ultimate honeymoon.

Stay tuned ...