Ex Jaytriot – Pro- A-triot (or something)

Some of you may remember me as a Blue Jays fan. Well, memories are nice. Or they can be. But the past is not necessarily a decent guide to the future or the present. Things change. I still, on occasion, watch the Blue Jays (by choice, even) but I’m not really a fan. At least, not a conventional one. The closest thing I can compare my fandom to is to a group of Mexican baseball fans I once heard about on Twitter — back when Twitter still existed.

These fans show up to games wearing all-black to root against their team. It doesn’t really make much sense unless you know the feeling. They’re fans of the team they’re rooting against but that is the shape their fandom takes. And that’s basically how I feel about the Blue Jays. It’s not love and it’s not hate and it’s not love/hate. Rather, it’s some other complicated and morbid relationship with the team. I don’t even like the Blue Jays anymore. As a matter of fact, I fucking loathe the Blue Jays. But it’s an intimate loathing. A loathing that probably has more love in it than most people who support the team. It’s kind of an erotic drinking of tears sort of thing. Sad but sexy.

There’s a lot of reasons for this feeling. I could make a list. We could be here all day. Part of it is Rogers. Part of it is that fucking statue of Ted Rogers. (That shit deserves a baseball curse.) Some of it is astroturf. Some of it is throwing beer-cans at players. (Babies, I don’t care so much about.) These days, part of the problem is Vlad Jr. still being in the minors. The list starts decades ago and it just goes on and on. But the biggest thing is moving. Without moving, none of that would matter. It never had before.

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California, 2018

When I came to Cali, I figured I should adopt a local team.  I had no plans to ever move back to Toronto. Holding onto the Jays seemed like strapping myself to the past. It seemed like nostalgia. Nostalgia sickens me. Some people would view holding on to a fandom as loyalty. To me, it seems more like a failure to adapt. It’s not like the Blue Jays are a principle. Most of baseball fandom is geography. You’re born in a place, you root for that team, The End. Hell, that’s one of the things I like about it. You don’t really need to think about the team you root for. You’re just in. Thick or thin. No choice.

But, when you move, that changes. And when you move to a place like California, into a whole other division, with its incredible abundance of baseball teams, you have to make more choices. It’s a baseball buffet but you can only eat one. Them’s the rules.

When I first arrived, I thought I would go for The Giants. They’re a likable bunch. Why wouldn’t you go for The Giants? I went to one of their games. I watched some others.

I just couldn’t do it.

You see, the problem with the fucking Giants is that they’re too good. I don’t mean on the field, though, when I came down, they were good on the field too. I mean everything. Their park is absolutely beautiful. Their broadcast is stellar. They really seem to care about their fans. They do everything right. It’s a really wonderful experience. It’s warm and fuzzy as opiates on a cool fall day. It’s a welcoming bliss. I couldn’t stand it. There’s a reason I don’t fuck with Molly anymore. I don’t need that much love in my life.

There is no easy way to go from the Blue Jays to bliss. Or, maybe, it’s too easy. To transform from a Blue Jays fan to a Giants fan, you really have to be able to put your feet up and say – it’s fine, I deserve good things. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like a trespasser in baseball heaven. A nice place but I’m not dead yet. I didn’t belong there. The whole thing was at odds with my sense of baseball. Baseball is not about good things. It’s about another meaningless September. It’s about articulating boredom. It’s about hurt. The Giants just don’t get that. They can’t. Being in that park its own reward.

But the A’s? The Coliseum? That’s not a reward. That’s a place you should never be.

Still, when I went to the Coliseum to see the A’s, that shit just felt like home. The stadium was the thunderdome promised in the ancient scrolls of punk rock. There wasn’t even a jumbotron. No cheering for pizza. The fans had to make their own fun and they did and they do. The Coliseum doesn’t care if you live or you die. I’m certain that bands of orphans have grown up there, emerging at night to fight seagulls and possums for scraps – a few lucky ones eventually becoming Oakland A’s themselves. Some people think Josh Donaldson is from Florida. If you’re an Oakland fan, you know better. He was born in right field, abandoned there by his parents, raised by a roaming gang of misfits and Raiders fans until he was coaxed onto the field by Ron Washington with a bag of peanuts and taught to play baseball. He became an Athletic. Then he was traded. Because Oakland will break your heart. That’s what they do. That’s the price. Billy Beane might occasionally listen to his daughter but the team doesn’t care what you like.

And the team is cheap. Holy shit, is this team cheap!

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But even that cheapness an improvement over the Blue Jays. At least, cheap is an ethos. You know what you’re getting into with the A’s. The A’s are CHEAP. They are very fucking cheap. They even made a movie about how cheap they are. It’s a small market dominated by The Giants. The A’s aren’t even the most popular team in Oakland. I’ve seen their afternoon games not even broadcasted. You know what they showed instead of the A’s? Darts. They showed darts. FUCKING DARTS! Can you believe that? DARTS!

The Jays are cheap but it’s a rich-cheap, not a hustle-cheap. The Jays are a huge market, which they dominate. They own the channels they appear on. The Jays have money to burn. They should be run like the Yankees. But you know they will never be. You just never really know why not. I followed them for decades and I can safely say that you never know where you stand with the Jays. Will they spend? Won’t they? Who the fuck knows? They’re cheap-skating Vlad Jr. right now. That shit don’t bode well.

But with Oakland? You know that they’re going to be capital C cheap. They’re going to trade players like JD. There’s no mystery to it. They’re not going to wait for their stars to lose value. They have no margin for error. They have to get what they can while the getting is good and they don’t always get anything good. Sometimes, they just get what they can. Sometimes, they don’t even recoup the bag of peanuts that the player was coaxed onto the field with and they end up with Brett Lawrie pounding his chest and screaming into the sky. It’s terrible. But, if you can ignore your shattered heart, if you can get a little fish-eyed and dead on the inside, it makes sense. You just have to buck up and accept the ethos. The shit is ruthless. Oakland doesn’t get stars, it makes them.

But, as cheap as the A’s are, you get the Coliseum at Coliseum prices. With The Giants, you get AT&T at AT&T prices. With the Jays, you get the Fucking Rogers Centre at AT&T prices. I’ll take The Coliseum any day. I’ve been to both places. The SkyDome is worse and it’s not even close. And when the Jays are winning? It’s white suburban scumfuckery.

And, no matter what else this cheap ethos does, it makes the A’s into underdogs. They’re never supposed to be any good. But you know what? They often are.

So yeah, since about 2012, it’s been A’s for me. There’s been some ups and some downs along the way. The biggest down probably being the JD trade – mainly because it brought Brett Lawrie to Oakland and, after all that jingoistic bullshit Toronto put on him, I never wanted to see that strange-brained motherfucker again. Two seasons of watching Billy Butler hit into double plays was no picnic. Don’t even get me started on Billy Burns. There were times –and I know my Blue Jays people will understand this– when Rajai Davis was the best part of the team. But this year? This year is an up. It’s a really big up.

This year looks like this.

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It’s late August and the A’s are fighting not only for a wild card position but for first place in the AL West – a position held by the reigning World Series champions, The Astros. Over the past couple of days, the A’s touched first place. However this goes, that was not supposed to happen. Whatever happens now, something really odd has gone on here.

They’ve gone from being terrible to being one of the best teams in baseball. Some of this is witchcraft. Some of this is that they were never quite as bad as they looked. Like, the last few years, starting with JD trade, they weren’t great but they weren’t as bad as their record either. What they were, in those years, was a team where nothing could go wrong and some things really could not go wrong. They were teams where those things all went wrong. Where nothing really went right. That shit happens in baseball. It’s ugly.

That changed at around last season’s All Star Break. They brought up the two Matts. The team became a lot of fun to watch. If they only had some starting pitching, not much –the team can hit and, with the two Matts and a Ron Washington educated Marcus Semien, they can even field– the A’s looked, to me, like they could, maybe, compete for a wild card. They just needed some pitching. That was the best case scenario. It’s not how things played out in 2018. They had no starting pitching and what they did have immediately got hurt. And then the replacements got hurt. The guys that replaced the replacements all fell down dead. Their replacements were summoned from the netherworld with a Quija Board. The starting staff of the A’s is now a list of The Dead. It looked like the A’s were doomed to another rough, if fun, year. But then?

Witchcraft. Lots of witchcraft.

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The bullpen of all things, that great chaos monkey of baseball, took over. The A’s shortened games. After the sixth inning, this team can hang with anyone. Before that, they just have to stay within striking distance. With this offence, that’s some distance.

And now even the ghosts who haunt their starting rotation are pitching well.

What the fuck?

There’s still a lot of baseball to play. Anything can still happen. (Except the Orioles. They can’t happen. That’s mathematically impossible.) But, whatever does happen, I’m happy I gave up the Jays for the A’s years ago. Had I not moved to Cali, and moved to let’s say, Boston or New York or some other AL East town, I’d still be with the Jays. (I’m not a fucking monster.) But the A’s? This team is special. It’s a good thing.

Hail Satan.

Go Oakland!

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is Clutch

When he stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game that would not proceed to extra innings, I turned to my wife and said: “Let’s see if he has it.”

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Baseball is difficult to begin with. So are fathers. Playing baseball while wearing your father’s number in the city where he started his Hall of Fame career and you were born must be more pressure than most people could handle. To have to do it so young? And then, to add to your trouble, to have people like me, sitting on their couch and deciding that this is the moment they’ll reach a verdict on you? That this will tell them if you have it? Well, that shit must be annoying.

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To be fair to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (and myself), I wasn’t pinning everything on this moment. I’d seen him play a few times this spring and had already formed some opinions. I agreed with the scouts who said that he’s one of the best prospects in baseball. While a bit more time in the minors will serve him well, he already looks like he can hang with major league pitching. At his age, that’s incredible. And, if things had of gone differently in tonight’s game, it really wouldn’t have changed my opinion much.

But it would have changed it a little. Baseball is never really fair. Neither am I.

And the one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that numbers might separate the good players from the really good but something else separates the really good from the great. After a certain level, it’s not just the numbers. It’s it. That strange ineffable quality. That touch of genius. That bit of divinity. That thing that you just know it when you see it.

They used to call it “clutch.” We stopped talking about “clutch” because, in a lot of ways, it was a pretty goddamn dumb thing to talk about. Its presence was too often invoked to hype up mediocre players and its absence used to diminish good players. Many of its strongest advocates were the least rational, most panicked and reactive of baseball fans. They were the sort of people who harped on about things like “closer mentality”, “RBIs” and “clubhouse leadership.” They were, in short, a collection of dreary halfwits.

It did not help that we could not find clutch.  Smart people did the math. They discovered that there was no such thing as clutch. Good players are just good players. Whatever the situation, you want your best player in the high leverage situation. That makes sense. That’s how it is.  It’s completely accurate and it’s completely wrong.

You can’t calculate divinity. You can’t look at the sheet music, count the notes per second and figure out why Jimi Hendrix has it and Joe Satriani does not. When you try to do that, you have already made a mistake. You’ve tried to locate it. You’ve put it in a person. Or in a limited situation. But that’s not where it is and that’s not what it is. It’s bigger than that. It’s non-local. You can’t weight it. It won’t fit on the scale.

Baseball, like life, has greater truths than those ones readily available to accountants.

All the greats in all the fields are touched by it. They somehow tap into it. I don’t think it’s a choice. I don’t think it’s a decision. They only thing that they decide, and they must decide it again and again, even when it’s not there, especially when it isn’t, is to be ready for it. They must choose to practice their craft. To show up. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s pointless. They must show up. So that when it finds them, they might be ready for it. But, still, it might never show up. You might never be ready.

But yesterday night, it showed up.

Think, for a moment, how ridiculous and improbable the situation is. For this situation to be what it was, so much had to happen over such a long a period of time. Vladimir Guerrero Sr. had to play for the Montreal Expos. Montreal had to lose their team. He had to remain a beloved figure in spite of that. Then his son, born in Montreal, had get drafted by the one team who plays two of their games a year in Montreal – or by the team playing against them. He had to be good enough to last this deep into the spring. And, after all of that, the game had to work out how it worked out. A zero-zero tie. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. And who comes to the plate? Him? Of all people? Him? Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? It showed up. Was he ready? Did he have that spark? Was he clutch?

In the last at bat of the spring, he won and ended the game with a solo home-run.

I could hardly believe it. When I turned to my wife and said “let’s see if he has it,” I didn’t actually expect to see it. I knew that I was being unfair. That I was putting too much on this moment and this young man. But I also know that these moments find great players and great players rise to meet them. What I wanted to see was not if he was any good. He is. We all know that. Good players are common. Great ones, not so much. I just wanted to see if he had that little spark of genius that separates the great from the good.

And, well . . . He does.

So count me among the true believers. I hate to make predictions (The Baseball Gods are cruel and capricious as children) but this kid made a believer out of me. He is real. He’s great. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is clutch and he is a Toronto Blue Jay.

Try not to fuck it up.

Baseball is Back(ish)

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Baseball is back. Yay, I guess.

I kinda hate spring training. On one hand, it makes it too easy to jump to conclusions about a team/player and, on the other, the best case scenario is usually no one getting hurt. So it’s an annoying state of baseball half-life. But I like the noise baseball makes and the sense of dread it provides and I like to have that noise and dread buzzing around in the background while I make bad decisions. And that’s back. So, yay. I guess.

I even managed to watch a game last night. This took some fucking around. After MLB TV re-upped my subscription, I tried to log in and was informed that due to advancements in streaming technology, it was no longer available on older devices like my PS3. Yay advancements, I guess. Even if a lot of these advancements seem less like advancing and more like some straight fuckery. But I suppose this helps give us a timetable for the revolution – overthrow capitalism before it totally fucks up baseball.

Given this last off-season, seems like it might be a bit late for that.

But after some pissing around with my computer, my Roku and my wife’s phone, I managed to get the thing up and running. I tuned into the Blue Jays.

That didn’t take too much thought. These days, I prefer the A’s and, all things being equal, root for them when they play against the Jays but I have a sort of familial relationship with the Jays, in that it seems like I can’t quite shake the bastards. And, while you will never find me in a comment section, I also much prefer the Blue Jays blogosphere and, back when I did that sort of thing, their twitterverse. This makes it easier to follow them in the off-season, especially one as boring as this last one.

So I tuned into the Jays.

The game highlight for me was definitely the Curtis Granderson in-game interview. I usually hate these things. But Curtis Granderson? Let him talk. That guy has got to be one of the most articulate, insightful and intelligent athletes I have ever heard speak. Most of these motherfuckers have all the personality of a post and that’s not half as bad as when they’re “funny.” God help us, if they get serious. But Curtis Granderson? Curtis Granderson explained his role, his expectations and how spring training works at his age. He did so in a way that was both right to the point and well thought out. He employed no prop comedy to make his points. There was no word salad of slogans garnered from a moron’s vision board of inspirational quotes. And none of it sounded like he was reading from some public relations script. He’s just so freakin’ likable.

Honestly, I hope the fans appreciate what they have here and that Jays are playing some sort of long game with him because if anyone has a future in baseball after their playing days are over, it’s Curtis Granderson. He would be a clear step up in the broadcasting booth over the current Tabby Buck formulation and, if he wanted to manage the team, I’d probably just say ‘thank you’ and let him. That he played so badly for the Dodgers and my Dodgers loving co-workers still like him, says a lot about this guy. But, hopefully, his days aren’t over yet. He might even be pretty good. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Other than that, no one broke any bones. So that’s a win. Take those where you can get them.