I rode the metro link from my hotel and got off right at the foot of the stadium. It was the night before the Cardinals home opener, as well as the official ribbon cutting for Ballpark Village’s Museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame. There’s something special about a baseball stadium at night. It could be the stories it holds. It could also be the excitement in the air, and the anticipation of another potentially successful season for the baseball-crazed city.
I took some time to admire the bronze statue of Stan Musial, then continued my walk and stopped to check out more statues honouring Cardinal greats, some of whom I would be interviewing the following day.
Upon approaching Ballpark Village, I heard a familiar voice. ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was being broadcast on the giant outdoor screen, so of course it was Dan Shulman I was hearing. Dan was a guest on my show last year, you can listen to that here. What a terrific spot to watch ball games, especially when the weather is nice!
There was a brief press conference the following morning, and the official ribbon cutting for the museum. After being the first official group to tour the museum (along with the inductees), I had the opportunity to interview Tony La Russa, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. I made friends with a local photographer, Robert Rohe, who was kind enough to snap these great shots for me.
I even managed to grab former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, and Cardinals 2006 & 2011 World Series Champ Chris Carpenter for an interview. Following my interview, he bravely ventured downstairs and through a sea of Cardinals fans. Can you spot him? It’s like playing a giant game of “Where’s Waldo”.
Despite the steady rain that had been falling all day, the Cardinals home opener commenced. The “Cardinals Nation” boasts a strong following of some pretty serious fans. In St. Louis, baseball is #1. After what I witnessed, I would say it’s really a culture. Cards fans take their baseball seriously. One group of young fans I made friends with snapped this great shot for me from a balcony in Ballpark Village. You can see what a terrific view you get of the field from across the street.
Overall, I would have to put Busch Stadium & Ballpark Village toward the top of my list of “must-see” baseball destinations. Regardless of whether or not you are a Cardinals fan, touring through the museum and Cards Hall of Fame is a real treat, and you can grab a frosty beverage from any number of happening spots to watch the game live, or on any number of ridiculously large televisions.
In the winter this off-season, Anthopoulos gave Jays fans something to get excited about. A lot to get excited about. Having made substantial moves that “won the off-season”, the Jays were picked by many to not only make the playoffs, but also win the 2013 World Series. That’s no small feat, considering only three teams in history have won the World Series having not made the playoffs the previous season (’88 Dodgers, ’87 & ’91 Twins, ’02 Angels). (EDIT: a couple fans on Reddit notified me I had forgotten the ’10 & ’12 Giants. My bad!) In fact, such a buzz was created by the media and Jays marketing campaign, that pre-season ticket sales “increased dramatically” according to team president Paul Beeston.
Besides, teams like Boston seemed to be in trouble with their managerial situation a question mark. And when they ended up taking Farrell, the Toronto attitude was “if he doesn’t want to be here then take him, we don’t want him”. The Yankees picked up old Blue Jays castaways Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay to compensate for their injury-ridden line-up (Jays fans quietly chuckled, knowing all to well what a string of injuries can do to a ball club).
Fast forward a few months and a near worst April on team record, and the Jays find themselves in the last place everyone expected – last place.
Boston, New York, and Baltimore all currently have .600 or better records.
Boston and New York.
The Miami Marlins, who gave up most of their veteran talent to the Jays in the most talked about trade this off-season, currently have a 10-25 record (compared to the Jays 13-23). Even the Houston Astros (the joke of the majors this season), have a 10-25 record.
To say Toronto is grossly under-performing is a massive understatement.
Which poses the question, “How the heck did this all happen?”
It’s a complex answer. But to put it simply; a series of injuries and slumps:
- Jose Reyes Ankle Injury – A total spark plug. The energy and life force of the squad was leading the team in avg (.395) and stolen bases (5) early in the season until the severe ankle sprain put him out of commission until the All-star break.
- Quiet Jays Bats – I don’t need to go into great detail here. Simply put, they didn’t produce runs. Period. If you want to depress yourself further, you can check out JaysJournal.com to see how many “league worsts” the Jays set in April.
- Mediocre Pitching – This came as a surprise to many, as the Jays went out and “traded the farm” for some veteran arms. Then the only pitcher who proved to be reliable was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to make the starting rotation in the first place (JA Happ).
- The Inability to Win Consistently – This might seem obvious, but the ability to string together a series of wins, or win a large percentage of games in chunks somewhat consistently will build confidence amongst players and assist the team in building momentum to generate winning streaks. Just recently, the Jays won their third game in a row this season – for the first time.
- More Devastating Injuries – We don’t need to re-hash the horrible onslaught of injuries the Jays had last year. But it would appear as though that nasty injury bug has reared its ugly head again. Suddenly Josh Johnson is out with what was reported as “mild bicep/tricep” tightness. He won’t be back until June. Romero was brought up to take his place (likely too soon) and now his mental toughness is being questioned, having pitched the shortest outing of his career recently (1/3 inning). JA Happ got hit by the most devastating line drive I’ve ever seen: Happ miraculously only suffered a fractured skull (really, it could have been far worse) and twisted knee, and will be out 4-6 weeks. RA Dickey has been battling upper back tightness which has been limiting his outing duration. Morrow’s Friday night start was pushed back due to back spasms. The lack of health in the starting rotation could be the major blow to any playoff hopes that are still alive.
So, is it time to panic if you’re a Jays fan? Or did that already happen a while ago and you’ve already given up?
Some don’t think that it was even fair in the first place that the Jays were put up on such a high pedestal. ESPN’s Dan Shulman was a guest on The Dugout recently, and told me who he thought would be playoff favourites: Dan Shulman on The Dugout
Even though the odds are heavily stacked against them, they might not be counted out entirely. In spring training there were many comparisons made to the 1993 World Champion Jays, but April Whitzman from the MLB Fan Cave made a comparison to the 1989 Blue Jays, who at this point in their season (May 10th) had a nearly identical record (12-21). They went on to win their division that season.
Surely Boston and New York can’t keep up the pace they’re going at. Baltimore may in fact be the team to be reckoned with. At least they seem to be the healthiest.
So what do you think?
Were the Jays over-hyped from the beginning?
Are they going to disappoint the (larger) fan base again?
Or will they manage to get everything functioning together and become THE comeback story of the century?
I am excited and honoured to have TheBlueJaysDugout.com make the Top 50 MLB Blogs Latest Leaders List for the second month straight (#36 March, #26 April 2013).
This past April has been a memorable one, as I have been so fortunate to have done some terrific podcasts:
- Dan Shulman, ESPN: http://bit.ly/18kJYCd
- Arash Madani, Sportsnet Author: http://bit.ly/ZKvmXP
- Jeff Sammut, Sportsnet Host: http://bit.ly/JeffSammut590
- April Whitzman, MLB Fan Cave Jays Rep: http://bit.ly/ZW5lvL
Thank you for your support in listening, liking, sharing, and spreading the word!
Click here to listen to: Dan Shulman of ESPN on The Dugout with Brock Picken
Brock Picken speaks with Dan Shulman from ESPN. Dan talks about his journey in becoming one of the top baseball broadcasters in the industry, and a couple of his favourite calls in his career.
Have you ever wondered what baseball should do with the DH role in the American vs the National League? Dan gives his opinion, and the answer may surprise you!
The Blue Jays have had a horrific start to the season, and Dan talks about what he thinks is working and not, and gives his opinion on their shot at a playoff berth.
Follow Dan Shulman on Twitter.