Friday, April 1, 2011

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

It's Opening Day, which means that we must be talking about new beginnings. And that might seem pat, because there are 29 other cities in which writers and bloggers guys at the end of the bar are currently waxing poetic about the new possibilities that lie before their ball team.

But with the number of new faces in new places that will be around the diamond and in the dugout tonight, this year's edition of the Toronto Blue Jays feels to the long-suffering fan like something more than a new iteration. It isn't merely a page turned, or a new chapter that has begun. It's a whole new volume whose spine is about to be cracked.

Not that we're completely done with the past: The new face of the franchise was brought to the team by the much-maligned former GM (in a move that elicited little more than shrugs at the time). So too were the much-praised fielding guru and hitting coach, the Opening Day starter, the Slugging Phenom, the Catcher of the Future, the Enigmatic Third Baseman, and the Accidental First Baseman.

There are many pieces around the club to remind us of the past. But a tweak here and a reinforcement there, and somehow, it all looks brand new.

When we look down towards the field of play tonight, we'll see the largest piece of real estate patrolled for the first time in a decade by someone who isn't Vernon Wells. And truly, few will benefit from the revitalized and renewed feelings of warmth towards the franchise than Rajai Davis. We've spent a few days working on paens in his honour, somewhat willingly oblivious to the two-plus wins that the Jays lose in this swap, and to the fact that Wells' value in one of his "down years" (3.2 WAR in 2005) was roughly the same as what Davis produced in his most prolific season (3.3 in 2009).

(Nor did we pay much mind to the fact that Rajai is less that two years Wells' junior, so this wasn't exactly a Rod Stewart-level trade-in of the old model - literally! - for the much younger version.)

But the move to Davis feels like something more than the swapping of numbers, no matter how articulate the metric might be. There's a weight that has been removed, allowing the team the flexibility in their payroll, in the lineup and in the field that feeds into a new energy, and a whole host of possibilities for clever management.

Which raises the other most significant change, new bench boss John Farrell. For a team that needs to be that much more clever than every other team in professional sports - no hyperbole intended - the Blue Jays have brought in a new manager who is something more than the retread with a reputation or the "good guy" baseball lifer getting a break. Farrell seems to truly approach the game with a vibrant intelligence that isn't weighed down by any overbearing ego.

The Jays entered their search for a new manager last year, and through the legendarily exhaustive process, they came away no only with the best man for the job in the top role, but several of his fellow candidates filling out the coaching roles around him. In bringing in Don Wakamatsu to focus on the catching mentorship and game-planning, and Luis Rivera in a truly unique "eye in the sky", non-uniformed coaching role, not to mention the retention of Brian Butterfield and Dwayne Murphy through the transitional phase, the Jays have added heft to throughout their instructional staff.

(There's a part of us that thinks that sometime soon, the granularity of roles and the player-to-coach ratio that the Jays have instituted this year will be the model to follow.)

We'll take in tonight's game sporting the now-shelved for good powder blue colours sported by the 1985 team. But as much as we think kindly on the past, we've shelved that volume of the team's history. We're ready to look forward, and to follow along with these new Jays as a new legacy is forged. Because as we open the new book, the possibilities are truly inspiring.

Play ball.


BringVottoHome said...

Amen. Can't wait. Can hardly contain myself this morning. Look forward to sharing the season, and the future, with you guys.

PdcD said...

Accidental First Baseman. What a perfect description of the 1B situation for the Jays.

Navin said...

This post reminded me, for the first time in a while, that Vernon won't be out there tonight. He's ALWAYS been out there. A tear.

Peter DeMarco said...

Ahh opening day, that short period of time where I can believe Rajai Davis will put up Ricky Henderson type numbers, Jose Bautista will hit 50 Home runs again but this time with a better batting average, Lind and Hill will bounce back to their 2009 production, JP Arencibia will win rookie of the year, that is unless Kyle Drebek beats him out and Travis Snider will finally live up to his potential, without actual realities of games played crushing my beliefs.

Anonymous said...

For a blast from the past, Funny or Die has a great song about former Jay Cliff Johnson:

I'll take any Blue Jay appreciation I can get from south of the border!

Colin said...

Nice post, but it's only 27 other cities. Two teams in Chicago and New York.

Chateau la Puck said...

As it is a new season, and as I have been greatly enjoying this blog for over a year now, I hereby emerge from the woodwork.

In terms of trivial comments from the peanut gallery, I watched 4 games in Florida last week so may have some minutiae to add here and there based on actual observation.

On we go!

jroberts said...

Jays destroy the Twins again. Man, every time these two teams play I can't help but think about what their respective records would be if they switched divisions. Jays move to the AL Central, decide to keep Halladay and Marcum - 95 wins? 100?

Chris said...

and Snider sitting against a lefty for Nix... ugh is Cito back?

Anonymous said...

I guess "something big" doesn't include regular updates once the season starts.... heyo!

Just kiddin' Tao, I know you're probably saving up for a doozy.

The Ack said...

My bad - I got pulled out of town this weekend for work and thus couldn't fulfill my weekend duties. I'm such a dick sometimes.