Sunday, November 20, 2011
There’s really not much to add to what ended up being the biggest Blue Jays-related story of this past week – the new branding scheme and uniforms. I like the new stuff. A lot. The next couple of years of Org Family gift-giving will be predictable indeed.
As is my wont, however, I’m going to use the re-brand as a source for hackneyed symbolism, however tangential you may find it. You all should be getting used to this from me by now.
One of the things that struck me most about the Friday unveiling of the snappy jerseys, caps and associated goods was the level of enthusiasm there was, not just among the fans, but among the players themselves. Twitter was full of the players’ own pictures, with lots of exclamation marks and #BeastMode / #TeamUnit sloganeering. These guys were geeked up about having a new look.
The uniform launch felt like… well, it felt like a launch. The start of something. Especially in an off-season where a whole lot of not much has really happened so far with the Blue Jays, it seemed to put a spring in the step of the faithful.
It got me thinking about how important a fresh start can be. When the Org Kids get up on the wrong side of the bed and catch hell from the Org Wife and me first thing in the morning for misbehaving, we’ll often send them back to their room and have them try it again. Usually works like a charm.
It’s tempting to try to excuse a baseball player’s underwhelming performance by throwing around the old “he needs change of scenery” argument. We can never really get in a player’s head to know whether that’s remotely true. But at the very least, the “fresh start” can be like a bowl of hot chicken soup when you have a head cold: might help; couldn’t hurt.
When they start stretching, sprinting and spitting tobacco juice in Dunedin in a few months, some potentially key pieces of this Blue Jays team are going to be hoping that a fresh start cures what ailed them in 2011, or even before. From where I sit, how those fresh starts turn out is going to be a significant part of the 2012 Jays storyline.
Here are a few of who I mean:
This is fairly obvious, but the very reason the multi-tool talent who will be patrolling centerfield for the Blue Jays is no longer doing it for the St. Louis Cardinals is because someone – Tony LaRussa, John Mozeliak, Alex Anthopoulos, or all of them – thought he needed a fresh start. The start he got as a Jay in 2011 was abbreviated (although long enough to allow Barry from Oakville to bellow his disapproval on the Jays Talk and yearn for the middle relievers he cost to acquire). A full season of the 2010 vintage Colby Rasmus would be a significant piece of an improved 2012 Jays team (again, this is obvious). I hope that starting the season knowing he’s not going to have a manager breathing down his neck with threats to start Jon Jay in his place might make Rasmus a bit more comfortable and a bit more effective.
Travis Snider is going to turn 24 in February, yet he’s already spent parts of four different seasons with the Major League team. You can argue either side of the more-time-in-the-majors vs. more-time-in-the-minors argument, but one thing the kid hasn’t had at any point in his Jays career is some certainty. A fresh start for Snider can come in Toronto or in Vegas but he should know going in that it’s gong to be a full time job, with an abundantly clear description at the start of 2012 of what is demanded and expected of him, regardless of where he’s plying his trade. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Supernanny, it’s that kids need structure. I’m sure this sounds incredibly condescending. I don’t really mean it to be. These players are all grown-up, professional athletes. But sometimes the most precocious talent is the kind in most need of discipline.
A variation on the Snider theme is applicable to Kyle Drabek. Like Snider, he’s shown flashes of meeting the high expectations so many have had for him ever since entering the organization. Despite his youth, he’s not thought of as a prospect, as much as a promise of All-Star performance unfulfilled. As with Snider, I’m not going to lose much sleep if he goes to Vegas or Toronto out of Spring Training, as long as he gets to tackle whatever has been plaguing him with a knowledge that he’s going to get time to do it.
Spring is a fresh start for everyone, really. There are plenty of others on the roster (for the time being) who could similarly benefit: Frank Francisco, for a chance to start 2012 like he finished 2011; Adam Lind, to start a season healthy, strong, free of expectations that he needs to carry the team offensively and with some confidence at the plate that would come with that.
We’ve seen fresh starts work before. Yunel Escobar is one example of a guy for whom his first day in a Blue Jay uniform was the first day of the rest of his life. I’m really, really hopeful that April 1 will be the same kind of rebirth for some of the Jays who need to capture, or recapture, the kind of performance that we know is in them.