Saturday, April 2, 2011

Opening Weekend Reactions

Recently I read a short story about an inner-city high school English teacher who challenges his truant 11th-grader to a one-on-one basketball game. (For story context, think Half-Nelson.) The kid's a flashy up-and-coming star, while the teacher is a slow middle-aged white guy with a good shot. It's kind of a cheesy morality tale (and it's not by anyone you've ever heard of, so don't ask), but the reason I bring it up is because there's a moment on the court where the teacher is panting, worrying about an impending heart attack, when he realizes that the kid isn't so much concerned with winning, at least not literally. At his age, winning is about dominance, about doling out or receiving humiliation, about feeling glory - it's not simply a question of putting an extra point on the board.

And Teach uses this knowledge to his advantage, like a cagey pool shark taking down a sharpshooter by playing slow and using psychological tricks. The sharpshooter needs to runs to table, while the old guy merely concerns himself with the 8 (or the 9, whatever the game happens to be). Of course, the sharpshooter is the one who has the better chance of developing beyond the level of his opponent - you generally can't win by playing a safety on your last shot. Sure, the teacher wins the race to 10, but the sixteen-year-old is the one on the fast-track to the NBA.
The one thing that has come out of the past two games is that the Jays haven't simply beat the Twins, they've pounded them to the felt like Mike Tyson in his prime. Forget the cumulative score of the first two games (19-4 Jays, for reference). In Game One, the Jays outwalked the Twins 5-nil. In Game Two, the Jays outhit the Twins 11-1. In the two games, they've outhomered the Twins 6-nil. They've even stolen more bases and played better defense. Basically, it's been a question of obliteration. The crowds have certainly played their part - raucous, big, excited, perhaps even intimidating - but the cumulative effect is that the first two games have played out like some kind of public shaming.

The Jays are young and dynamic, and that's what makes this season such an exciting prospect for even the bleakest of prognosticators. Seventy-two wins? Doesn't matter, we're going to see Snider and JPA get a full season of at-bats, and that's what counts. And what I think we've seen this weekend - if you'll pardon both my extrapolation from a measly two games, small sample sizes be damned, and my risky sojourn into the land of intangibles - is a team, with that young energy, who is eager to dominate. If I can make a comparison between the personnel and and the personality of the team (uh oh, I used the word personality), consider this: the current roster includes no less than nine first-round picks. Of those nine, Jayson Nix is the oldest at thirty. I'm not entirely sure that nine is an obscenely high number, because a good number of guys who actually make it to the majors are the ones who go at the top of the class each year, but regardless: this is a team constituted of young men who have for their entire lives been the absolute best baseball players at their levels of competition. A team full of unencumbered talent. A team full of individuals who expect themselves to be the best, no questions asked - like that fictitious sixteen-year-old baller.

The fun of the past two games may have set up unrealistic expectations, but I think those games have shown us something. The Jays aren't going to 162-0 this year. Not even close. They likely won't even go 81-81, as their upside runs up against those cagey Beasts of the East. But with that edge, with that hunger, and with that talent, I think we can really begin to get excited for 2012.

(Note: I know this post reads like hackneyed, intangible hyperbole. I can't help it - while I agree that if your aim is objectivity there are much better ways rate a team than by relying on tags like "winner" and "personality," I don't think they can entirely be discounted. My theory might be out of left field - how do I know how long Travis Snider's seen himself as Golden Boy? - but calling a bunch of young first round picks talented and hungry should have some basis in reality, I hope.) 


  1. If you wish to write with such flair, you need to edit better. Much better, indeed.

  2. i disagree with the above comment ^. well written