Wednesday, August 31, 2011


After high school, I took a trip across the country. On this trip I forsook almost all modern amenities, as a friend and I cancelled our cell phones, borrowed a cheap old junked-out Ford Explorer, and spent three months working odd jobs for cold hard illicit cash everywhere from Regina to Lake Louise. It was my first experience of living on the rough, and on the way I met many dubious characters far more underground than myself. It was a thrilling experience, and I strove from that point forward to aim for a more off-the-radar existence. The computer addiction that has marked my life seemed an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one, and I thought I could do it.

Of course, I was off to university, where I would be borrowing thousands of dollars from the government, but I brashly plowed through the irony. I saw the obligations to the government as an extension of my obligations to my parents (i.e. to get a bachelor's degree), after which point I could disappear forever.

But the paper trail has a habit of kicking your ass. On Canada Day three years ago, I spent two hours in the lobby of a Quality Inn in Seattle, reservation and fistful of cash in hand, but lacking the credit card required to cover extras I had absolutely zero intention of indulging. Later, after I had gone ahead and ordered said Visa, I discovered that my balance was insufficient to buy a plane ticket, and had to apply for a larger limit.

I graduated from school in April and considered my options: cancel everything and live the life I craved, laying my loans squarely on the shoulders of my parents, or suck it up and legitimize myself. Of course, after three years or expired sublets and evictions amounting to eleven-and-a-half moves in four years, you start to realize that eternal transience can create just as much of an existential quandary as the restrictions of our modern world. I decided to take a deep breath, hold my nose, and take the plunge.

And so it began. There was a lease. Full-time hours. A new iPhone with the requisite 3 year term. Cable, internet, hydro. All of a sudden, there are more bills with my name on them than there are items of furniture in my house.

Anyways, this transition - to real life, motherfuckers - has left my baseball fanhood in the lurch. Another mediocre Blue Jays season limps to its inevitable conclusion. There is hope, despair and designations for assignment. There is talk of next year that seems stale in its redundancy, even in spite of all the positive adjectives reserved for Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista. At the end of the day, this might as well be 2005, another surprisingly competitive team that couldn't hold onto .500 at the end of the day.

Of course, I've been keeping half an eye out. There was a Luis Perez post that never materialized (Summary: six months ago, would you have voted Luis Perez for "best pitching performance of 2011"? Would you have even known what organization he played for?). There was an Aaron Hill trade post that was a little slow on the uptake (summary: shrug). There was also a comment or two on my firsthand experience of the Jared Weaver shitshow on August 13 (summary: I thought his pregame looked rusty, but assumed I was projecting...until he gave up 8 earnies).
Baseball is awesome, but it's a little scary at times to realize that you can spend your whole life devoted to a thing and still feel like you didn't know the first thing about it, and never is this truer than the internet.

Anyways, I'll do my best to continue to essay through September as I attempt to get my bank account in order and my writing career on track. I've been reading some William Gibson lately, and feeling a little like I'm in that first-novel purgatory (albeit with none of the brilliance, only the obfuscation). Time to build this thing up for a future that much more glorious than the present. Sound like any Candian-based baseball team you know?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alpha Syndrome

I've seen fifteen minutes before, and it ain't pretty. Last June 26th, through some combination of random chance and threadbare acquaintances I found myself wandering the police-occupied streets of Toronto with a man who would later that night be among the hundreds thrown in the holding cells without cause. We were neither friends nor protesters, but through the camaraderie of the weekend and shared morbid curiosity we missioned towards the burning cars. Long story short: I ditched to smoke a bowl while this guy - let's call him Joey - and his girlfriend continued into the belly of the beast. Within thirty-six hours, his account of the miserable prison conditions was flooding major new websites and he was getting Facebook messages from southeast Asia.

The first time I had met him, I had gotten a mildly arrogant vibe: this was a guy who wasn't going to let me tell the crowd what to do. Now, since the crowd consisted of his girlfriend and his best friend, I backed off, and we had some interesting conversations in the sweltering heat. But I did make a note of it. A week later, when I went to the anti-police rally in Queens Park, Joey had become a different beast altogether. He was a keynote speaker. He proposed to his girlfriend in public. When I saw him afterward, he dismissed me with an acerbic comment and turned to someone who was asking him about the oppression of political refugees in war-torn Africa.

I emphasize: this was someone who was not a protester. When I think about what happened, how this guy turned what would have normally been a bizarre life experience to bore people with over beers into a personal vendetta against police oppression worldwide, I'm slightly offended. It stinks of narcissism, of someone who latched onto something relatively benign and used it to vault himself into public relevance. Is it about police oppression, or is it about being the one on the podium? Last week I returned to Toronto, over a year after the fact, only to find out the guy was still reenacting the experience in public. I don't mean to sound of sour grapes, but people who project an entire philosophical soapbox based on an isolated incident are something that really irritates me.

Anyway, Gregg Zaun is kind of like that. I wasn't necessarily opposed to him making the transition from ex-ballplayer to broadcaster, but based on early returns he puts the ballplayer in ex-ballplayer. If Alan Ashby is a thoughtful analyst who occasionally calls upon his experience as a major league catcher, Gregg Zaun is a major league talker who simply found his soapbox. The resulting exchanges are only slightly awkward when he's paired with Jamie Campbell, professional jock-sniffer, but I heard him on the radio for the first time last night and let's just say I was unimpressed. Say what you will about Jerry Howarth - he does get overly excited by the game at times, and you couldn't pay me to listen to the man orate about Jesus with that same fervor - but he's a consummate professional who has been doing his job with devotion since before I was born. He has his shtick, and it behooves his boothmate to roll with that shtick. Tom Cheek had his own, and the two of them found an uneasy alliance through two decades of professional partnership; Ashby has his own breed of analysis which interrogates Jerry's beat without breaking it; but Zaun has none of that fluency. By broadcasting standards, he's more of a rookie than Brett Lawrie is. Much more.

I can't imagine calling a game live is an easy thing. If it were, there wouldn't be so many sites devoted to bad broadcasters. Imagine all the slip-ups you might make during a three-hour-long coffeeshop conversation, and then not being permitted the appropriate adjectives to make up for those blunders, and you might have an idea how difficult live television is. Radio is even harder, because you actually do need to explain the action on the field. (I can't even imagine broadcasting a basketball or hockey game on the radio, because they move so fast you're bound to be at least five seconds behind the play at any given time, and there are no breaks to fill in the gaps.) The fact that Rogers decided to stick Zaun behind a mike less than a month after his official retirement suggests that this was something in the works all along, and that they were banking on Zaun's popularity and the fact that he was so recently a Jay to outweigh any potential struggles in the booth. They didn't send him out to Vegas to hone his game-calling skills, they just plunked him beside Jamie Campbell and said, "it's your show, Gregg."

On some level, I like that Gregg will call out a player for laziness or grunt in admiration of a good pitch. But at some point, you've got to be a pro and understand when you're being Bob Uecker and when you're being Rob Dibble. Maybe he'll learn. And maybe one day my G20 acquaintance will realize that human rights infringements in Toronto aren't quite the same thing as human rights infringements in Zimbabwe, and do something a little more productive with his newfound fame.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Humbled Appreciation...

On Saturday, Zach Stewart recorded his first major league win as a member of the black-and-white. On Sunday, Josh Roenicke was recalled to bolster a decidedly Ubaldo-less Rockies' pitching staff. And also on Sunday, Edwin Encarnacion went 3-4 with two runs scored in the Blue Jays' customary series-victory-clinching win over the Orioles. Six months ago it would have seemed unthinkable, but as of yesterday all three of the players acquired in JP Ricciardi's final trade as a GM are in the major leagues, and Edwin Encarnacion is the only one still wearing a Blue Jays uniform. Crazy, right?

I've recently come to the shocking realization that I am a fan of Fiona Apple. Fiona Apple is someone I've never even considered listening to - partly out of some dogmatic masculinity complex and partly out of a general distaste for the kind of faux-hippie middle-aged socialites who put her music on at cocktail parties - and I only did wind up discovering her while perusing Pitchfork's top 50 videos of the 90s a few months back. But when I did, I was captivated. I watched the video for "Criminal" several times, but convinced myself that I was only interested in the frenzied gyrations of her body and her slightly eerie resemblance to a similarly emaciated acquaintance of mine. She was like every frail and slightly fatale girl I'd ever tried to write in my own fiction or watched in others'. Gradually, though, the video aspect of it grew into an appreciation for "Criminal" as a song - and later, the rest of her oeuvre. I'm still no obsessive Fiona Apple fan, having heard most of her songs one or two times, if that, but at least now I find them compelling rather than repulsive.

Watching Edwin mash reminds me of that. Like Fiona, he ways always there, kind of in the background, mildly distasteful. If I assumed Fiona was some weird Adult Contemporary pop diva, I thought Encarnacion was this decade's incarnation of Tony Batista - just a ubiquitous power bat with huge holes in his swing and glove. In other words, the respective symptom of the downfall of pop music or the Jays as an organization.

But after watching the game yesterday there's something beautiful in watching him mash fastball after fastball over the third baseman's head, isn't there? As awful as he was for the first two months of the season, he's now managed to drag his OPS+ over 100 for the year. That's nothing special for a DH/bad corner infielder, but it's light years away from where I thought it would end up early in the season when I was unapologetically demanding for his DFA. Now, I'm having trouble suppressing the idea that maybe - just maybe - there's a future for Edwin as a DH on this team. (Then I think about Mark Teahen, and then I think about the potential for an aging Hall-of-Famer to come in and hit .330 with 20 home runs, and think the better of it.)

Like Fiona, Edwin will remain in my personal purgatory. In the end, I'll never really embrace Fiona Apple's music as much more than chick-pop, and E5 will never be quite good enough to be a major piece of a championship team. But at least I can appreciate their respective talents in isolation.

Friday, August 5, 2011


It's a big day today. Well, okay, it's my birthday - but more importantly, it's Brett Lawrie's debut with the Blue Jays.
Twenty-one-year-olds who aren't named Griffey or Rodriguez usually struggle against major league pitching, but it had gotten to the point where suppressing Lawrie's video game numbers in Vegas would have contributed a great deal to any allegations of service-time collusion in the upcoming CBA negotiations, and the fan base was at fever pitch. The timing (immediately after an excruciating loss to a division rival) seems oddly apt, but given that the promotion was announced moments following the game, one has to figure it was in the works regardless. Lawrie was coming, come hell or high and inside fastballs.

A lot of people have gone purple in the face about the decision to demote Snider instead of demoting Thames or DFAing one of the shitty third basemen on the roster and allowing one of the two left-handed swinging outfielders to wallow on the bench. But let's face it: the demotion was deserved. The kid gloves are off baby Snider and the Jays have determined that if he can't learn to hit somewhere in AAAA purgatory then maybe he never will. Obviously, it's much too early for any such conclusions - but there's nothing wrong with fielding a meritocracy. Thames, although in a regression tailspin of his own, has looked better than Snider over a longer period of time, and that's the main reason he's still here.

Like Hill, I tend to think - from here in my armchair - that there are psychological issues hampering Snider somewhat. The more I watch Snider develop, the more I see Travis the high-school football star on the field. I heard it said once about Jeff Francoeur (paraphrasing here) that his biggest problem was trying to grind at bats like a linebacker grinds downs, when baseball can't be won by brute strength and determination because it's primarily a skill game. And every time Snider takes a one-handed rip at a low and away breaking ball I'm reminded of that quote. (Hill's problems are different; I just feel that a prolonged period of suckitude has completely shattered his confidence in his own ability to play baseball, which is starting to reveal itself in his shoddy glovework of late. Of course, it hardly needs to be said that I'm fully projecting here.)

I still think Snider, at his worst, is a big league player. Russ Branyan only hit 30 homers once and has a career BA of .232, but he's actually been a valuable player throughout his career, this season excepted. Admittedly, that's a pretty #lazycomp, but you could make the argument that Snider was a better hitter at a younger age than Branyan for much of his minor league career. And if he can't become the 40-homer masher that Wilner and so many others envisioned three or four years ago, I'd be shocked if we're not at the very least seeing Snider come off the bench to hit late clutch home runs in the pitcher's spot for some National League team in five years. He's got talent, we've just got to figure out whether it's going to be useful to the Jays. That said, I don't think we'll see him shipped out for pennies on the dollar this offseason...that would go entirely against AA's tantric mantra. If he eventually departs in 2013 or 14 without ever earning a starting job, so be it.

People have noted the irony of Lawrie replacing his good friend Snider on the roster, but I would point to another, more troubling one: it was only two years ago that Snider was the 21-year-old tearing up Vegas. The lines are eerily similar (431/663 is 204 PAs vs 415/661 in 329 PAs) and we can only hope that the learning curve is a little flatter for Mr Canada.

Regardless, Snider will be back in a month, so let's simmer down and enjoy our first glimpse of the promised future. Prospect porn!
(The real OMGClayAiken. Also, if you haven't already, please check out the essay I wrote for Pitchers and Poets on Amy Winehouse, Jacoby Ellsbury, and numerals:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


St. Louis
E. Jackson6.2141071641.765.27

Okay, I've waited long enough: it's officially time to agree that the Blue Jays ripped off John Mozeliak for Colby Rasmus.