Welcome To North Sports!

North Sports is excited to welcome Mark and LaToya to the team! Mark is a proud country hick with the literary savvy of a true jaded urbanite. LaToya is a sharp witted Alberta gal with an insatiable love for her hometown Flames. As a Leaf fan, this makes me sick.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"And this game is tied!"

by Mark Rose
North Bay, Ontario (via Prince Edward County)

This isn't a Roberto Alomar Hall of Fame post.

Instead, its my re-telling of my favourite moment as a Blue Jays fan.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Somehow though, it was October 11, 1992. That is long enough ago that I'm not even going to figure out the exact amount of years that has passed since.

It was a sunny, but cool Sunday afternoon. Game four of the American League Championship Series between the Blue Jays and Athletics in Oakland. The Jays went into the game with a 2-1 series lead and had Jack Morris on the mound. Things looked good for a young, eager, awkwardly thin Jays fan.

Until the third inning.

The A's put up a five spot in the home half and added another run a couple innings later to take a 6-1 lead into the late innings and had it protected by one of the toughest closers in baseball history, Dennis Eckersley.

It was bleak until the top of the eighth inning, when Toronto finally started chipping away. As a kid, when your team is down five runs, you believe it to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. The Jays got a run to make it 6-2 before that mustachioed son-of-a-bitch Eckersley came to the mound. Game over.

But wait...

Run scoring hits by John Olerud and then Candy Maldonado cut the lead to 6-4. Eckersely struck someone out to end the eighth inning Jays rally, and in doing so, lit a fire in me, and more importantly, the Toronto dugout. He yelled and taunted, pumped his fist towards the Jays like the regular jackass he is.

I was livid. Temper that I had (have), I got in trouble for swearing at the television. Two seconds later, my Dad swore at it.

Today, at 29, I would recognize and could see the moment coming. Back then however, at the ripe old age of eleven, there was no hope. The Jays were losing going into the ninth inning, and had to complete the comeback against Eckersley, back then the most hated athlete in my life.

Enter the top of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup.

Devon White, that graceful bastard, led off the top of the ninth with a single and ended up on third base before Ricky Henderson stopped making errors on the play.

The guy up next is THE guy you WANT up next. Whenever a clutch hit was needed, Roberto Alomar had an uncanny ability to deliver. I knew that at the time, but still had no idea what was coming. I was still expecting defeat, still dreading the failure that was about to go down.

I'll never forget the call of Dick Stockton on that early Sunday evening when Robbie lined a two-run, game tying shot over the right field fence, stunning the Oakland faithful, the Oakland dugout, and their cocky prick of a closer.

"And a drive hit to right field, Sierra going back, looking up...and this game is tied!"

6-6. The Jays eventually won 7-6, and I can't remember how they scored the winning run. Beyond this game of course, the rest is history.

This isn't a Roberto Alomar in the Hall of Fame post. He is undoubtedly one of, if not the best second baseman in baseball history. His place in Cooperstown was never a question of "if", but of "when."

Of all the sports moments I've watched on TV, be it the Penguins winning Stanley Cups, the Patriots winning Super Bowls, even Joe Carter's World Series winning tater a year later, the 1992 Alomar homerun, called by Stockton is still the most vivid to me. The Jays had been close to winning the pennant several times before,but when that homerun sailed over Ruben Sierra's head, I finally got the feeling that it just might be our year.

Its fitting that Alomar will be the first Hall of Famer inducted as a Blue Jay. Without him, the Jays never get over the hump and never give us fans the thrills of 1992 and 1993. He WAS the Toronto Blue Jays, and in a way, he still is.
Thanks for all the memories, Robbie, but specifically, this one.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Free Agency Be Damned: A Look At The Toronto Blue Jays Coaching Staff

Thank Jebus for Proctor and Gamble, because Bounty paper towels did a great job cleaning my vomit off the floor after I read about the Carl Crawford signing.

The dude is now the highest paid outfielder in history and he's not once hit 20 home runs or knocked in 100 RBI's.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez has an erection—but I digress.

I needed to step away from the insanity of free agency, so I decided to take a closer look at the re-vamped Blue Jays coaching staff. Since the beautiful (overly sentimental) departure of Cito Gaston, GM Alex Anthopolous has hired former Red Sox Pitching Coach John Farrell as his replacement.

I'll admit I knew little about Farrell before the interview process began. However, his pedigree with young arms like Bucholz, Papelbon and Lackey, not to mention endorsements from respected baseball people like "Un-named GM" really impressed me.

In the end, I was sold after watching the press conference where his hiring was announced. Relatively platitude free, Farrell seemed like an honest, straight shooting guy with the requisite savvy needed to relate to today's pampered athlete; he also appeared to have a nice blend of older brother aloofness and cool dad authority that seems to gel with young players.

The proof will be in the pudding, but he will nonetheless be a refreshing departure from the comatose managerial style of Cito Gaston.

Zombies eat brains; Cito ate my soul.

So without further ado, here is my humble examination of a few key (non-managerial) Blue Jay Coaching hires.

Don Wakamatsu - Bench Coach:

I'm not sure what was more alarming about this hire: The fact that Don was just fired by Seattle because the Mariners sucked, or because he doesn't look even remotely Japanese.

Either way, I needed to really dig into this.

Turns out Tokyo Don was a career minor league Catcher who built a reputation as a superb game caller. If only he could hit a lick, he may have played more than nine MLB games.

Why is this significant? Catchers are great observers of the game and as a bench coach, his perspective will be a nice counter balance to the pitcher Farrell.

Not to mention his ability to craft the finer points of J.P. Arrencibia's emerging talent.

Torey Lovullo - First Base Coach:

Lady-ish first name aside, I'm really excited by this hire. Lovullo actually interviewed for the Dodgers in 2006 and the Pirates in 2007, while he was the Manager of the AAA Buffalo Bison's (Cleveland).

Most recently, as the Manager of the Red Sox AAA affiliate Pawtucket team, Luvollo brings a wealth of experience for such a young guy, as he won't turn 46 until late July.

In short, Luvollo is a natural leader and his talents as a utility infielder and teacher offer insurance in case Brian Butterfield departs.

Pat Hentgen - Bullpen Coach:

Outside of a stint in the minors, this is a great place for a first crack at MLB coaching.

Know the line-up, know the hitters tendencies, work on the pitches and game-plan to get the one to three outs needed from the arms in the pen.

As I evaluate this hire, it's tough separating my insatiable love for Paddy Hentgen, the former Blue Jay and Cy Young winner, from Coach Hentgen, member of John Farrell's staff.

However, this move intrigues me.

I fully realize that there is an undercurrent of pandering nepatism involved here; be that as it may, Hentgen is no shrinking violet nor party hack.

On the contrary, Pat won a Cy Young due to balls and brains. He was never a lights out type like Halladay or Clemons, nor was he a sharp shooter like Maddux or Cliff Lee.

Rather, Hentgen was known as a pitcher who would throw strikes early, and then break your ankles with a 12-6 curve if you gave him the count.

It's this combination of courage, tenacity and craftiness that could provide a marvelous influence on Toronto's collection of talented young arms.

Conclusion: Homerism notwithstanding, this an exciting young managerial staff.

Adding this kind of fresh talent to a group that already includes Batting Coach Dwayne Murphy, Third Base Coach Brian Butterfield and Pitching Coach Bruce Walton further enhances an already strong posse of baseball minds.

In other news, the Yankees jack up their offer to Cliff Lee.

Where are those paper towels?