True Blue Birds

Spring Training 2012: Toronto Blue Jays hosted Detroit Tigers at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida; a final tune-up game before team’s head north for the regular season. Blue Jays have trained here since their first year of expansion in 1977; the only Major League franchise to have never changed where they play spring training games. The playing surface has always been known as Grant Field. But, the naming rights to the stadium have changed several times. Today, its known as TD Ballpark and construction broke ground in 2019 on major renovations that increased seating capacity from 5,500 to 8,500. Blue Jays signed a leasing agreement with City of Dunedin, Pinellas County, and state of Florida in a state-of-the-art stadium. Included is a nearby complex. This ensures that there will be spring training baseball in Dunedin for the next 25 years. It’s a beautiful part of Florida best known for the attractions to state parks on Honeymoon island and Caladesi Island; scenic beaches, boating, and trails.

The 2012 Blue Jays were a far cry from the Blue Jays of today. They consisted of journeyman and free agents whereas the upcoming 2021 roster is loaded with young phenoms, highly touted prospects, and overall talent from within the organization. It has been a busy off season as the Blue Jays continue to find the pieces that will make them relevant this 2021 regular season. Omar Visquel signed with the Blue Jays in 2012, his 24th season and on his 6th team. This would be his final year in MLB; an unofficial farewell tour. For the previous 4 years, he averaged 60 hits a year. At the time, he was chasing 3,000 career hits, along with Johnny Damon who was playing for the Cleveland Indians. Omar Vizquel ended with a grand total of 2,877 while Johnny Damon ended his last year in MLB with 2,769. It’s an amazing career without the 3,000 hits. While some of his contemporaries were long retired and settled into a coaching career (like Ozzie Guillen), Omar Vizquel managed to tap into the fountain of youth; sustaining the conditioning needed for a 45-year-old to compete with players twenty something. He even outlived his longtime nemesis pitcher Jose Mesa who retired in 2007. He pledged to hit Omar Vizquel every chance because of a beef from an incident in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

For the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera was in the line-up; starting the 2012 season as the reigning 2011 AL MVP. He was back in the lineup after a scary moment when, just days before, he caught a hard grounder hit by Hunter Pence under his right eye. CBS Sports writer Matt Snyder reported that Miguel Cabrera left the game bleeding profusely. Apparently, the ball hit the sunglasses Miguel Cabrera was wearing which took the direct hit and drove the sunglasses into his face. As it turns out, that was a blessing in disguise. It could have been more devastating had the ball hit his eye. He played third base in 2012 to make room in the line-up for Prince Fielder at first base. Victor Martinez was the Designated hitter, Prince had just signed with the Detroit Tigers for $214,000,000 a at 9-years; storybook contract for a kid who grew up having batting practice in Tiger Stadium with his dad Cecil Fielder. That honeymoon ended early. Although he had his best season batting average of .313 in 2012, the following year was lackluster for Prince Fielder. He played all 162 games and reached the milestone of 500 consecutive games played. Yet it also led to an abrupt trade to the Texas Rangers in 2014. Financial consideration and neck surgery would affect tenure with the Texas Rangers. There are many debatable reasons for the trade, from his sub-par performance in 2013, to putting Miguel Cabrera back at first, to a laid-back attitude that didn’t sit well with certain folks, etc. Nonetheless, it goes to show that baseball is a fickle game. Loyalties are like apples; they do not fall far from the tree. Miguel Cabrera went on to win the Triple Crown in the 2012 regular season, the first time anyone has reached that feat since Carl Yastrzemski did it with the Boston Red Sox in 1967. It helped that Prince Fielder was hitting behind him in the batting order; pitchers were obligated to pitch to Miguel Cabrera and not give him a base on balls for Prince Fielder to drive him in.

Miguel Cabrera has been delegated to the DH position the last few years. But he’s expected to play more time back at first base this 2021 regular season. Although his time there will be limited, he may need to play first base to stay in the line-up when the Detroit Tigers play in a National League park. Once again, he has the autonomy in the Grapefruit League to work on those grounders. Currently, he has 2,866 lifetime hits, 487 home runs, 1,729 RBI, and a .313 life time batting average. His 8-year $248,000,000 contract carries him to year 2025. That should give him enough time to improve those numbers to a league of their own.

Rogers Centre

Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays

Photo by Math on Pexels.com

2018 Regular Season at the Rogers Centre in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Seventeen-year veteran Cliff Floyd was on hand to call the game. This multi-purpose stadium in Downtown Toronto opened during the 1989 season. Before that, they played at Exhibition Stadium: where the new expansion team played their first game on April 7, 1977, hosting the Chicago White Sox. This complex is a far cry from that frigid day. The thermostat was hovering on zero degrees Fahrenheit, or (-17.777778) Celsius, and it was one of the coldest, snowy days ever played. This, on the other hand, is a state of the art, climate-controlled complex with a retractable roof, with a 348-room hotel adjacent to the park, beyond centerfield. The footprint of the entire structure is located at the base of the iconic CN Tower. Roger Centre is one of three remaining MLB stadiums that still have artificial turf on the playing field. The other two are Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida and Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

Fair or not, there are historical plays that get a lot of exposure on the highlight reels every year. This is the site of the 1992 & 1993 World Series. In 1993, Joe Carter hit a walk-off home run and instantly began to jump up and down uncontrollably, as he made his way around the bases to win the 1993 World Series. He also caught the last out in the 1992 World Series and started to jump up and down in similar fashion, at the Old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta Georgia, to win it all. But most people only remember Joe Carter hitting that home run here in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. On the other end of that was Mitch Williams, relief pitcher of the Philadelphia Phillies who had the honors of throwing that home run to Joe Carter. While walking off the mound, he almost never looked back to see where that ball landed. The deafening sound of the crowd gave him an idea of where the ball was going to land. But, as he approached the third base foul line, he took a gander beyond left field to confirm that the ball did clear the wall. Just like that, the “Wild Thing” became a lasting part of Blue Jays History.

It’s the closest thing to an isolation bubble that MLB has. It’s only one field. But all the other facilities are there for an ideal isolated environment. In fact, you can literally drive in, park your car in the garage, take the elevator to your section, watch the game, and never even see what’s happening out side. It’s a self-sustained complex. On my drive to Toronto from Niagara Falls, the dark clouds from Lake Ontario made a menacing presence. The day of this game, a thunderstorm swept through downtown Toronto.

Either way, it’s located outside the borders of the United States and the government of Canada denied approval for the Blue Jays to play here during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team of young ball players are “cardiac kids” for more reasons than one. They play hard and with their hearts on the sleeves. They’re also dealing with some stress over being homeless and looking for shelter as well as a place to play. At first, there was talk of playing their home games, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. When that fell through, they scrambled to find a home as season opened Thursday July 23. The displaced Blue Jays will resort to playing home games at Sahlen Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, their Triple-A affiliate. They’re making “modifications to the infrastructure” to get it up to MLB standards: not sure what that really means. First home game is Schedule Aug 11.

This new groundswell of talent includes three players who are sons of former MLB players. The two fathers of both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio are Hall of Famers. And, Dante Bichette, father of Bo Bichette, was hired this year as a hitting coach due to the great rapport he’s had with the players. The Blue Jays are making a push for the future with these “cardiac kids” who are taking the baseball world by storm.