In Southwestern Ontario, there’s always been a bit of underlying empathy towards our major pro sports teams; at least as far as the last 20 years are concerned. Regardless of how promising things look to be, you’re afraid to get your hopes up, expecting that at some point in the near future things will come off the rails and you’ll be left feeling hollow. It happened to the Maple Leafs as recently as 2013, squandering a 4-1 lead to the Boston Bruins in game seven of their first round playoff series. With the Toronto Raptors, you need not even travel that far into the past. After a franchise record-setting season, the Raptors entered the 2015 playoffs seemingly poised for a deep run of success, only to be swept in the first round by the Washington Wizards. 4 games, 4 losses. One season after another, local sports fans have been dealt blow after crushing blow.
But not this time.
Not these Blue Jays.
On July 28th, in the lead up to the Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Blue Jays and GM Alex Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world by trading star shortshop Jose Reyes and prospects for the best shortstop in baseball by a wide margin, Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki had been middling in Colorado and expected to play for the Rockies, a team poised to post another losing record, for the foreseeable future. As did virtually everyone else.
But in spite of calls for better pitching, Anthopoulos made an under-the-radar, blockbuster deal that sacrificed the future of the team’s pitching staff for an upgrade on the Jays’ already league-leading offense. Fan reviews were mixed: There was no questioning the calibre of the player being acquired in Tulowitzki, a former first-round pick taken right after former-Blue Jay Ricky Romero. But a history of hip issues (when paired with the Rogers Centre turf, a frightening combination) and the seemingly blissful ignorance of a need for pitching caused some to debate whether the prospects included in the deal could’ve been better spent in an effort to land a starting pitcher or high-end reliever.
One thing the trade did do was signal an “all-in” approach by the Jays’ front office. Regardless of the player or position, any time you trade prospects for current star-calibre players, the goal becomes winning right now. Forget 2, 5, 10 years down the line; it’s a classic example of mortgaging the future for success in the present day.
Then, in the wee-hours of the morning on July 30th, the Blue Jays leapt from contenders to favourites in a heartbeat.
The prize of the trade deadline, David Price, a perennial all-star left-handed pitcher was acquired by the Jays from the Detroit Tigers. Having thrown their chips down in the Tulowitzki trade, the Price deal was the equivalent of hitting a royal flush on the river. Fans and new teammates rejoiced all over social media, with next to no debate on this deal. Anthopoulos had, after all, openly acknowledged the team’s need for pitching and having now been in a position to do something about it, made a winning trade in the face of stiff competition for Price’s services. Without question, there were a number of teams in the running for Price, including the Los Angeles Dodgers- a premier, big-market team with infinitely deep pockets. The piece that put the Jays over the top in the auction was Daniel Norris, a budding prospect with a hard fastball & a sure-fire future starter in the organization. However, to get something of value, you need to give something up, and that’s exactly what Anthopoulos did.
Mix in 3 other small trades that saw the Jays land depth players OF Ben Revere, IF Cliff Pennington & reliever Mark Lowe; and all of a sudden, in the span of a week, the Blue Jays springboarded themselves to the top of odds-makers’ picks to win the World Series.
And do they ever look smart.
Since acquiring Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays are 14-3 (14-2 with Tulowitzki in the starting lineup). They’ve closed an 8-game gap to a mere half-game deficit to the division-leading New York Yankees. They’ve become the first team to amass 2 11-game winning streaks in the same season since the 1954 Cleveland Indians, and they sold out all 3 consecutive games against the Yankees this past weekend. Quite the set of achievements for less than 3 weeks.
Blue Jays fandemonium has struck across the country and boy, does it feel good. And not only does it feel good, but it feels different. It’s not the kind of aforementioned cautious optimism that we’ve seen with sports teams of late. This is a contagious love-fest with one of the most likeable teams, in any sport, in recent memory.
If you don’t hurry, the bandwagon is going to leave you behind. My advice? Hop aboard, hold on, and don’t look back.