North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Springtime in the Cellar

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It wasn’t too long after the National Women’s hockey team coasted to a 4-1 victory in Torino – it may have been just mere hours, actually – but it came.

Springtime.

Granted, it’s still February and the Jays are still in the sunny pastures of Florida and the World Baseball Classic is still on the horizon and there’s still 14 feet of snow covering something like another 2 feet of solid ice outside – but there’s baseball brewing.

The Jays of the last few years can be seen as a metaphor for all that is wrong with Canadian sports – all too often the Toronto teams have relied on talent that either didn’t work with the system in place (Mats Sundin, Vince Carter, T-Mac, Roger Clemens)or on players well past their prime that were cheap/fan favorites (Wendell Clark, Doug Gilmour, Eric Lindros, Jose Canseco) – and it was always a short term success. The Jays finished a few games below .500, the Raptors made the playoffs for a few years and Toronto made the Eastern Conference finals a few years back.

But these plans all failed in the long run: The Maple Leafs, like the Boston Red Sox of old, were relying on old talent while getting rid of hot young players and were usually the worst team to make the playoffs. The Raptors, who were once full of young talent, collapsed as their management drove their best players out of town on an all-to-often basis. The Blue Jays signed – and then lost – players that were big names but never had the talent to back them up.

It was the Argonauts, our local CFL team, that was doing it right: They had the solid vets (Damon Allen, Pinball Clemens) that could win games with the right mix of young talent to back them up – and they went to the Eastern Finals for three years in a row, winning the Grey Cup in 2004.

Now the Blue Jays, always near the bottom of Toronto’s popularity, are making the right steps: They have the solid role-playing vets (Doc Halliday, AJ Burnett, Vernon Wells), young talent (Gustavo Chacin, Gregg Zaun, McGowan) and – most importantly – solid management in JP Riccardi.

This could be a new dawn – a springtime – in the cellar of sports in Toronto. Since the Jays went out and filled their holes in the Rotation (January) the Raptors have traded away Jalen Rose (opening up some cap room) and fired Rob “Saddam” Babcock – and have become a legitimate threat to finish in the top twenty. Will the Leafs follow suit and dump Pat “Can’t win Quinn” and trade away Mats Sundin for some good youngsters?

(And yes, you know you’re talking to a Toronto Sports Fan when they talk about sub .500 seasons in a positive light – after all, we’ve haven’t had two of the three major teams finish above .500 since 2003… One final thought, too: The rookie crop in Toronto has been great this year. First Gustavo Chacin rattled off one of the best rookie seasons in the League, then both Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood and Charlie-V posted nearly as great rookie seasons. Yet another reason why Toronto has, potentially, a bright future on the horizon…)

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Written by M.

February 21, 2006 at 11:11 am

Posted in baseball, MLB

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