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Hush, little leaguer

hush little leaguer0001

In my first season of hardball, I stole over 10 bases. But I took walks rather than swing for hits. Afraid to swing and afraid to strike out, that was me. And despite my best efforts, I cried each time I struck out. There was a lot of crying. I finally swung for the fences in the last game of the season and managed to foul off two pitches before I went down again on strikes. When the game was won, my first base coach, who had caught at least one of my foul balls with his bare hands, pretended to be in pain. The kid who batted .000 had “stung” the ball foul. Nice touch.

Turns out our team, Laird & Son Ltd., on which I, with my December 29 birthday, was the youngest player, was so good it managed to carry a non-swinging right fielder all the way to the finals. We won the Atom Baseball League Championship, and I hit two foul balls.

Strangely, the Leaside Baseball Association gave out no trophies that year.

But after every well played game, our team tore across Trace Manes Park like a pack of wild dogs to the corner store for big freezies and pops, paid for by one of the coaches. That run across the field is one of my fondest little league memories.

Se habla español en Toronto

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays, Diablos Rojos, Mexico City Red Devils

The Blue Jays 25-man roster includes 11 Spanish-speaking players: Joel Carreno, Frank Francisco, Carlos Villanueva, Henderson Alvarez, Luis Perez, Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Molina, Ricky Romero, J.P. Arencibia, and until recently, Octavio Dotel, Juan Rivera, and Jo Jo Reyes.

From the 40-man roster, add Adeiny Hechavarria and Moises Sierra to that list.

This August, The Blue Jays also signed 16-year old pitching phenom Roberto Osuna out of Mexico City, among six other prospects (three from Venezuela, three from the Dominican Republic) to add to a long list of acquisitions from Latin America.

What’s the impact of the Spanish language on the ball club?

Romero speaks Spanish at home, mostly English at the ballpark.

As catcher, Arencibia communicates well with the entire pitching staff, using both languages in his toolbox.

Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star suggested last year that a Spanish-speaking manager to replace Cito Gaston makes sense. I’m curious who, other than Coaching Assistant Luis Rivera, speaks Spanish on the Blue Jays coaching staff.

Should it be part of the criteria for employment? It wouldn’t hurt. Would it make any difference on the field? It just might.

But there are two sides to the coin.

I believe it is in the best interests of every Spanish-speaking player that he gives the English language his best shot. It is the first language of Major League Baseball, after all. Perhaps the organization does have enough serviceable translators in Toronto. There are likely dozens, if not hundreds, of Spanish-speaking scouts across Latin America. This presence in countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela is one of the organization’s greatest strengths. A comparable fluency of the Spanish language throughout the organization, especially in Toronto, could only bolster our talent at the highest level.

Stuff gets lost in translation all the time. In a game as detail-oriented as baseball, having a truly bi-lingual organization would be another way to find an edge.

Blue Jays games in Trois-Rivières

During a six-week “boot camp” of a French Immersion course in Trois-Rivières, Québec, I feared that I would have to modify my daily diet of Blue Jays innings. My fears were put to rest once I found the following two sports bars and met their staff, who were willing (almost) any day to put the game on for hours at a time.

Games are on channel 545 at the The Moose, Rue des Forges (centre-ville), owned by a former AHL tough guy. Decent pasta. Standard bar fare. In the midst of world cup drama, picture an Anglophone out-of’-towner requesting baseball. 5 TVs switch to the Blue Jay game. Confused looks adjust to the new reality. How many highlights of the same goals can we really watch, people?

Beautiful waitresses, polite, smiling, all attempted speaking English with me. I practiced French. The one time it proved impractical to turn the Jays game on was on a night of a Montreal Alouettes game, the bar packed with hard core fans.

Games are on channel 1444 at Les Cage aux Sports, Rue des Forges (centro-commerical). Extensive menu of surf, turf and standard pub fare. Desserts worthy. It has a massive screen towering over the main bar. But there are so many screens in this sports fan complex that no matter the day, there will be a screen for your preferred sporting event. That is, unless you come on a Tuesday when the older waitresses, who don`t know how the cable system works, will compound your frustration.

Most servers here are conversational and wonderful. All wore soccer jerseys of their favourite national team during 2010 World Cup fever. They crack each other up singing and dancing to such classic hits as “lemme work it” by Missy Elliot.

Jeremy Accardo heights

This is not a picture of Jeremy Accardo at a King St. bar. This is a picture of Jeremy Accardo at The Abbey Tavern on Geary Blvd in San Francisco. I did not take this picture. But I did have a brief conversation with a young Accardo at a King St. bar, early in the 2007 season.

After spotting his likeness, I shrugged off the notion that Accardo would be hanging around this bar so soon after the game. I departed with friends, but changed my mind and went back inside to make sure.

“Are you Jeremy Accardo?”

“Yeah.”

“Nice to meet you. You’ve been the lone bright spot of the pitching staff so far.”

“Thanks.”

I shook his hand and left.

This was the year of the Accardo. He maintained a 0.00 ERA into May and would end the season with 30 saves. Four other bullpen studs: Scott Downs, Casey Janssen, Brian Tallet, and Jason Frasor; would buck up and hit stride by summer. Frasor’s numbers would fall off by season’s end, but throughout summer, any of these five could hold down top spot out of the bullpen in ERA or WHIP. Only Tallet would fail to record a save that season, though he did finish out 11 games for the blue birds.

A decent 2007 campaign (83-79) would be followed by a solid 2008 (86-76). Things were looking up.

They didn’t last.

It’s hard to talk about how 2009 (75-87) ended, after having held down 1st place in the East Division well into May.

The bats came alive again in the Spring of 2010. Wells got his Vern-on early. Adam Lind looked like he was chasing a batting title out of the gate. I put  faith in a Cito Gaston quote and bet one enviro-friendly Steamwhistle that Mr. Lind would win a batting title by career’s end. Ouch.
Starting pitching exceeded expectations, but our relief pitching went south.

In the heady days of 2007, “the five studs” of the bullpen were riding high. By 2010, it appeared unsafe for the Jays to ride on the back of any of this band.

Good luck in Area 51, Señor Accardo. Fcuk.