The end is nigh (2014)

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog. I decided to use twitter.com/section524 as my outlet for daily views on the Blue Jays, and of course daily life apart from my baseball hobby is very busy.

Like many of us, I’m frustrated with the way 2014 has gone. This frustration is not a new feeling as a Blue Jays follower as fans know. The Jays haven’t seriously contended for at least fifteen seasons – maybe 2000 when they finished 4.5 games back, but even then only with a total of 83 wins, and in third place so that could be a deceiving finish, looking back. But as a lover of the game itself, I have been and always will be a Blue Jays follower or even fan. They’re the only team we have.

However, after eight seasons of being a season ticket holder in one way or another, I think I am done with that and will return to attending Blue Jays games on a game-by-game basis, based on the situation and their performance. I’ve concluded it’s just not worth it for various reasons I’ll get into covering ownership, payroll, management, the Rogers Centre and geez whatever else I can think of in what may be a long column but also therapy.

This has been a sizable financial commitment for me, so I think I have a right to gripe. Any fan does of course, but the ones that don’t attend any games when they live in the Toronto-area really shouldn’t go on about how the Jays have let us down or whatnot. The last two seasons have cost me about $8500 each. And I’m not super well-off. I am a self-employed guy working in advertising and related fields. My wife went along with this because, as she put it “It’s your thing. You don’t drive an expensive car or gamble or have a hobby that costs a lot of money. You love baseball.” I’ve been a season ticket holder in one way or another for about 8 seasons now. The first five through the Toronto Star Season Pass offer, which was the best deal in sports I think. Then 2012 in Section 524 up in the 500-level, right over the plate. And the last two years down in Section 127 right by 3rd base, which has an amazing view of the action by the way. I would not have traded my seats for ones behind the plate which are the same price tier, incidentally. The action happens out in the diamond and beyond so it’s a great vantage point.

For me, the financial commitment has now outweighed the enjoyment I am getting.

Like everyone, I was disappointed with the 2013 season after all the offseason moves which we all have analyzed and re-analyzed so I won’t go into that. But I gave the Jays the benefit of the doubt on that one. Like a superband of musicians that were individually great but needed to learn to play together so their second record would really gel, I was optimistic things would be better this year.

Then the spring happened. And they didn’t do much to improve, even though I think we all knew there were areas that needed attention. Specifically second base and the rotation. I am not a giant stats guy who appreciates exactly what WAR means or BABIP or looks at studies on defensive range, but when even I knew these areas needed upgrades I pretty much guarantee that the Jays and Alex Anthopolous did too. And what happened? We were told that Goins was going to hit decently and his range made up for it so we didn’t need a free agent (or to trade for a) second baseman. And the rotation? I began to worry when we started getting fed stories that Ricky Romero was really looking great. Getting ahead here, I will say that we are lucky Marcus Stroman emerged as a decent (with flashes of Ace-like stuff) starter this season – who knows where we’d be. And then the story that the Jays passed around the hat to try to get enough cash to sign Ervin Santana, which was confirmed. This was troubling. Beeston and AA said the resources would be there when needed, so again, I gave the organization the benefit of the doubt in thinking that maybe I was missing something about our rotation and we didn’t need another starter so let’s see what happens. I drank the blue kool-aid to use an overused metaphor.

There were a lot of ifs going into this season. IF Brandon Morrow could keep his health together. IF Brett Lawrie could control his emotions and learn to play with consistency. IF Goins could hit even .240 maybe. IF Colby would produce in his contract year. IF Dickey could bounce back. Then MAYBE we could contend. It all had to go right.

And it did at first, right? Buerhle was brilliant. Dickey wasn’t Cy Young again, but he wasn’t getting blown out badly and early like last year. Goins was defensively good as promised, with no bat. And Brett was okay, and at least not freaking out anymore. Juan Francisco was going to be just like Bautista and Encarnacion, a reclamation project that produced a Silver Slugger type. First place by 6 games I think was the highwater mark from a standings perspective.

So we ignored the problems. No bench. Juan Francisco couldn’t hit an offspeed pitch. Colby was inconsistent but Gose stepped up (for a bit). Kawasaki, while decent defensively, really illustrated that we had no real depth or plan for second base should the Goins experiment fail. And we quickly realized that the same was true at third base when Brett went down. If we scratched below the surface, we would’ve seen that this playoffs-bound dream was built on very little depth. And that’s where pennants and championships are won it seems. Every team has injuries and disappointments, but the teams with depth seem to keep going. Look at Baltimore (ugh) without Machado and Davis… still chugging.

Bautista and Janssen called out management for not making any moves at the deadline, and although I can’t say I would’ve made the deals that were made by other teams, who knows what deals could’ve been done? We clearly had some holes to fill and Valencia and Reimold were the responses. More than the lack of moves, the comments by Bautista and Janssen were disturbing. These were players that were frustrated to go on record through the media. What were they promised by Rogers and AA/Beeston?

As the season went on, my enjoyment of the Rogers Centre itself dwindles too. Last season’s addition of the open deck out in center field on the 200 level really livened the energy up, but there were no changes this year that I could see. I’ve visited PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Comerica, New Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, US Cellular and other parks that don’t exist anymore. Not a tonne of them, but enough to know that our food is subpar and the beer is overpriced. Rogers bought Skydome, a $500+ million facility, for $20 million and the upgrades have been small. As far as I can tell, the area that was the old Hard Rock Cafe is still unused – what a great space that could be. Or lower the fences in the outfield and extend the seats down to be more interactive with the playing field. Who knows. There seems to be a lack of ideas, and willingness to try anything.

Also as the season ended, I think we started to see Rogers strategy to keep us interested all winter – Dalton Pompey. A local kid that looks like he could be a 30/30 guy with his physique. As Gibbons himself says “Don’t believe anything that happens in September or Spring Training”. I’m concerned the Jays know that Melky isn’t coming back and it’s their hype machine to make us not worry about it – like Goins last year.

Sigh. So where does this leave me? On the fence, I guess. If I was Rogers, I guess on paper I’d want to see more for the $140 million payroll. How many millions can you throw at a problem before you think maybe the money isn’t the problem? Maybe it’s the moves that the money is bringing about. I’m not sure I’d have opened the wallet in July either. AA’s plan didn’t really pan out this year. I don’t envy the trades that were made, but I do question the Santana decision in the Spring – I think that was the indicator that Rogers wasn’t all in, like they told the fans they were. And the rumour at the deadline that they told teams they weren’t willing to take on payroll should also tell us something…

We may be spinning our wheels. There are challenges.

The Blue Jays aren’t going to get grass for at least two more seasons. And free agents are going to be tough to lure here due to that turf, the dollar, immigration (Buerhle’s puppies!), and just general idea that the Jays aren’t in it to win it. Face it, if you’re American, would you cross the border to play baseball in Canada unless you had to? I’m not sure I would. I get it. I love my Blue Jays, but I get it. And now I doubt that Melky will re-sign here too. Even Bautista’s final post-game comments indicates he might doubt it, too. If they were committed to locking him up, you’d think they would’ve right…? Hmmm.

So AA may have to come up with some very creative trades and hope he gets lightning in a bottle like Gillick did with Alomar and Carter. But that’s a big gamble. Teams know our hands our tied, so we may not get good value for our guys.

Anyhow, as one of my favourite Jack Nicholson lines goes “I’m drowning here, and you’re describing the water!”. You, as fans, know all this.

I think my Season Tix days are over. I may miss 2015 and the playoffs (or at least as a season ticket holder), but I think I will be selective about how I go see the Jays now. Just like them, I don’t think I can throw money at the problem. I’ve lost faith that they know what they are doing, or that they are committed to doing it.

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