2016 Saw the Return of Toronto as a Sports Town

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Getty Images

Getty Images

In 2016, Toronto showed the world why it is a sports town. For the record, I never thought for a moment that Toronto lost its place in the sports world. But over the last number of years it became dull, predictable, and snobbish. Nothing could have lit a fire under a Toronto sports fan. Then came the recent playoff runs of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Toronto FC. The Blue Jays went 22 years without a post-season berth before making back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years. People would point out that Blue Jays games rarely sold out or that there are those still burned by the player’s strike in 1994. These folks must have bad knees because they like to use crutches. The fact there are at least 20,000 coming to every game means those who are there are not only Blue Jays fans but also true baseball fans.

A year before Josh Donaldson’s dash home, Jose Bautista brought fans to their feet:

If you watched the NBA playoffs, you would have witnessed Jurassic Park, an area outside the Air Canada Centre where Raptors fans gather and watch their team play whether the team was at home or on the road. Thousands of people braved the elements to watch their team play. LeBron James noticed it moments after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Raptors in the NBA Eastern Conference Final. So did actor and comedian Jamie Foxx when he made an appearance on ESPN after the game. People do pay attention.

Then you have fans of Toronto FC who are in a league of their own. 20 years ago, no one would even think about watching an outdoor sporting event by the lake in the middle of December. But there it was, BMO Field, filled to capacity for the MLS Cup Final. A number of spectators probably wore the same attire at that game as they did to one on a hot, sticky summer day. The loud noise may have caused residents living in Liberty Village across the railway tracks to lose some sleep that night. Passionate? Dedicated? Vocal? Did Donald Trump become President of the United States?

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

Part of the resurgence is due to rapper Drake. Yes, we’ve had other Toronto-born celebrities showing off their hometown pride (i.e. Mike Myers, Will Arnett) but no one has made an impact quite like Mr. Graham. He is also the reason Hogtown is now known as The Six.

The CFL’s Argonauts missed the boat (no pun intended) when they failed to make the playoffs in the year where BMO Field hosted the 104th Grey Cup. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 seasons. But the foundation is now in place after the Brendan Shanahan regime took over in 2014. It will only be a matter of time before they join the likes of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and TFC.

Toronto is often ridiculed (and sometimes rightfully so) for being a fairweather sports town. They sit on their hands, offer a polite applause, wondering why can’t they let us win? Not anymore. Things have changed. There are new people living in the city have they have brought their own approach to watching sports. Some we are not used to seeing: large gatherings outside stadiums to watch games on big screen TVs, wearing the team colours with pride, and screaming so loud it would blow out ear drums. This is not your father’s Toronto sports fans. I can only imagine what 2017 will be for Toronto sports fans.

Also see:

People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do
Habs Fans Becoming Snobs
Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning

 

Even if Bautista and Encarnacion Return, the Blue Jays Still Have Areas to Address

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even-if-bautista-and-encarnacion-return-it-still-does-not-address-the-blue-jays-needs

We are less than 2 weeks away from Christmas and two of the Blue Jays’ prized free agents remain unsigned. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were two of the team’s best hitters over the last four seasons.

Under normal circumstances, losing these two to another team without a player compensation would be devastating. But even if Bautista and Encarnacion did return to the Blue Jays, it would not address the most important need of the team, and that is balance in the line up. The Blue Jays still lack a lead-off hitter and some left-handed bats to level what is a right heavy line up. Yes, this is coming from a guy who likes to lean to the right. It is not enough to have the core group back for next season, they need to shake things up.

The top five hitters last season were Josh Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitizki, and Russell Martin. Add Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis and that’s 7 of 9 hitters in the starting line up batting from the right side of the plate. The best left-handed hitter the Blue Jays had last year was Michael Saunders. He had his best offensive output of his career but struggled down the stretch and wasn’t much of a factor in the postseason. Saunders is also a free agent but appears to be down on the Blue Jays’ priority list behind Bautista and Encarnacion. Assuming Saunders does not re-sign with the Blue Jays, that leaves them with Ryan Goins and Ezequiel Carrera, two lefty bats that don’t necessarily put fear into opposing pitchers. They did retain Justin Smoak and newly acquired Kendrys Morales, two switch-hitters who can provided serious pop from the left side against right-handed pitchers.

There are three positions where Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins can fill with a left-handed hitter: left field, right field and first base, the latter two were occupied by Bautista and Encarnacion respectively. Replacing them with quality left-handed bats would put the issue about whether or not to re-sign the pair to bed.

Not only are the Blue Jays lacking lefties in the line up, their bullpen is also thin on southpaws. With the departure of Brett Cecil to St. Louis as a free agent, that leaves the Blue Jays with just Aaron Loup coming out of the pen from the left side. He alone won’t be enough to neutralize the likes of Chris Davis and Robinson Cano for the entire season.

Then there’s the lead-off position. Travis had been there for much of last season. He is a great hitter but he is often injured and is not patient enough to take pitches and draw walks. If Bautista does come back, I sure don’t want him in the lead off spot like he did for parts of last season. His bat would be better served to drive in runners instead of trying to get on base. One would hope Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey can fill that role next season after spending the past two seasons in AAA Buffalo. There is plenty of speed in the line up but it is kind of useless if they can’t get on base.

We are a little more than two months away until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training so the Blue Jays still have time to address those needs. The starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen are probably the only areas that are stable. If they want to make a serious run at the World Series and not just settling for a third straight postseason appearance, it would be wise for Atkins to cross off those items on his off-season to-do list.

Also see:

Is the Media Cheering for a Blue Jays Demise?
Blue Jays Need Players… Ones That Don’t Get Hurt Easily
The Blue Jays are Doing Well, So Why All the Panic?