Why We Fan

bismack-biyombo-560x391

It’s a feeling unlike any other.

As a diehard sports fan who hasn’t had much to cheer about throughout my life, I have had a lot of fun teams to root for. My childhood sports experience was dominated by the Vancouver Canucks, Pavel Bure, the “West Coast Express” line and the never ever to be duplicated Sedin twins. I’ll go to my grave with the belief that there has never been and there will never be a happier first baseman in the world than Carlos Delgado. The Blue Jays have fluked their way into year after year of home run mashing teams ever since Jose Bautista arrived on the scene. Chris Bosh was one of the best almost-superstars.

The point is, in spite of my lack of major professional sports championships experience (it’s zero, by the way), there has been a lot of joy along the way. I’m not jaded. At least, not yet.

The Toronto Raptors are doing their best to keep it that way for me. After a stunning victory in game 4 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors are legitimately still in the thick of what was supposed to be a 3 team playoff race.

While I’ve watched more than my fair share of sports over the years, it’s hard for me to explain why this Raptors run is nothing like anything I have ever experienced as a Canadian sports fan.

The Toronto Blue Jays went on an incredible, magical run last year. It was amazing. However, it never felt this way.

The Vancouver Canucks went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. It was also amazing. However, outside of Alex Burrows’ game winning goal in round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, it never felt this good.

The only explanation I can come up with for why the past few days have been so different is the nature of the victories. The season was almost over. Twice. This series was definitely supposed to be over by now. That was a foregone conclusion. After game 2, I had an intense text discussion with a friend about whether the Raptors should let Demar DeRozan walk this offseason.

Here we are though, 2-2. This is why you play the games.

Since Saturday’s unexpected victory over Cleveland, I have been downright giddy. Consuming every bit of Raptors news and analysis that I possibly can. I thought the season would be over by now. We all did. I wonder how many people feel the way I do.

This is the reason that I don’t care about bandwagon jumpers. Come on aboard. The bandwagon fans don’t bother me because I know they can never feel this good. At the risk of sounding cliché, it is only the ones of who have been through the lows who get to experience the highs.  The diehards.

The ones who watched far too many Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay clanked jumpers, Rafael Arajuo attempt to play NBA basketball, Hedo Turkoglu believe he needed more “ball” and Jay Triano try to coach a team to play league average defence.

I’m still young. A part of me believes that the chase is more fun than actually winning. This, of course, coming from a fan who has never experienced actual winning. It may be a defence mechanism or I simply might not be jaded enough yet.

Nevertheless, it’s the past few days that instill in me this possibly ridiculous belief that I would rather cheer for my hapless group of teams than be, say, a San Francisco Giants fan. If I had grown up a Boston sports fan, what would I have to cheer for? I have no idea if I am in the minority on this but I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything…I think.

Yes, as Herm Edwards so famously said, you play to win the game. At the same time, the journey matters just as much, if not more for sports fans. Winning is not the be all and end all. It can still be a heck of a lot of fun even when your chances of winning a championship are slim to none.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

Sports have been around for centuries for our entertainment. We watch because it is fun.

We have fun watching Bismack Biyombo wag his finger like he’s the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo. We enjoy, or at least some of us enjoy, witnessing the national media skewer LeBron for flopping around like he isn’t 6”8, 260 pounds.  Most of all, we love the fact that we were all wrong about the Toronto Raptors’ chances in this series. Regular season Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan are alive.

I recognize that it’s absurd to be this excited about a series that will probably end in 6 games. This isn’t even the NBA Finals. But I had to document this moment. I want to remember what it felt like when the Raptors pushed the Cavaliers and King James to their limits. . I want to remember why I do this to myself. Why all of us sports fans do this to ourselves.

It’s this weird, lasting feeling of mild euphoria that is impossible to explain and even harder for most people to understand. You have to be one of us to truly get it. It’s a small club. I’m just happy I get to be a part of it.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

MLB Draft

If I were Bud Selig, I’d be jealous of the way the NFL is able to create an event so big outside of their season. Can you say cha-ching?

The MLB amateur draft is tonight and Major League Baseball is trying to make their draft more relevant. They are televising the draft these days, they cut 10 rounds out of the draft this year and are now flying the top prospects in to be present live for the draft.

The MLB draft will never be relevant though. Not like it is with the NFL and NBA. Unless you’re a diehard baseball fan, it’s very difficult to get on board with the MLB draft. The problem is that players drafted in the MLB draft don’t have an immediate impact on the team they’re drafted to. The appeal of the NFL and NBA drafts is that teams are drafting players that are expected to make a significant impact on their team in the following season.

Baseball doesn’t have that luxury. Even super phenom Bryce Harper had to spend time in the minors. The MLB draft is trying to gain steam but when fans aren’t getting immediate gratification from these prospects, it’s hard to receive major interest from the masses.

Moreover, MLB prospects aren’t well known to the fans prior to being drafted. There is no national stage on the same level as NCAA Basketball and Football. Fans know very little about baseball prospects other than what they hear from scouts, writers and bloggers. The MLB draft is so much less impersonal.

It’s a good attempt from Major League Baseball but, in the end, they are limited with what they can do with the amateur draft.

Perry Jones III

Some team is going to be getting some very good value out of Perry Jones III come NBA draft day. His stock fell majorly this year but he has that high ceiling that makes him so enticing. If he falls out of the top 10, which seems very likely at this point, one franchise will receive that high reward everyone looks for in prospects without the high risk of a top 5 lottery choice.
If I’m a GM with a teen lottery pick, Perry Jones is at the top of my list.

Moneyball

I still haven’t watched Moneyball. I’m sure it’s a good movie but I couldn’t get behind the concept that the movie attempts to project. The Athletics haven’t been relevant since their big 3 pitchers, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, split up. Moneyball no doubt revolutionized how people analyzed the game of baseball but the idea behind Moneyball being the biggest reason for the success of the Oakland Athletics is nonsense.

How’s Moneyball working today Billy Beane?

The Athletics are 23-30, already out of the playoff race yet again. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are solid in the middle of their order but other than that the Athletics lineup is abysmal. Heck, they had to resort to picking up Brandon Inge who OPS’d .548 in 269 at bats for the Tigers last season. Yikes.

The notion of a small market team with financial restraints being able to compete with the big boys of the Major Leagues makes for a fantastic story. Since the departure of the big 3 though, Billy Beane has shaped exactly what we would expect from a small market franchise with severe monetary restrictions.

Crazy Talk

Remember at the NBA trade deadline when there were Rajon Rondo trade rumours? Man, how crazy does that sound now?

Rajon Rondo is not only one of the best point guards in the league but he is also putting himself in the category of one of the best players in the NBA. He’s carrying the Celtics on that back of his. I didn’t know little guys like Rondo could take on that kind of load. It’s insane that it was legitimate debate 3 months ago if the Celtics should be building around Rajon Rondo for the future. Imagine the Celtics without Rondo.

Can’t do it? That’s what I thought

This is the Celtics last hurrah with this group and the future could not be more uncertain. One thing is for sure though, Rajon Rondo will be running the point for the C’s.

Lou and Potato Chips

Oh look, the whiny Vancouver Canucks fan wants Roberto Luongo out of town. How typical.

The questions surrounding what the Canucks could get in return for Luongo are endless. I, on the other hand, believe them to be unnecessary. Roberto Luongo is still a good goaltender in the NHL but I would be willing to give him up for a bag of potato chips. I might have to insist on Sour Cream and Onion.

Seriously though, I feel the return that Mike Gillis gets on a trade involving Luongo isn’t important. Considering all that has happened surrounding Luongo from the time when he lost his starting job to Cory Schneider, the most vital thing is to make sure Bobby Lou is not wearing a Canucks uniform come opening day. Luongo’s cap hit of $5.3 million is not horrible in itself at this point in time, but with 10 years left on his contract and Cory Schneider waiting in the wings it deserves the horrible status.

To get anything for Roberto Luongo at this point, similarly to the Toronto Raptors flipping Hedo Turkoglu for Leandro Barbosa a couple of seasons ago, would be a win in my mind for Vancouver. To be asking a lot in return for a goalie with all the baggage and questions that surround Luongo is being a bit greedy. The Toronto Blue Jays were aided greatly by the Angels when they were able to pass Vernon Wells onto Los Angeles in exchange for virtually nothing.

It’s not what the Vancouver Canucks get in return for Roberto Luongo. It’s that they just get rid of him.

Bizarro Scorekeeper

Baseball scorekeepers are supposed to help their home team. That isn’t the case for the Toronto Blue Jays. Throughout the season the team has been robbed, and by all people, their hometown scorekeeper. Saturday there were 3 more instances of anti-homerism. Kyle Drabek, David Cooper and Edwin Encarnacion were the victims.

It’s incomprehensible to me. You wonder why the team doesn’t do something about this. Talk to the scorekeeper, fire the scorekeeper, anything. Baseball is a quirky game and one of those quirks is that the home team players get the benefit of the doubt on any close call. The Toronto Blue Jays scorekeeper clearly doesn’t get that.

Get in the Hole!

Golf fans, I’m sick of every time a player hits his shot, a large group of you yell get in the hole. It happens too often now-a-days. Par 3’s, par 4’s, chips from the fringe, and big putts. It has become like the NBA ‘M-V-P’ chants where any Joe Blow coming to free throw line, who is having an exceptional game, can be the Most Valuable Player (see Reggie Evans. Although, I do love Reggie).

It’s not going to stop anytime soon but if fans could conserve their ‘get in the hole’s’ for more appropriate and selective times that would be much appreciated.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Sweet, I know.

ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

ESPN reporter Amy Nelson (above) might have some explaining to do.

ESPN: The Magazine looks as though they have recruited the spy kids to investigate the “suspicious” activity of a mysterious white man in the stands of the Toronto Blue Jays home stadium. At least, I’d hope the investigating was done by kids because the kind of logic portrayed in the ESPN article yesterday could only be considered sensible if it had come from the computer of an elementary school student.

ESPN reporters Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have been stealing signs from the outfield bleachers of the Rogers Centre. Apparently, a white man perched in the out there has been relaying signals using hand motions to the Toronto hitters.

Nelson and Keating have back up their claim with anecdotes from a few unnamed sources as well as carefully selected stats, mostly from the supposedly unbelievably successful 2010 season. Some guys on the unnamed (now named Chicago White Sox) team had seen a man making the motions in the stands as far back as 2009.

Wow, the evidence is overwhelming.

The argument presented in the ESPN article is flawed in a manner that would be expected out of the average person. You would think that the worldwide leader in sports would be smarter than the average person.

As the saying goes, stats are for losers.

The stats presented as clear-cut evidence in the article are hardly that. The selectively chosen stats are clearly picked out by the writers to fit the ultimate conclusion of the piece.

Luckily, due to the mass media of our modern world the excess of statistics discounted by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are readily available for us.

Dustin Parkes over at his blog “Getting Blanked” gives a great run down of the many flaws to the ESPN allegations. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the topic.

At his press conference, Alex Anthopoulos gives some real smart answers to the accusations. The answers make you realize why he’s such a good GM. Why didn’t ESPN go over game footage to find the man in white? Why didn’t they talk to any managers, league officials etc.? The list goes on.

What many people have also failed to bring up is the style of hitting implemented in the 2010 season by Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The ESPN article points out the very high percentage (48.9) of pitches swung at by Toronto hitters that lead to the league leading 257 home runs hit.

However, there is no mention anywhere of the swing big or go home approach of Cito Gaston and his staff. Not many people outside of the Blue Jay loop are probably aware of that but for claims this outrageous I would have thought that the homework done by ESPN wouldn’t be so strikingly similar to a 12 year olds math homework finished 5 minutes before class started.

ESPN also attempts to use the substantial differences in the home and away OPS’ of Escobar, Bautista, Wells, Lind and Hill to prove a point. However, Nelson and Keating do not cite the far superior road average and OPS’ of John Buck and Edwin Encarnacion, who’s OPS in 2010 was more than .200 points higher on the road.

Moreover, ignoring the Justin Verlander no-hitter at the Rogers Centre is just another one of the many overlooked pieces of evidence from the crew over at ESPN.

A high school psychology student could tell you that these claims are based on the very common human error of confirmation bias – defined as a tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

It’s a pathetic display by ESPN to publish such a poorly constructed article for the purpose of generating buzz and page views.

Using Vernon Wells’.552 OPS with the Los Angeles Angels at home in 2011 is hardly evidence that connects the Blue Jays with sign stealing. Personally, I would connect his brutal home OPS to have something to do with that average that sits at .210. But hey, that’s just me.

Vernon Wells’ OPS at home was a whopping .276 points higher in 2006. I guess they were stealing signs back then too, eh?

The excessive quantity of circumstantial evidence in the article doesn’t include the possibility of a simple anomaly in an oddly successful power numbers season for the Blue Jays, which can be explained to certain a degree by the Cito Gaston effect as mentioned above.

On top of all this, the writers of the article don’t seem to realize that even if their claims are true, the Toronto Blue Jays organization must be really bad at cheating. Maybe they even hired the same people who helped investigate the allegations because their home record is 28-27 while their road record is 30-30.

I mean, it must have taken some kind of genius in the Blue Jay organization to come up with the idea to cheat with a team that is in no position to compete for a post-season spot.

Good thing the brains at ESPN figured out that 4th place mediocrity in the AL East and stealing signs from the outfield bleachers go hand in hand.

It’s comforting to see that Nelson and Keating finish their article with such a decisive conclusion:

“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees’ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.”

I’m hearing now that the National Enquirer is embarrassed by the lack of integrity exhibited by ESPN.

Now that’s sad.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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Star Unfairness

Roy Halladay pitchers for the first time at Rogers Centre in a Phillies Uniform

Being unable to challenge our current beliefs. It’s a black mark on our society. We continually accept things because it’s the way it has always been done. I wish we could change that.

Related: Significant Injury?

Sports are similar to life in so many ways. The elite of society get the benefit of the doubt. For example, rich men get beautiful women and the beautiful women are so often let off the hook.

In this sense, professional sports are no different.

The Wade’ and Kobe’s in basketball get more fouls called, the Brady’s and Manning’s in football get more yellow flags tossed in their favour and the Roy Halladay’s of the world get a bigger strike zone.

And here I am thinking that equality was something society strived toward.

The Blue Jays and Phillies game today featured Roy Halladay’s long awaited return to the city of Toronto. The game also featured some very inconsistent but typical game calling from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez.

The fans sure let him know it and more so than any regular season game I have ever seen.

For 9 innings, Alfonso Marquez was giving the benefit to Roy Halladay while Blue Jay pitchers were forced to pitch in a confined strike zone. It all culminated in Blue Jay reliever Jon Rauch’s very amusing ejection. He had reason to be upset considering a 3-2 curve ball that caught the knees on Ryan Howard, that would have ended the inning, was called a ball. He blew up after the next batter, Shane Victorino, hit a single to drive in a run.

He didn’t blow up because of the one call though. It was the frustration of an entire game in which the better team and the better pitcher received better treatment. According to Pitch FX, the Blue Jays had 10 strikes called balls while the Phillies had 1.

The typicality in this kind of umpiring is nothing new. It is everything that is wrong with the mentality of society and how we see people above us. These people are special and we believe they should be treated in that way. Apparently, they have earned something that puts them above the rules.

Greg Maddux built a career on being able get strikes called on pitches thrown 3, 4 and even 5 inches off the plate. These were Pitches that batters had less of a chance at hitting than a chess champion has at picking up Jessica Alba. I guess umpires felt bad for Maddux and his perfect control. He needed extra room off the plate too.

The plate that is supposed to be set in stone. It is there for a reason yet umpires continually choose to expand it for stars like Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera. It makes great pitchers absolutely unhittable.

Star players haven’t earned the right to bend the rules and rookies shouldn’t have to earn the right to get calls within the rules. The rules are put in place to ensure fairness. Every single player should have earned the right to get the same call as the next no matter how many years they have played in the league or how many 0’s are in their contract.

Referees, umpires, fans, players, former players, writers and analysts all seem to find this appropriate. That should make us livid.

We expect superstars to get better treatment when it should not be the case. It is another one of those instances in society where we accept it because it is the norm and always has been.

Do you think it’s fair when multi-bizzilionaire Alex Rodriguez gets out of paying a speeding ticket and you don’t when you’re struggling to pay the bills with 2 kids and a second mortgage on the house? I didn’t think so.

It also isn’t fair for Carlos Villaneuva to have to fight for every strike when his considerably more talented counterpart Roy Halladay does not.

I’m not sure what makes me angrier. Star players receiving every edge imaginable or people unwilling to challenge completely illogical societal norms.

When are fans going to step and say that this isn’t okay? When are fans going to step up and say that we can’t ignore this any longer?

Talent across sports will never be on an equal plain but there is no reason why the rules can’t be. Stop excusing the problem with “he has earned it” and start challenging the issue at hand.

As similar as sports can be to life it still isn’t the real world. This might be a fact of life but it doesn’t have to be a fact in sports.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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What to do with Jose Bautista?

Jose Bautista has pounded out a franchise record 48 home runs so far this season.

It is only human nature to be in awe of remarkable happenings that don’t come around too often. Has anyone ever seen Halley’s Comet? Well that comes around maybe every 75 years. The type of season that Jose Bautista has had this year with the Toronto Blue Jays may not quite compare to the sight of Halley’s Comet, but it is no less short of spectacular.

In one season Jose Bautista has gone from journeyman utility player to Major League home run king. His rise to fame has been quite a sight to watch day in and day out, but it begs the question, can Bautista duplicate his performance next season when all eyes will be on him to perform?

The Toronto Blue Jays have played better than anyone expected prior to the start of the season. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year and after the departure of Roy Halladay all hope was lost. However, for some reason the Jays started to crank out the home runs faster than Usain Bolt’s 100 meter sprint. The burst has come from a number of unlikely sources including John Buck, current Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and of course Jose Bautista. The home runs haven’t dried up and the Jays continue to lead the Major Leagues in total home runs while posting a record of 74-73 to date in the very competitive AL East division.

The Blue Jays are going to be seeing higher expectations amongst fans next year with all the young talent that is a part of the organization. The rotation looks to be set with the return of their top four starters who have proven their worth in Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Shaun Marcum, plus Kyle Drabek who was the key piece in the Roy Halladay trade should be ready for the big show by next year. Big things are also going to be expected from young catcher J.P. Arencibia, shortstop Yunel Escobar, outfielder Travis Snider as well as “veterans” Aaron Hill, and Adam Lind.

For a team that is going so young it is very difficult to see where Jose Bautista fits into the scheme of things. It is without a doubt that Jose Bautista is going to want, and in my mind deserves a multi-year deal. However, for a player that has never posted more than 16 home runs in a season prior to this year and hasn’t once batted above .254, you have to wonder if it would really be a good idea for the Blue Jays to bring Jose Bautista back.

On the one hand there is the school of thought that now that Bautista has finally been given the opportunity to be an everyday player he has shown his true ability. Or you could be thinking that this is just a fluke year. Somewhat like Adrian Beltre’s final season in LA, before he signed on with the Mariners in 2005, in which he batted a whopping .334 while banging out 46 home runs. Except, I think (with no hard evidence to back it up) that that had something to do with steroids and Bautista is most likely not a steroid case in this day and age.

I lean more towards the school of thought that this season has been a one-hit wonder kind of thing. I guess that’s what most people think considering no one traded for the hot hitting Bautista at the trade deadline. Moreover, when it comes to the Blue Jays situation I think it is even more evident that they really don’t need Jose Bautista even if he can guarantee a couple more solid but not spectacular seasons.

Travis Snider has shown some serious star potential in his time in the Majors

For starters, the ridiculous contract of Vernon Wells doesn’t expire until 2014, and no team is willing or stupid enough to take that contract off of the Blue Jays’ hands. Secondly, the Jays have young players who are or soon going to be ready to make the jump to everyday starter. Travis Snider, who is supposed to be the franchise’s outfielder of the future is a right fielder (Jose Bautista’s position) although he can play all positions in the outfield. Also, the Jays traded first baseman Brett Wallace during the season for 20-year-old outfielder Anthony Gose.

Jose Bautista would be a great guy to hold the fort either in the outfielder or the infield while some of these young guys develop, but after this remarkable season you would think the price would be a little steep for a 30-year-old one-hit wonder. Furthermore, Bautista is going to be an everyday player but in the coming years the choice for the Jays to either play their future or their present, the choice is going to have to be the future, which leaves Bautista expendable.

Of course, it would be hard for the Jays to turn their back on a player who in 57 games since the all-star break has hit .300 with 23 home runs and 55 runs batted in, while also breaking the franchise record for home runs in a single season with 48 last night.

Yes, it would be difficult for the Jays to turn away Bautista and that’s why I think they won’t. However, if they do decide to bring him back I don’t think it will be the right choice. Just the fact that he doesn’t fit into their long-term plans and that he hasn’t actually proven anything over the course of his career makes you wonder what he can do after the age of 30.

Added onto all that is that Jose Bautista doesn’t have the typical physical build of a true home run hitter as he as listed at an even 6 feet and 195 pounds. Just another reason to think that he won’t be able to duplicate any of the magic that we have seen from this season.

It should also be noted that he has an OPS of just under .1000 and has been walked a whopping 93 times during the season. He has a cannon for an arm and plays solid defence.

Someone is bound to take a chance on Jose Bautista and as happy as I am to have been able to watch Jose Bautista throughout the 2010 season, I can’t help but be a sceptic and think that this is something we aren’t going to see from him again. With that being said I think it would be a good idea for someone to take on Jose Bautista for a reasonable price, but under the Blue Jays current situation it would be best for the Blue Jays to let this birdie fly from the nest.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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