You think October’s going to be rough without post-season baseball? After two years? Go talk to Russell Martin, who showed up at the ballpark Saturday playing for a team officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in a decade: the first time since Sept. 26, 2007. Pre-Barack Obama or, as we now refer it …
“It’s the reason you play, or at least I do. To get the meaningful games,” Martin said Sunday. “This September’s been a little different, not being where we’ve wanted to be. I’ve never really played the game for numbers, it’s to get the team to the promised land. This year was tough; our record is what it is, just definitely not the kind of baseball you want to play in September.”
There is a melancholy to the final homestand of a lost season. Packing boxes battle with suitcases and equipment bags for space as a team prepares for its final road trip. Martin is a big traveller in the off-season, but he admitted he hasn’t drawn up an itinerary yet – because that’s not what he does in the final week of September. The Toronto Blue Jays catcher has yet to win a World Series and his post-season offensive numbers are, um, modest (a .185 average, .603 OPS and five home runs), but since 2011 he has played huge regular-season roles in getting the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and of course the Blue Jays to the post-season – all of them consecutive. That’s a helluva run.
For the record, Martin believes the Blue Jays can make it back to the playoffs in 2018. Oh, he also believes it’s too early to write off Jose Bautista.
“I mean … he’s not the only one that went through some struggles this year,” Martin said. “But the player he is and the eye he has at the plate … you know, people talk about guys getting old and guys being done but to me this season has been one of those freak things. I don’t think he’ll ever hit for as low an average as he has this year, even in the last year he plays.
“He’s not done. Oh, for sure, man. He’s not done. He has a lot of good baseball left in my opinion. It’s just going to be interesting to see where it’s going to be.”
THE NAME GAME
When Paul Godfrey was president and chief executive officer of the Blue Jays, and Ted Rogers was finalizing negotiations on the purchase of the then-SkyDome, I asked Godfrey why ownership wouldn’t sell naming rights to the facility instead of putting its own name on it, which seemed to me to be a surrender of potential revenue.
Godfrey explained that he believed having the Rogers family name on the facility was more important than potential naming rights revenue, since forging a connection between the family and the building would create an imperative for upkeep. Unspoken was the fact that the, uh, charm had worn off on both the SkyDome and the team.
Don’t be surprised if we’re not soon at the stage where the matter is re-visited. The $800 million Scotiabank forked out to put its name on Air Canada Centre for the next 20 years beginning in July 2018 caught the attention of a lot of people with the Blue Jays and with ownership, both of which are looking at substantial renovations to Rogers Centre. Half of what Scotiabank is paying to rename Air Canada Centre Scotiabank Arena would be a tremendous boon, and a quarter wouldn’t be sneered at, either, since much of the renovation plan focuses on initially investing in areas of the stadium that can generate revenue: bars, restaurants, VIP lounges, suites and the like. If the plan is properly executed, the reno can pay for itself.
I know this: 3,203,886 fans just walked through the Rogers Centre this year to see the last-place team in the American League East. Hook them with the team, keep them with amenities for seasons such as 2017? Seems to be the way to go.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt ran for 172 yards on Sunday, giving him 401 yards and becoming the first rookie since Cadillac Williams of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (434 yards) to register 400 yards in his first three games. The only other rookie to do so was Alan Ameche, who had 410 yards in his first three games for the 1955 Baltimore Colts.
• John Gibbons has become a fan of Teoscar Hernandez, who on Sunday became the first rookie in Blue Jays history to homer in three consecutive games and who has 10 extra-base hits out of his 17 hits. No surprise that Gibbons is a fan of the energy Hernandez brings to the team, but the Blue Jays manager admits he is “surprised at the consistent pop in his bat, to centre and right.” Gibbons likes Hernandez’s demeanour and his staff has lauded Hernandez’s intellectual curiosity about baseball.
“Sharp kid,” Gibbons said Sunday. “I went up to him one day and asked him ‘What pitch do like to hit?’ He said: ‘Low-ball, I like low pitches.’ So I told him: ‘Then don’t swing at the high ones.’ He laughed. Going to be interesting to see him next spring, for sure.”
• The Arizona Diamondbacks’ J.D. Martinez is going to get paid as a free agent this off-season. Martinez, one of the major reasons the Diamondbacks now have a week to get their ducks lined up for the National League wild-card game, is one of just five players in MLB history to hit 40 combined home runs with multiple teams in the same season. Adam Dunn hit 40 in 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds and eight with the Diamondbacks; David Justice hit 41 in 2000 (21 with the Cleveland Indians, 20 with the Yankees); Mark McGwire hit 58 in 1997 (34 with the Oakland Athletics, 24 with the St. Louis Cardinals); and Greg Vaughn hit 41 in 1996 (31 with the Milwaukee Brewers, 10 with the San Diego Padres).
But Martinez is the first of the group to hit more of his homers with the team that acquired him, slugging 27 with the Diamondbacks after hitting 16 with the Detroit Tigers. Martinez also has 58 RBIs in his first 57 games with the Diamondbacks, something no other player to switch teams has done since 1920 – when RBIs became an official statistic. He’ll be on most National League MVP ballots.
Can’t do better than Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s comments to President Donald Trump, as relayed by Chris Ballard of SI.com.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m. ET and Baseball Central from 11 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan