An open letter to Kawhi Leonard on what to expect in Toronto

Kawhi Leonard opens his mouth for the first time as a member of the Toronto Raptors, tells us a few things about himself and shares a few great laughs.

An open letter to Kawhi Leonard:

Hey man. Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of Toronto media. Couple of things you need to know:

No disrespect meant but this is a Leafs city. I’m just being honest, here. The NHL team looks to be pretty good and it even has that rarest of Toronto commodities: a prime-time free agent who actually elected to sign here. Yeah, John Tavares is a local kid but the history of this hockey team is so warped – think the Chicago Cubs before that last World Series, without the cuddliness – that few have dared to throw in their lot with the Leafs. That he has done so reflects a big change in the sports psyche and culture of this city. I mean, how the hell could we expect a free agent from somewhere else to sign – regardless of the sport – if our own avoided us? I think it’s the key to understanding where we are as a sporting city.

As you are no doubt aware, the guy you replaced was beloved. He was an American from Los Angeles who grew to love it here; an NBA player who saw Toronto as something beyond a good place for a weekend pillage. He pledged the best years of his playing career to us and talked us up; helped create a sense that we were a little more enlightened, and racially and politically sensitive, than some of the places he’d been south of the border. (For the record: much of it’s a lie; we have a whole bunch of our own issues we’ve pooched.)

Me? I couldn’t care less what Americans think, but for some in this country, being liked by Americans is a big deal, although it’s less so lately since your country elected an idiot president. What you mostly need to know about DeMar DeRozan is he spoke after every single game to every media outlet that wanted a piece of him. You won’t do that, and I’m totally cool with it. Just know what you’re replacing and as long as you’re an equal-opportunity avoider with the media, we’ll all get along fine.

I’m telling you this because I know right now your silence is going to be misread on a regular basis, what with all this talk about a charm offensive designed to get you to stay here long term. That gets back to that sense of neediness in Point 2. Sorry, but that’s the way we roll and that’s the relationship we’ve been forced into. Get used to it.

Raptors fans and crowds have a reputation for being loud and engaged, as you know from your visits here. Players such as Kyrie Irving and LeBron James who’ve been visiting players here a lot rave about the fans even though they get in their you-know-what. I have a feeling that you will be one of the most popular Raptors players of all time if you bust it on the court because Toronto fans like a little edginess with their star players. Don’t be afraid to knock somebody on their ass; there hasn’t been enough of that in these parts.

Make nice with Kyle this morning, OK?

Take the last shot. Please.

NOW TWEET THIS

In which we ponder the Cardinals’ big week … hate on Kirk Cousins … love on Blake Snell … wonder if “Papa Don’t Preach” isn’t a good theme song for the Leafs/Nylander deadlock … and look ahead to what all the fashionable Blue Jays catchers will be wearing in 2019 …

• The Cardinals’ final week of the regular season will see them play the Brewers and Cubs. Has any team ever defined the phrase “holding their fate in their own hands” like this club? #nicerebuild

• The Bills are the fifth team since 1990 to win a game as a 15-point underdog and the first to do so by more than seven points. Sunday’s win over the Vikes was the Bills’ third win as a double-digit dog, and as a Vikes fan just reinforced my distrust of Kirk Cousins. #meh

• Blake Snell of the Rays leads the AL in ERA and wins. The last 10 pitchers to do that have won Cy Young Awards and since the Cy Young was awarded in both leagues starting in 1967, 13 of 14 pitchers to do so have won the award with the exception of the Orioles’ Mike Boddicker, who lost to Tigers closer Willie Hernandez in ’84. #11

• Good news for the Red Sox: 22 of the previous 25 teams with as many as 105 wins have won the World Series. Bad news? Three of the last four have failed to do so; two failed to make it out of their league’s Championship Series. My guess is the Red Sox join that group. #goastros

• This weekend’s draw against Wolves at Old Trafford means Manchester United has dropped more points to newly promoted teams (six) in seven games under Jose Mourinho than they did between 2006-16. #bedeviled

• The Rays’ Ryne Stanek is the first pitcher with 25 starts/25 relief appearances since the Phillies’ Hugh Mulcahy and the first AL pitcher since Oakland’s Eddie Rommel (31/25 in ‘23). But Mulcahy tossed 161 2/3 innings as a starter; Rommel 235 2/3. Stanek has 37. #openthis

• Hockey Central’s Doug MacLean sees the hand of Michael Nylander behind the holdout of his son William; he’s done business with agent Lewis Gross but says Michael Nylander “could be a handful.” #sinsofthefather

• With Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire possible Jays catchers in 2019, don’t be surprised if they join the ranks of teams wearing wristbands with coding for pitch calling. Manager John Gibbons isn’t a fan which is why it didn’t happen this season. #newage

THE ENDGAME

Look, I love Rowdy Tellez and his backstory as much as anybody but let’s just hold on a minute suggesting he’s on the verge of pushing out Justin Smoak at first base.

That would be a suicidal move by the Blue Jays. Think back to spring training, 2015, when Smoak was a hugely unfancied, bargain-basement free-agent signing who looked terrible at the plate.

Daric Barton was in camp. Danny Valencia (!) was seeing action at first base. Dayan Viciedo was airlifted in and you started to hear grumblings that Edwin Encarnacion might have to suck it up and grab a trapper. But when I pulled John Gibbons aside, this is what he told me: “There’s a reason guys like (Mark Teixeira) and (James) Loney are so valuable in the field. Wingspan. Justin has tremendous wingspan and really, really soft hands. He knows his way around the bag.”

As Gibbons noted then, the “new” guy at third base, Josh Donaldson, came over from the Oakland Athletics with a history of air-mailing the odd throw. His shortstop, Jose Reyes, could also toss one into the seats on the odd occasion. Both of those players are gone and Gibbons could join them as early as next week but the guys taking their place in 2019 could be Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., depending on when/if the Ghost of Troy Tulowitzki is around. That’s some possible mayhem right there, folks. At $9 million with superior defence and 25 home runs accidentally, there’s no way in hell I’m moving Smoak. Unless he shrinks.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m. and Baseball Central from 11 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also co-hosts ‘The Lede’, a podcast with Stephen Brunt.

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