When you think about watching the Royals play at Kauffman, which opposing team do you picture in the 3rd base dugout? The Cardinals? The Red Sox or Yankees? How about the Tigers or perhaps the Twins? How far down the list would Canada’s team be? You remember, the Blue Jays. They play in Toronto in the SkyDome… um, I mean the Rogers Centre. They also won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Really, Toronto truly has a baseball team, I’m not kidding.
For young Royals fans who may not remember, the Royals and Blue Jays have a history together. In October 1985, the Royals played the Blue Jays in a thrilling 7 game playoff that stood as possibly the most exciting series in Royals history… for about 11 days until the Royals defeated the Cardinals in the greatest World Series ever played. (Please note, some Cardinal fans have disputed the notion that the 7 game 1985 World Series was in fact the greatest ever played. However, they are wrong.)
The Blue Jays have the misfortune of playing in the same division as the financially rich Yankees and Red Sox, and the pitching rich Tampa Bay Rays. While faced with this stiff competition, the Blue Jays still compiled a .500 record in 2011, both winning and losing exactly 81 games. In 2011, the Royals won the season series with the Blue Jays 4-3.
The Blue Jays feature a few new players on their roster this year. Arizona and Toronto traded second baseman in a deal that sent Kelly Johnson to replace Aaron Hill who has only been a shadow of himself since his 2009 All Star season. Hill batted .225 with 6 HR and 45 RBIs for Toronto in 2011. He made Alcides Escobar look like a slugger.
Famously homesick former first round draft pick and Alabama boy Colby Rasmus came to the Blue Jays in a multi-player deal with the Cardinals last July, and played centerfield for the last several weeks of the season. The Cardinals, and now the Blue Jays continue to offer him additional chances to prove himself due to his tremendous five-tool upside, but even at only 25 years old, patience is wearing thin with his sullen attitude. So far, he hasn’t proved to be much of an upgrade over Rajai Davis who remains on the bench and available if needed.
The Blue Jays also carry one of my all time favorite players, 9 time gold glove winning 45-year-old Omar Vizquel now rides the bench for Toronto as a utility infielder. He hasn’t played for Cleveland since 2004, but I still just can’t picture him in anything other than an Indian’s uniform. I haven’t seen Vizquel play for a while, but he was a defensive highlight machine back in the day. I always loved watching him make plays, the same way I love watching Alcides Escobar play right now. (Well, with the possible exception of the 12th inning in Oakland late last Wednesday night.) Vizquel is a great veteran presence in the dugout and the locker room.
Even with Vizquel on the team, the average age of the Blue Jays is only 29.1 (there are 10 “older” teams) compared to the Royals 26.9.
Toronto pitching was only slightly better than the Royals last year, with a team ERA of 4.32 compared to the Royals 4.44, with more strikeouts at 1169 compared to the Royals 1080. Toronto pitching also plunked 77 batters last year, which was good for second most in the AL behind the brush-back pitch happy Boston Red Sox. The Jays were close to the middle of the pack in most every pitching category, except wild pitches – they led the league in 2011 with 73.
The Blue Jays proved they are a socially conscious organization by giving their closer Sergio Santos paternity leave immediately after the 2012 season began. I remember the days when players would rush to the hospital to be with their wives who were struggling to hold off the birth until after the final out of a game, only to appear in the lineup the very next day. It wasn’t that long ago. Santos returned to the team last Sunday and will be available to the Blue Jays during their series with the Royals.
And then there’s Jose Bautista. Bautista crushed American League pitching last year with a .302 batting average and league leading .608 Slugging, 1.056 OPS, 132 Walks, 24 IBB (some players never get intentionally walked during their entire career!) and 43 home runs. Not bad for a 20th round pick.
Did you know Bautista played 13 games for the Royals in 2004? I wish I could say I predicted he would turn into the hot hitting player he has become today. I guess it just shows that the experts know better than us amateurs, right? Oh that’s right, they didn’t predict it either, did they?
The first game of the series is scheduled for Friday evening beginning at 7:10 pm. This is of course a Buck Night, and a Fireworks Friday night, as well as a Thumb Band night (whatever that is) for the first 20,000 fans. Retro batting jerseys will be distributed to the first 20,000 fans at the 6:10 pm game on Saturday, and the 1:10 pm Sunday game is a family fun day.
So take your family to the K this weekend and have some fun watching the Royals take on former Royal Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays, and get yourself a thumb band, or a batting jersey, or a little face paint while you’re there.
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