Pitchers and catchers report.
It’s the quarter-pole of the abbreviated NHL season and the Toronto Maple Leafs are a better-than-expected 7-5 and have just left the Montreal Canadiens beaten and bloodied but in this particular city at this particular time it is those top four words that most inspire.
Blue Jays pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, and think what that might mean. This is the 20th anniversary season of the last continental title captured by this city, and suddenly spring training is significant not because it means the end of winter drudgery is close at hand or because it offers a respite from competing train-wreck seasons by the Leafs and Raptors.
It seems significant because the Blue Jays are all in; enough to make them more than just a trendy pick for a postseason berth and once there – well, who knows how far good pitching can take you in the playoffs? (Actually, the San Francisco Giants do.)
Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays president and chief executive officer, visited with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board last month and related an observation taken away from a presentation he’d attended focusing on the Pan Am Games, which you’d be hard-pressed to know will be held in Toronto in 2015.
“The one thing the Pan Am Games could really use – whether or not you believe in them – is a winning professional sports team here; where people start getting behind sports and thinking in those terms,” Beeston said.
“I think we’ve got this mentality right now in this city of being losers. And what we need to do is have a mentality more of winners, where everybody is happy, where everyone’s smiling; where everybody’s got their chest pumped out a little bit and can feel good about it. To me it’s critical. There’s a social responsibility to running a sports franchise and it all gets down to winning. I believe that.”
In January, 2009, The Globe and Mail took a look at the North American cities with four professional franchises – yes, we counted the Toronto Argonauts as a pro franchise; it’s the least we could do given the fact we were counting the Detroit Lions, too – in order to see which city had the best combined regular-season winning percentage and satisfy our worst fears about which one had the worst. Boston led with .625; Toronto was second-last at .457 just ahead of woeful Washington, D.C. at .396. Fast-forward to 2013 and the number of cities with four pro teams had dropped to 13 from 14 (the Atlanta Thrashers left for Winnipeg) and Toronto is still second-worst at .442.
Toronto is still ahead of Minneapolis-St. Paul at .419. San Francisco-Oakland’s teams (including the San Jose Sharks) had a .574 winning percentage to lead the group, through Saturday.
San Francisco and Oakland built their edge this past season on the fact that both baseball teams racked up 94-68 records, and given the excitement surrounding the Blue Jays’ off-season acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio, coupled with the anticipated return to health of Jose Bautista, it will be hard to limit expectations of something similar from the Blue Jays.
Beeston believes attendance could hit three million, and in his meeting with The Globe spoke boldly about the Jays rejoining what he calls “the big-market caucus,” where the team’s financial and collective-bargaining sensibilities are more in line with teams such as the New York Yankees than the Kansas City Royals.
So now all that needs to happen is for the Blue Jays to win – what? – 95 games? All that needs to happen is for Reyes, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Dickey and Edwin Encarnacion to make it through the World Baseball Classic without getting hurt; for Bautista’s wrist to hold up and free-agent-to-be Johnson to be up to pitching in the American League; for somebody to close and for there to be nothing more to Cabrera’s dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs and for Buehrle to keep body and soul intact through a year without his beloved Staffordshire Terrier.
Yes, pitchers and catchers are finally reporting. In a city shy of marquee players let alone marquee hopes, the time has never been more perfect.
Twenty years ago, Joe Carter touched ’em all. It’s time, don’t you think?
Thirteen cities in North America have MLB/NHL/NBA/NFL or CFL franchises.
Through Saturday, this is their ranking according to regular-season winning percentage (includes 2012 MLB and NFL seasons)
1.San Francisco/Oakland .574
2.Dallas-Fort Worth .538
3. New York/New Jersey .537
4. Washington, D.C. .523
5. Detroit .489
6. Chicago .486
7. Boston .483
8. Miami .478
9. Denver .477
10. Philadelphia .469
11. Phoenix .448
12. Toronto .442
13. Minneapolis-St. Paul .419
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