It will be all about the comfort level in 2010 for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans, so who better to start last night's Home Opener than the resilient and maybe even a little bit impervious, Brian Tallet?
Inserted in the No. 2 spot in manager Cito Gaston's rotation behind Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero essentially because he can keep body and soul together even while getting a whipping, Tallet - a working man's pitcher if there ever was one - somehow managed to stay in the game for seven bruising innings. Give up some runs, get some outs, punch the clock. Turn the ball over to someone else.
Now, there's a danger in reading too much into atmosphere and all that drivel at a Home Opener because it has become to baseball fans in Toronto what St. Patrick's Day is to people who enjoy a social drink: amateur night, jammed full of people drinking green beer and puking on the sidewalk who won't be back at the bar tomorrow night when the rest of us real imbibers show up. And there did appear to be the usual smattering of yobs in the upper deck - the ones who seem to show up more often on Opening Night when a team isn't good enough to let the baseball do the talking.
But seldom in recent seasons has a Blue Jays Home Opener been so low-key. Honouring Canada's Olympians will never, ever get old and it's to be hoped that this country finally realizes there is nothing wrong with establishing a symbiotic relationship with Olympic medal winners. So that was a slam-dunk. But 'The Jersey Boys' doing the anthems? One Twitter contributor suggested they were chosen because 'The Chipmunks' weren't available. Nice. The 'Jersey Boys' 'doo-wop' stylings were enough to make you pine just a little bit for the days of flashpots and lasers and 'Slash' doing his faux Hendrix anthem thing. Can we have a moment of silence, please, for former marketing guru Jim Bloom's 'Boo Matsui,' promotion of a few seasons back?
Some place between 'Slash' and 'The Jersey Boys' lies a happy medium, but there was a noticeable difference in tone to last night's game. Perhaps it was the reported long lineups at the ticket wickets or the hour-long waits for beer but there certainly seemed to be less of an edge to last night's sell-out. Nary a streaker in sight - although it must be said that the sellout crowd certainly gave it to former Blue Jay Alex Rios, rubbing in the fact that he will make $58.7 million guaranteed for the next five years playing on a team that is a post-season contender. My god … the horror.
I asked Rios before the game who would be booed louder: himself or Vernon Wells. "Oh there's no doubt about it - I'm going to win the booing game," he said.
Wells had a home run last night and continues to keep his contract at bay as an issue, making life easy for all of us. And maybe that's the feeling the Blue Jays want to create - an odd kind of maturity.
Tickets are no longer discounted. The in-game presentation was, by and large, devoid of the ear-splitting nonsense of recent seasons. Better no music than crap music. Buck Martinez is in the booth and the viewers are ecstatic, based on anecdotal and e-mail evidence. There is a sense of steadiness, even as there is a clear bottoming out taking place and that is good because this is a brand that needs to take deliberate steps - like this:
The Blue Jays have quietly reached an agreement to broadcast games this season in French on Montreal's French-language powerhouse radio station CKAC. The station will broadcast eight games to start, beginning with May 14-15 games against the Texas Rangers. More games could be added. This won't be a revenue generator by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a move of significance for those who want the Blue Jays to re-establish their brand across the country. It might not go anywhere, because the sense is that the only lingering sensation from Montreal over the loss of the Expos is bitterness more than a longing for baseball's return.
But that's not the point. Handled properly and with the right amount of delicacy - well, who knows?
"I would be thrilled if Quebeckers followed us," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, a native of Montreal. Whether that happens remains to be seen. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.