(Kudos to easyrichboy for the header)
This is part one of a roundtable discussion I moderated between the other five writers: Alpheus, bigearcreations, easyrichboy, hugo, and Allan. Today, I'll post each of their answers to two out of the six questions. Enjoy!
Bluebird Banter: How did you first become a baseball fan, and a fan of the Blue Jays in particular? Also, if you have any favourite all-time players, cherished baseball memories, or interesting stories, please feel free to share them with us.
Alpheus: Living in Vancouver, I never had the chance to go to any live big league games, so I got my baseball fix on TV. With a large percentage of Blue Jays games nationally televised, the Jays became the natural choice for me to follow. As a kid, I remember coming home from school and watch the Dan Schulman, Buck Martinez telecast nearly every day, and slowly developed an obsession with the team.
bigearcreations: : I was born in the fall of 1976 in the middle of the Big Red Machine's run. My parents tell me that I was mesmerized. Growing up I lived, ate and drank baseball. We played in the tennis court behind my house, until it got too hot... when we moved to backyard pool baseball... until we moved into our league games at night! My summers of Blue Jay's baseball started with the Pennant year of 1985. I still remember my favorite player George Bell falling to his knees at Tony Fernandez ran out and gave what still should be considered the most awkward high-five in Blue Jays History. The loudest I've ever heard the Dome was at the AL East clinching game in 1991 when we broke the 4 million-fan mark. But my best memory was being at Game 1 of the 1993 World Series. I sat in the right field upper-deck seats that jut up above the lights! I set with a group of Phillies fans who insisted on singing, "Whoop there it is" for the whole game.
easyrichboy: While i can't remember exactly when i became a baseball fan, i believe it was around 1986 or so- which i guess would mean i was about 8 years old. My family is from New Zealand, and because of our lack of familiarity with frozen water, no one knew how to skate. Going to a small school in Canada without being able to skate meant i was the only guy NOT on the hockey team. Maybe that's why i gravitated towards baseball (that or the similarities to cricket).
i think part of it also had to do with my silly need to be different- everyone else was a hockey fan, so i'll be a baseball fan. My father went to McGill and so he was a Habs/ Expos fan. Anyone else was into Toronto . And where did my loyalties fall? Oakland .
It was of course the bash brothers that drew me in- Jose in '86 and McGwire in '87. Then the Hendersons, Dave Stewart, Lansford, Steinbach, Eck- i could go on and on and i still remember SO many stats from those days it's disgraceful.
hugo: I have been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember, and grew up playing and watching the game. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, (like Shawon Dunston, one of my childhood idols, more on that later) and used to ditch class in High School and catch the subway to Shea Stadium. I am still a big Mets fan, but over the years have taken the Jays as my AL team, at first as a way to root against against the Yankees and Red Sox. As a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, I will probably never be totally even in my fandom between the Mets and the Jays, but I am pretty close at this point and even found myself more interested in the Jays than Mets last year as the Mets were running away with the division.
I played baseball through high school and into college and, although I had always been a fan, it wasn't until I stopped playing that I really became interested in the statistics and nuances of the game. Although I have been to a few great games (1996 ALCS Game 1 where Jeter's "HR" was deflected by Jeff Maier, David Cone's perfect game at Yankee Stadium, John Maine's fantastic performance in last year's NLCS), my two best memories are as a player: playing in a midnight game in Alaska, and doubling in a game at Doubleday Field at Cooperstown, stealing third and scoring on an error.
As for favorite players, as a SS myself, I always loved Dunston (a Bucktown man) and Kevin Elster for their smoothness in the field, and was in awe of Roberto Alomar's talent (until he signed with the Mets, thanks a lot Robbie!). But my favorite all-time players are Jimmy Key and Barry Larkin. Larkin was everything I aspired to be as a SS and a player: a tremendous all-around talent, fantastic in the field, played hard, had fun, was a great teammate, and conducted himself with humility, class, and grace in the face of incredibly difficult circumstances. I loved Key's determination, his low-key personality, and his ability to succeed despite not having the best stuff. As you can tell, I have never really gone for the guys with tons of HRs or 100 MPH fastballs (probably because what little I achieved as a player was a product of fundamentals and lots of practice, not given talent). My favorite current players are John Maine, Jose Reyes, Lyle Overbay, and Ichiro.
Allan: I first became a baseball fan when I was in grade 3 (10 years ago). I always watched anything on CBC or TSN so whenever the Jays were on I would just watch and try to learn the game by myself. I've been born and raised in Toronto so naturally I love all the teams that play here. I actually don't have any favourites nor any real memories, I guess I'm boring? I've made it a goal to catch some more Jays games.. I'm still young...
Bluebird Banter: While it's technically not over, how would the grade this offseason's transactions? What, in your opinion, was the organization's best move? Worst move?
Allan: The team didn't improve by much (if at all) but I liked the solid moves of signing Thomson and Ohka for very cheap considering what the market offered. A suitable grade would be B/B+. The best move was the Frank Thomas signing as he will probably have the biggest impact and he was the biggest named brought north of the border. The worst move was the Gregg Zaun signing (not that bad a move). I just don't see him putting great enough numbers to warrant 3 million a year.
hugo: I think JP was about right when he characterized the offseason as "good, not great." I think the Jays did what they had to do, hopefully, to remain competitive - the Thomas signing is a big risk but if it doesn't work out, it's only money, and only two years, while if Thomas stays healthy, there is no doubt he is a difference maker, even in an already excellent lineup. I think it was a good move.
I do have mixed feelings about the Overbay and Wells deals, but as a big fan of both, I am happy they are both in the team's long-term plans. Neither is likely to really hurt the Jays in the long run as both will likely be productive throughout most of their respective deals.
I also liked the Thomson and Okha pickups as low-risk signings. There is no guarantee that either will be helpful to the team, but depth is great to have in pitching and I hope that between the sheer number of potential 3-5 starters this year, three guys will emerge.
I think the best move made by JP was not signing Gil Meche, although he deserves no credit for it. Although it is possible that Meche will become a frontline starter, there is no real reason to think he will and whatever chance there is of it happening is not the kind of risk you want to put $55 million and 5 years into. That is the kind of contract that keeps teams sending guys like Meche out there for years of <90 ERA+, just based on money. I think the worst move was signing Clayton, but it is not really a bad move unless it stops the team from considering other options at SS. Clayton stinks, but as a last fallback, he is likely to improve on the production from SS last season. I am probably in the minority, but I would like to see Adams get another shot at SS; (Personal grudge disclosure: I myself was moved from SS to 2B because of my arm at one point, and always felt it was a bit of a snap judgment based on a few bad games.)
easyrichboy: i don't necessarily think much of this offseason's transactions. The Big Hurt signing will (i think), hurt. The V-Dub contract is (frankly), insane. Overbay deal doesn't look too bad (in comparison). Actually, Ohka's contract is looking like my favourite @ this point (cuz it's just one year).
bigearcreations: Best move? Allan Ashby replacing Warren (Beaver Cleaver " Josh Jerry") Sawkiw. I'm not even kidding. I love the sound of baseball. It's intoxicating! It's as important to me as the results of the game. I like the Thomas move... I think Thompson with prove a great investment. I think Zaun's skills have plateaued but is still a better catcher than Barajas. The worst move is Clayton. I know they're not looking for much in the bat department (thankfully since it would be like milking a dry cow... ouch) but looking at his defensive stats and range doesn't exactly warm the cockles of my heart. My suggestion is during spring training; get the7 poor shortstops in camp to have a "good clubhouse guy" competition. The funniest guy wins the starters job. Then no matter how poor they are, you can always say, "well, he's a good clubhouse guy".
Alpheus: I have to say I have not been impressed by the Blue Jay's offseason to date, I feel like the gap has grown between the Jays and the two evil empires. I liked the Frank Thomas signing, despite the obvious injury risks, he is still one of the top hitters in baseball when healthy. The John Thompson, Tomo Ohka signings are also good, low-risk, medium reward deal that add depth to our rotation, something that was sorely missed last year. In my opinion, the worst move this offseason is easily locking up Wells for $126 big ones over 7 years. Wells is a very good player, above-average both offensively and defensively, but overrated on both ends as well. If some of the reported packages offered were true (i.e. the Mets' package or the Dodgers' package), it would've filled holes, trimmed payroll, and infused young talent into the system. I am not convince that a team with Wells will do that much better than a team without the next season given the quality of the return. Overall, I give the offseason a grade of B-/C+.