My final day in the Lugnuts office this calendar year was Thursday. On Friday, I grabbed my passport, converted to Canadian currency, and drove due East until I arrived north of the border.
I had been invited to take part in PITCH Talks, an event featuring baseball people talking with baseball people in a series of panels. Such notables as Alex Anthopoulos, Dan Shulman, Jonah Keri, and Arturo Marcano have spoken at PITCH Talks in the past -- and so had I, taking part in a Minor League Q&A with Triple-A voice Ben Wagner last season.
A major difference between this PITCH Talks and prior events was in the setting: This was no longer in a basement, or a rented space, or a club: This was at Rogers Centre, in the former Hard Rock Cafe beyond the right field wall, occurring at the same time that tens of thousands of Blue Jays fans were waiting to be allowed into the ballpark. Big congratulations to Kevin Kennedy and his crew for putting this together.
Our view from PITCH:
I had no difficulties passing through Customs before running directly into Toronto rush hour traffic. Hooray! (Living in Lansing causes me to forget about the idea of traffic from time to time.) By the time I was parked and walked toward Rogers Centre, time was running short -- and then I proceeded to walk nearly the entire way around the stadium in search of the gate we were told to enter.
By the time I had arrived and was allowed admission by @Mattomic, a gentleman distinguished by having the only starting initial delivered via calligraphy in all of the TwitterVerse, I was rather sweaty and the first panel was already in progress.
I give you... Sportsnet Magazine's Kristina Rutherford and Arden Zwelling.
Kristina Rutherford has written a good many articles, though using the word "good" is selling her short. (A link to her archive.) In this setting, she and Arden had a blast. I'd compare it in a sense to Pardon the Interruption, a show sold on the recommendation that Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon's arguments in the newsroom were so entertaining, it was worth watching them argue on TV. Coworkers Kristina and Arden, meanwhile, played a game of "Can You Top This?" with stories and side notes gleaned from their reporting and interviewing -- I could picture them finishing off another story, or talking to another source, and receiving something so golden in response that they couldn't wait to share it. In his role as moderator, Arden set up his questions for Kristina with a bit of glee, the better to watch her spike them down. A query from an audience member about her toughest interview set her down the path of remarkable Jose Canseco inappropriateness and caused Arden to rollick.
This was where the panel hit its stride -- a rapid-fire series of candies in anecdote form, tossed here and there by the two of them, which I scrambled to pick up and remember while not missing the next one to come around. Come for the David Price analysis, but don't miss the story of Roberto Osuna, growing up in the most dangerous area in Mexico, or LaTroy Hawkins, emerging from lethal Gary, Indiana, with a huge heart and a love of collecting old jokes.
When they were done, it was entirely too soon.
(It's funny, I tried to take a pic of the next panel, and it turned out blurry. So I turned to the PITCH Talks Twitter handle -- and theirs is also blurry, haha. So we'll go with it, and you can Google up what Shi Davidi, Bill Chastain, and Marc Topkin look like in person.)
Shi writes for Sportsnet as a columnist; I happen to own the book he co-wrote with John Lott, "Great Expectations: The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season" about the 2013 campaign. (The 2015 season might deserve its own book soon.) Bill is the Tampa Bay Rays' MLB.com writer. Marc writes for the Tampa Bay Times.
As much as I could listen to Kristina and Arden telling stories all day long, this was the main course. This was meat-and-potatoes discussion about:
- Would David Price return to Toronto after this year? Kristina answered the same question, but this was bigger -- this was the guys in Tampa who've known him since 2008 or so answering directly about what he was going to do?I believe that Marc said flatly that David was leaving, and received a nice bit of good-natured boos from the crowd (which was a very good-humoured, well-read group of fans). And I believe that two reasonable hypotheticals offered was that Price was either likely to return to the south with the Atlanta Braves or reunite with Joe Maddon with the Chicago Cubs.They went back and forth on Price's psyche and his motivations, and it was all great. Cut it, stock it away, listen back to it (via iTunes, etc.) come the offseason.
- What is the future of the Rays? Tampa Bay can't continue to play in Tropicana Field, even though the lease extends through 2027. It can't (even if Shi likes the Trop more than most everyone else). The contact needs to be released, the team needs to reach a better area. MLB is flush, but that's unhealthy for the sport. (It is also unhealthy to have a team in the current Oakland facility, I believe. Fix each of those spots and you move the entire league forward.)Marc and Bill bandied this about -- what can be done, what has to be done, and all of the potential factors they foresee. Would Stuart Sternberg sell the team and purchase the New York Mets? Does this news throw a monkey wrench into anything?
There were other matters that came up, including the differences between former manager Maddon and current skipper Kevin Cash and the realization that much of Maddon's unorthodox bullpen maneuvering and lineup jockeying were more a part of the Rays' organizational philosophies than they were Joe Maddon idiosyncrasies.
All things considered, this was an excellent supplement to the first panel, providing a counterbalance to personal anecdotes with nuts-and-bolts breakdown and analytical opinions.
And then there was me, photos courtesy of @PitchTalks.
Arden Zwelling was my moderator, setting me up to tell stories to a legion of Blue Jays fans who were interested in hearing them. Looking back on it, it was rather a whirlwind. I think now of all of the stories that I could have told -- Kevin Pillar and proper haircare, for instance.
- Ryan "Go-Go" Goins, and his terrific energy
- Kevin Pillar, his Canadian bandanna, and finding an MiLB routine that rubbed off on everyone
- The legend of Anthony Alford
- Rowdy Tellez, in response to Arden asking me about the other Jays' Minor Leaguers
- Sean Reid-Foley, in response to a question about the young fireballer
- Marcus Stroman's work ethic, in response to a questioner wondering what impact Marcus had made in Lansing during his rehab start
- A rushed story of a West Michigan Whitecaps prank (darn it, I knew we were running out of time, so I panicked and hustled to fit this one in there, answering a question about MiLB pranks from 2014)
- The Blue Jays' MiLB development, in response to a questioner wondering which organizations did well to develop their young talent. This was the last question that was fit in.
I may be forgetting things. I'm not forgetting that I definitely talked over Arden, and also talked way too much -- but it's an exciting thing to do a PITCH Talks, and I was honoured to be a part of it.
If you have any questions for me, particularly any questions that I'd be well-positioned to answer, ask away!
Let's finish with some images from the rest of the night, a 5-3 Blue Jays victory over Tampa Bay.