Maple Leafs Cushioning Blue Jays

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Apr. 18) – If the Maple Leafs are the most pleasant surprise for hungry sports fans in this city, the Blue Jays have provided the most abject disappointment. So far.

After a winter of unprecedented hype, the Jays have stumbled out of the gate with a 6-9 record in 15 games. It is hardly worth fretting over the club, given the 2013 Major League season is still in its infancy. But, there are ominous signs all over the field, and a key, long-term injury to shortstop Jose Reyes. Twenty years after the Jays were in the midst of consecutive World Series triumphs, there is palpable anxiety among fans of the ball club.

Ironically, the Leafs are providing a cushion.

Normally at this time of year, Toronto sports fans – discouraged after another failed Leaf season – turn their eyes to the Blue Jays. There was hope that both teams would flourish this spring, and they still may. Right now, however, the Leafs charge toward a playoff spot for the first time since 2004 is obliterating all other sporting news in this city. Leafs can clinch that coveted berth with a victory tonight over New York Islanders at Air Canada Centre and a loss by Winnipeg Jets – playing at home against Carolina.  

IT’S BEEN ANYTHING BUT “OKAY BLUE JAYS!” EARLY IN THE SEASON.

Meanwhile, the NBA Toronto Raptors concluded another miserable season on Wednesday night and they did so in a manner that is familiar to Leaf fans: with a five-game win streak in “garbage time.” While missing the playoffs by double figures in recent years, Leafs routinely pored it on once all hope had been lost – impairing their draft position and providing false expectation for the ensuing campaign. There is no such hope for the Raptors, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. With Brian Burke getting cashiered prior to the current NHL season – and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment constantly changing the guard of Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC – it will be intriguing to watch how the parent company reacts this summer to another Raptors failure. Will beleaguered general manager Bryan Colangelo be granted a stay of execution to complete the final year of his contract? Will coach Dwane Casey (who I really admire) be back? Only time will tell.

On Wednesday night, I attended the Blue Jays-Chicago White Sox ballgame at Rogers Centre with my son, Shane. I also brought along my trusty Nikon: 

HOME OF THE BLUE JAYS AND GREY CUP-CHAMPION TORONTO ARGONAUTS.

AT BASE OF THE CN TOWER – ALWAYS AN AWESOME SIGHT.

GATE 6 – FIRST-BASE SIDE – AT ROGERS CENTRE.

FROM UPPER-DECK – SEC. 531 – ON THIRD-BASE SIDE, LOOKING TOWARD LEFT-FIELD FOUL POLE. FOR MID-WEEK GAME AGAINST UNCOMMON AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL DIVISION OPPONENT, THE ANNOUNCED CROWD WAS 15,684 – ROUGHLY 4,000 FEWER THAN A MAPLE LEAFS AUDIENCE AT NEIGHBORING AIR CANADA CENTRE.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX, IN FRONT OF DUGOUT, DURING NATIONAL ANTHEM.

BASEBALL IN MINIATURE – FROM FIRST ROW OF THE UPPER DECK.

BROADCAST POSITIONS AT ROGERS CENTRE. TOP: SPORTSNET TV CREW OF (LEFT-TO-RIGHT) PAT TABLER, JACK MORRIS AND BUCK MARTINEZ. BOTTOM: SPORTSNET-590 RADIO BOOTH AND MY EX-COLLEAGUE MIKE WILNER.

BLUE JAYS STARTER J.A. HAPP DELIVERS PITCH.

FORMER BLUE JAYS OUTFIELDER ALEX RIOS (ABOVE AND BELOW) WAS BOOED, BUT HE SILENCED CROWD WITH HIS FIFTH HOME RUN OF THE SEASON. 

IN FIELD-LEVEL SEATS DOWN THIRD-BASE LINE.

WHITE SOX STARTER JOSE QUINTANA IN DELIVERY MOTION.

VETERAN LEFT-FIELDER MELKY CABRERA OF THE BLUE JAYS WAS 0-FOR-4 WITH A STRIKE-OUT ON THE NIGHT. CHICAGO CATCHER IS TYLER FLOWERS.

LATTICE-WORK OF CEILING AT ROGERS CENTRE – FORMERLY SKYDOME. JUNE 5 WILL BE 24th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST BLUE JAYS GAME AT THE DOME, A 5-3 LOSS TO MILWAUKEE BREWERS (STILL IN AMERICAN LEAGUE) IN FRONT OF 48,378.

FORMER BLUE JAY GREATS ARE GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.

BLUE JAYS STAR FIRST-BASEMAN, EDWIN ENCARNACION, IS SHOWN ON ROGERS CENTRE JUMBO-TRON AS HE COMES TO BAT IN BOTTOM OF THE SIXTH.

NOT SURE IT’S A GOOD OMEN TO HAVE A PITCHING COACH NAMED “WALKER”, BUT THE BLUE JAYS EMPLOY PETE WALKER, WHO MEETS ON MOUND MIDWAY THROUGH THE GAME WITH J.A. HAPP AND CATCHER J.P. ARINCIBIA.

HAVING YIELDED FIVE EARNED RUNS IN 51/3 INNINGS, HAPP WALKS TO DUGOUT AFTER BEING REMOVED BY MANAGER JOHN GIBBONS (ON THE MOUND).

BANNERS HIGH ABOVE CENTRE-FIELD REMEMBERING BLUE JAYS’ GLORY YEARS: BACK-TO-BACK WORLD SERIES VICTORIES IN 1992 AND 1993; MAJOR LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAME IN 1991 AT SKYDOME; HALL-OF-FAMERS PAT GILLICK AND ROBERTO ALOMAR. HOTEL GUESTS STILL WATCH BALLGAMES FROM THEIR ROOMS (ABOVE AND BELOW.)

SHORTSTOP MUENORI KAWASAKI – SUBBING FOR THE INJURED JOSE REYES – HAS QUICKLY BECOME A FAN FAVORITE WITH HUSTLE ON BASE-PATHS.

UMPIRES PASS THE TIME BETWEEN INNINGS (ABOVE AND BELOW), WHILE FIELD-LEVEL CAMERA FOCUSES ON THE ACTION AT HOME PLATE.

ALEJANDRO DE AZA OF THE WHITE SOX HAS COMPANY ON CENTRE-FIELD FENCE.

BASEBALL PIONEER EMBLAZONED ON RING OF HONOR, ABOVE PRESS BOX.

DEFINITELY NOT A GOOD NIGHT FOR THE HOME TEAM – SCOREBOARD (ABOVE); TORONTO STAR HEADLINE (BELOW).

BERGER JR. – HUNGRY – AFTER THE GAME.

CN TOWER GLOWING (ABOVE AND BELOW) BESIDE HAZY MOON.

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