Baby, What a Game

Wednesday, September 14 2005 @ 09:40 AM EDT

Contributed by: Jordan

Our next Pinch-Hit Game Report belongs to regular Bauxite Four Seamer, who ran the gauntlet of Bay Street lawyers and their billable hour targets to bring you this account of last night's Blue Jays win. Take it away, FS!

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Owing to the twin demands of career and new fatherhood, Iím almost ashamed to admit that it has been several weeks since I was last able to sit down and enjoy a ballgame from start to finish.

But this assignment has given me the chance, as it were, to tell the titans of Bay Street that their piddling concerns can wait, at least for one day. Because more important than the rapacious demands of corner-office partners is the trust that the good folks at Batterís Box have placed in me.

And so, relishing the opportunity to stick it to The Man (who, incidentally, bears only a passing resemblance to Eugene Levy), I raised a gloved fist to the sky in defiance of the forces conspiring to separate me from my duty to bear witness to the 2005 Blue Jays. After all, how many times does a man have the opportunity to explain to his eight-week-old daughter that the world contains mysteries no amount of human reasoning can explain, using Scott Downs, Ace Hurler, as Exhibit A?

Needless to say, I was looking more than just a little forward to the assignment.

And then I learned the game was to be broadcast on TSN.

Now, itís pretty common in these parts to complain about Mr. Rod Black, but I want to be fair. Black is obviously a very decent follow who has devoted considerable time and effort to promoting the work of World Vision, an organization that does enormous good in some of the most desperate places on this planet.

And the man does a job that all of us think we can do, but frankly, most of us would be dreadful at. And lest you think Iím just setting up an easy punchline, Iím not even talking about his figure skating work.

But remember, this was a game I set out to watch in the company of an eight-week-old infant. The game ended an hour ago, and my ears are still bleeding. I will leave it to your imaginations whether the blame should be laid at the feet of a colicky baby or the TSN broadcasting crew.

That digression aside, when I was first given this assignment, my plan was to tear a page from real life and put together a small study, using this yearís Blue Jay squad as a model, on the effect of fatherhood on player performance, in particular with respect to a playerís performance in the days or weeks leading up to the birth of a child and the days and weeks immediately following childbirth.

This was prompted as much by own circumstance as by the discussion that took place in these parts around the time Vernon Wellsí wife gave birth to their second child earlier this season. His infamous brain cramp against the Orioles, allowing the runner to advance to second on a routine single, sparked much debate about whether he should have been in the lineup, or whether the Blue Jays should have in effect given him a brief paternity leave. What impact, if any, does parenthood have on a playerís performance?

It seems to me that if there is an effect, it is not entirely obvious that it would be strictly negative. Surely, having a child must destroy the focus of even the most intense athlete, but speaking from personal experience, new dads are ebullient, filled with pride and confident that the best days lie immediately ahead.

While many, maybe all, new fathers feel some sense of dread, concerned for their ability to provide for the needs of a growing family, countless fathers redouble their efforts at work and bring a renewed focus to their careers, just for this very reason. Isnít it possible that a young athlete, faced with a new child at home, might begin to take more seriously his profession? Responsibility does have a way, after all, of distilling the mind.

But my sense is that these are likely longer-term effects, and are probably not measurable in any event, since it would be impossible to isolate the effect of having a child from the other forces of physical and emotional maturation. What is more likely measurable is a short-term depression of performance levels, as the Wells episode might attest.

If such a study did show such a result, what would the implications be? What would it suggest about MLBís standard practice of rushing players back from the maternity wards after a few days spent with mom and baby? Would it suggest that a form of paternity leave be instituted for players whose families expand during the course of the season?

Alas, my planned study fell victim to the other demands on my time, and the indisputable fact that a crying baby simply does not facilitate Internet research. Perhaps it is just as well: owing to the fact that Steve Garvey is not a Blue Jay, the study would have inevitably fallen prey to sample-size limitations. Perhaps at some point I will get around to doing such a study, but in the meantime, I invite your comments.

Now that I have recovered, somewhat, from the co-ordinated assault on my senses perpetrated by a tiny little girl and two grown men, I suppose itís appropriate to get to the point of this Game Report: namely, a report on the game.

While itís always satisfying to beat the Beantowners ó especially this year, given that theyíre the defending World Series champs ó it was a little bit of a ho-hum game, laced with a few interesting moments. Despite Pete Walkerís best efforts, I wonít include the top of the sixth in this category (I must confess that at one point late in the game, I switched ever so briefly to the finale of Tommy Lee Goes to College, in the hopes of catching a final glimpse of his chemistry tutor. I wasnít disappointed. In the words of our hero, she is "bananas." My daughter canít even speak and Iím embarassing her profoundly already).

Itís an encouraging sign that for the second consecutive day, the Jays were able to put up a five-spot in a single inning, and against a quality pitcher to boot. I donít know whether hitting is really contagious or not, but itís pleasant to think so, and I can almost believe it when a team strings together a series of base knocks, even if it would take the combined powers of the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators to uncover the mystery of why Kevin Millar was playing Gregg Zaun just off the infield grass.

It was equally encouraging to see Gabe Gross swing the bat well, sparking memories of March (and doesnít that seem like an eternity ago?) by driving a ball out of the yard and just narrowly missing a second home run later in the game. I donít know that thereís a future for Gabe in Toronto, although itís entirely possible he could play himself ahead of Alex Rios on the depth chart with a strong September ó Rod Black and Pat Tabler were speculating that he already has, although it wasnít clear whether they meant that Rios had become the forgotten man in the long term as well as the short term.

And a further point on Gabe: I havenít seen enough Boston games to know whether Bill Simmonsí criticisms of Red Sox third-base coach Dale Sveum are accurate. But if so, Sveum must be a big college football fan ó itís the only way to account for the fact that the only arm in the American League he wonít take the extra base on belongs to a player whoís spent only a few months in the majors.

I donít have much to say about Scott Downs, but he deserves a mention in the Game Report. His line doesnít look as impressive as it might, thanks to Pete Walker (who pulled the same stunt on Dustin McGowan a few weeks ago), but he pitched another strong ballgame tonight.

Where he fits into the plans for next year, Iím not sure (and I would wager that J.P. isnít sure either), but he almost certainly will have a role with the team next year, and I would not have thought that three months ago. Iím still skeptical enough to prefer that he be pencilled in as a long man, but since itís entirely plausible that some pitching depth will be dispatched over the course of the off-season for some offensive reinforcements, Downs could find himself in the starting rotation again.

As for the grab by Wells to end the game, the only word I have is ďWow.Ē But Tommy Lee said that catch was bananas.

As for the broadcast, I think the funniest line of the night goes to Rod Black, who in the course of a discussion about Bill Mueller, breathlessly remarked that Mueller ďmade SHEA HILLENBRAND expendable in Boston.Ē

That doesnít translate too well in text, but just imagine Rod Black saying those words with the same passion and sense of awe heíd use to describe Elvis Stojko picking himself up off the ice after a failed quad. Shea is a serviceable player whoís had a very nice year for this team, and Mueller did win a batting title two years ago, but this was hardly a case of having to move a Joe Montana to make room for a Steve Young.

Honourable mention goes to Rod telling Pat Tabler heíd make an excellent poker player, just after Pat finished explaining he had no idea how to play poker. Apparently, it has something to do with the fact that Pat was so good with the bases loaded; he is excellent at sizing up risk and reward.

I wasnít able to give it much thought, however, as I was still recovering from the shocking announcement that TSN is going to be broadcasting a poker tournament in high definition. Of all the people whose visages would be pleasing to see in high definition, professional poker players are pretty far down the list.

The highlight of any TSN broadcast, however, is Vic Rauter, whose presence tonight had an especially warming effect, reminding me that happy days are ahead as the Leaside Curling Club season starts in less than two weeks. Hurry hard, everyone!

Thanks to the Roster for giving me the opportunity to provide a Pinch-Hit Game Report. It was a pleasure and an honour.

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