Wednesday, May 25, 2005

HOW CAN YOU ROOT AGAINST THE BLUE JAYS?

Toronto is the next road stop before the Yankees? That just is not fair. No one can dislike the Blue Jays. They are small market, have a charismatic, young, Theo-esqe General Manager in J.P. Riccardi, and the unheralded manager, John Gibbons, always has them ready to play. They are underdogs who play hard, play right, and have been winning. It is no fun rooting against the Jays because they are the kind of team you want to root for in baseball.

Now in the early nineties, they were easy to hate. Goody two-shoes Paul Molitor; Dave the Seagull Killer Winfield, George Jorge Bell, old Sox killers Jack Morris and Dave Stewart, and happy, happy, joy, joy Joe Carter liberated from San Diego. They played in the first dome with a retractable roof, drew over 3 million fans a season, and dominated the A.L. East. I detested those Blue Jays. I was stuck rooting for Butch Hobson and his motley crew of underachievers while Toronto turned into some baseball Mecca.

The Blue Jays of today are a young team on the rise. To say they have suffered growing pains is an understatement. They boast Roy Halliday at the top of their rotation, simply the best pitcher in the American League. The staff also has talented youngsters such as Orioles cast-off Josh Towers and rookie sensation Gustavo Chacin. Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson, Eric Hinske, and former Red Sox Shea Hillenbrand are young, exciting players. Riccardi, a former Billy Beane assistant in Oakland, has built a solid, inexpensive team based on the Moneyball concept that will compete for years to come. Too bad no one in Toronto is taking notice.

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TROY BROWN WILL NOT GO DOWN:

The big news of Troy Brown returning to the Patriots has been, along with Doug Flutie, two very heartwarming stories. Of course, neither veteran is assured a roster spot and history has shown that Bill Belichick, despite his affection for a player, is not going to keep anyone for sentimental purposes. While I consider it very likely that Brown and Flutie will both make the roster, with the competition at their positions, I would not be shocked if both were released during roster cut-downs.

Flutie faces competition from a number of contenders for the back-up quarterback spot. Rohan Davey had a firm grip on the number two position last year, and is likely to retain that spot. Competing with Flutie for the number three position is seventh round draft pick Matt Cassell. While Cassell is likely to end up on the practice squad, there is a chance that if he and Davey both have an impressive pre-season the team would be reluctant to let Cassell go through waivers to the practice squad for fear of him being picked up by another team. In that case, it would come down to Davey, who they have invested three years in developing, and Flutie.

Troy Brown, who spent much of last season concentrating on defensive back, finds a bevy of new competitors for his slot receiver position. While David Patten struck the lottery in Washington DC, Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and restricted free agent David Givens presumably have the two starting spots nailed down. The Patriots brought in the Bears former number one pick David Terrell and the white Troy Brown clone Tim Dwight from San Diego. They also still have their developing speedster Bethel Johnson and their fourth round pick from last season, P.K. Sam. With Dwight able to return punts and kickoffs, that leaves Brown in a dogfight for the last receiver position, as it is likely the team will only carry six receivers and add special teams depth from the defensive backfield (I mean, they have to bring back Jerod Cherry, right?). Also, there is the possibility that one of the practice squad regulars from last season, Jake Schifino, Michael McGrew, or Ricky Bryant, will have a big pre-season and stick on the roster.

So while it is likely that both Flutie and Brown will still be with the Patriots on opening day against the Raiders, there is also reason to hold off on celebrating their return to the red, white and blue.

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