Let me tell you a story.
It’s the summer of 2002. I have just graduated university and suddenly my life has completely, fundamentally, and significantly changed. I am now supposed to become a man, a contributing member of society, with a job, and a steady income. Gone are the days when I can get drunk all night and sleep ’til noon.
But I wasn’t quite ready to move on. I was living with my best friend (the genius behind the 500 Level Fan theme song – check it out if you haven’t), and we decided to prolong the inevitable. We agreed to take one more summer to ourselves, one final responsibility-free summer in the city before moving on to the “real world”.
And oh, what a summer. Heavy drinking. Video games. Playing catch outside. Getting into trouble downtown Toronto. Eating pizza for breakfast, drinking beer for lunch, and then having both for dinner. Great times – maybe the greatest few months of my life.
That summer was also very important because it re-introduced us to the Blue Jays. I have always been a die-hard fan, but my support wavered a bit when I went to school. I was constantly busy with university life (10% work / 90% booze), and when school was finished I spent my summers in Calgary. I watched the games on TV, but being so far removed from Toronto life made it tough for me to get too excited about the team.
But in 2002 that changed. We spent day after day watching the Jays on TV with dozens of beers. Usually once a week we’d head down to the Dome, get a few 500 Level tickets off a scalper for $5 each, and watch the games live. It felt great to be back in the ballpark after so many years away.
The 2002 club wasn’t very good. The Jays finished 78-84, 25.5 games back of New York. They fired Buck Martinez and hired Carlos Tosca. The starting rotation was lead by Halladay (amazing year: 19-7 2.93 ERA), and that was it. Every other pitcher who started 10 games had an ERA well above 4.00 (Esteban Loaiza, Pete Walker, Justin Miller, Steve Parris, Chris Carpenter (in his bad days), Luke Prokopec, and Brandon Lyon). It was the team of Ken Huckaby, Chris Woodward, Raul Mondesi, Josh Phelps, and Dave Berg. Yikes.
But we had fun anyways.
After a few months, we both realized that we didn’t have a favourite player. This needed to be addressed! You can’t have a favourite team and not have a favourite player! For him, the choice was easy – eventual Rookie of the Year winner Eric Hinske (sucker).
But for me, it was a difficult choice. For anybody who either knows me personally, reads this blog often, or follows me on Twitter, you will know that I love Tony Fernandez. He was, and is, my all time favourite baseball player. But Tony had called it quits after the ’01 season, meaning I no longer had a favourite active major leaguer. Could anybody replace Tony?
The answer is obviously no, but I grew attached to a player who reminded me of Tony – Mr. Vernon Wells. It was Vern’s first full season in a Blue Jays uniform, and I thought he was great. He played hard. He was an amazing defender. He could hit (23 HR, 100 RBI). And he owned the Yankees that season (.324 avg, .966 OPS). That sealed it for me. Vernon was the new Tony.
Over the past eight years, though it has become easy to hate Vern and increasingly difficult to support him, I still liked him. Other players jumped ahead of him in my mind (Johnny Mac for one), but Vernon was always up there. Yes he popped up way too many times. Yes he struggled with injury. Yes his fielding isn’t as good as it once was. But he WAS the Blue Jays, and I hated that he was mercilessly booed so often.
And now he’s gone.
I am one of the newer Jays bloggers out there, so I doubt that people really care about my take on the trade. So many amazing posts have already been written by writers much better than I am: Getting Blanked, Blue Jay Hunter, Sports and the City, Tao of Stieb, and 1 Blue Jays Way to name a few.
But for what it’s worth, here it is: despite my love of Vernon Wells, I am thrilled. I am thrilled because we suddenly have an additional $86-million to play with, conveniently coming the year before names like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder can potentially become free agents. I am thrilled because Vern has a chance for a fresh start in a new city and on a new team (though by the sounds of it many Anaheim fans are none-too-pleased with the deal). I am thrilled because the man who tried his best to help keep the Blue Jays relevant both in baseball (with his play) and in the city of Toronto (with his off-field charity work) can escape the boo’s from fans who should have loved him.
It wasn’t his fault he was overpaid. If somebody offered to pay me 15x my market worth to do my job, I’d likely say “OK, where do I sign.” Would I live up to it? Hell no. And realistically, neither did Vernon. But if you looked behind the dollar bills, he was a great player and a great man.
As far as the players coming back, I could care less. I have friends who love Mike Napoli. He can hit lefties, good. But he doesn’t really fit in. He is a DH / C / 1B type player. So is Jose Molina, J.P. Arencibia, Adam Lind, and Edwin Encarnacion. And Juan Rivera? Let’s hope he isn’t allowed into the country…
But the bottom line is this: I will miss Vernon Wells. To me he is a constant reminder of 2002, when life was simpler and beer was flowing. Though our team is better off for the future, I’ll miss his presence on the field in 2011.
Good luck in California Vern, good luck.