BASEBALL 2014: THE SEASON THAT WAS
As another baseball season ends, we reflect and report that more than 150 years after the first pitch was hurled, the game is still all right
This season, more than any other, I earned my black belt in baseball photography as I ended up shooting 80 of the 81 Blue Jays? home games. Man alive, it?s even hard for me to believe ! Frankly, I would have had a perfect record, but got pulled off a September 14th game to go shoot the Bills in Buffalo instead. My assignment editor considered it more important and, frankly, how can you argue with an editor, right ?
The sun has alas set on the 2014 baseball campaign, and now, as I sit here and write this blog is the time to slow down the frantic pace of the past 6-7 months, let the dust settle slowly, and look back on the season that has just been filed into the annals for the rest of posterity. Too often we so easily turn the page and the previous six months just get eaten up by the constant churn of the news cycle as we notice a new fire burning more brightly and move on.
Every season ? even the forgettable ones ? leaves us with its share of memories. True, the Blue Jays got nowhere close to the World Series or, for that matter, never came within hailing distance of tasting the playoffs either, although things sure looked promising after an otherworldly month of May. Falling short has been a familiar refrain not just for the Blue Jays but for all Toronto sports teams who excel at little more than the art of floundering year after year. Indeed, over the years, I ? and many fellow observers ? have been numbed somewhat to all the losing we?ve witnessed. In spite of coming up short, the 2014 Jays did show a sliver of promise and in early June even led their division. It was a better and improved team than the 2013 edition and that bodes well for 2015. At least that?s what I tell myself.
You can usually tell apart the baseball dead-enders like myself from the fleeting, casual devotees who you can catch checking their watches with very revealing frequency or grimacing each time a pitcher steps off the rubber. Me ? I love baseball and the game?s steady ebb-and-flow with all its subtle back-and-forth. The deliberation is fine by me. When all is right, I actually enjoy getting lost in a game and checking out for a few hours from the reality around me. And, when I do, when I?m in that baseball-induced trance, I honestly don?t mind whether a game ends up going 12 innings or 15 or, heck, even 19, as that memorable August 10th contest did between the Jays and Tigers in the longest game in club history. It wasn?t just a long game; it was a crazy game too !
With November around the corner, the time is right for a modest dose of introspection before we once again go about the business of turning our attention to hockey and shelve baseball until March. So let?s replenish the ol? memory bank. The takeaways from 2014 for the fans will be based on the final standings more than anything else, but for a photog like myself, there were plenty of singular moments that will live on. Seven walk-off wins sure provided the moments that are always ripe for making some nice frames.
So what went down this past season ? Well, Derek Jeter wrapped up his career and played his final game on Canadian soil on Sunday August 31st. For Blue Jays fans, this was hardly a somber or sentimental occasion since he has burned the Jays way too many times over the years. Mark Buehrle continued to function like a machine that takes to the mound and with metronomic regularity eats up inning after inning. Buehrle would not be stopped from pitching 200 innings for the 14th consecutive year, an impressive milestone.
From the old to the new, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez arrived on the scene in ?14 like a force of nature. Although Stroman initially struggled in a relief role, he was a stud when he became a starter mowing down hitters like a seasoned veteran after getting called up for his second stint with the club. Sanchez dazzled out of the ?pen and also showed he could put away big-league hitters. It didn?t look at all like either one?s success was a fluke.
SewerBall cannot pay homage to the memory makers from 2014 without touching on the seven walk-off victories the Blue Jays fashioned from April to September. These usually make for great photos as few occasions match in emotion what a pile of players on the field gushing with glee will often produce. Maybe it?s just me, but it sure seems like walk-off celebrations have become wilder over the years. So many players are bouncing-off-the-walls wired when the winning run crosses the plate ? I don?t suppose you can blame them for looking for a reason to act like unhinged boors at a keg party on spring break. Even last-place teams celebrate their walk-offs with the euphoria of returning soldiers at Times Square at the end of WWII. May the images speak for themselves below :
If my writings read like a paean to the game I adore, it?s because baseball has a way of leaving its fans with indelible memories more so than any other sport. And there have been lots of good ones, but it is true that what baseball giveth, baseball also taketh away. While the memory of Mike Timlin tossing the ball to Joe Carter to seal the deal on Toronto?s first ever World Series victory in 1992 is still very vivid to me and even more cathartic, my mind can never block out the Jays? elimination on the last day of the 1987 regular season when Frank Tanana?s underhanded flip of the ball to Darrell Evans at first base clinched the East for Detroit. I not only remember the pain of seeing a whole season going down the drain at that moment, but I will forever remember how a measly 1-0 Tigers lead from the second inning forward never seemed more out of reach than on that day.
Good or bad, every fan has a stockpile of memories that can nibble at the edge of their consciousness. All told, the sum of all these memories ? their sheer weight ? can really leave a dent on your life and that?s one of the enduring things that makes baseball what it is.
Yet through it all, while I may have scorn for certain players or harbor resentment for certain plays or moments, I have never had a grudge to bear against baseball. Funny how that works. The grand old game and its timeless genius is on display season after season and while I?ve paid more attention some seasons than during others, I have never fully strayed off the reservation. So we lay in wait. In the meantime, the snow will drop in. Something will fill the void as it always does, but, whatever happens, we will spend most of our time trapped indoors from November to March. But things will really get interesting when we?ll once again be thinking about Opening Day in a few months. Before then, I will resist the temptation to brood.
And April is only five months away.