North of the Border & Vlad Guerrero Jr.

I needed an excellent rebound from the Lost Weekend in Florida. Luckily, I planned an early season trip with Mrs. Nomad to Toronto to see the Blue Jays and relax a bit. From a trip planning perspective, I wanted to get this one out of the way. The Rogers Centre is domed so the weather wouldn’t be an issue. Why not get the trip done before the schedule got crazy? As it turned out, the trip was just at the right time. It was relaxing, fun and rejuvenating. Mrs. Nomad and I have always had fun in Canada, and this trip north of the border was no different. Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s first weekend in the show was an added plus.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. – Ken Griffey Jr. or Clint Hurdle?

When we drove north on Friday, I was feeling much better. So much so that I suggested that we try and see Friday night’s game too. After all, it was Vlad Jr.’s first game. However, I got the look – not that Mrs. Nomad doesn’t like baseball – but this was an overly aggressive idea. We were both tired.

“Discretion is the better part of valor” is my new motto. So, instead of testing fate, we decided to have a quick dinner and watch the game on television. Predictably, I fell asleep in the middle of the game and missed Vlad Jr.’s ninth-inning double and Brandon Drury’s home run to win the game.

Hazel Mae is a member of a seemingly excellent Blue Jays’ broadcasting team and seems to be a good reporter. So, I mean no offense. However, she said something on Friday that struck me as odd. While recounting how Vlad Jr., a weak fielder, was working diligently on his defensive skills, she said it was his “next step on the road to greatness.”

I thought about Clint Hurdle. Then I thought about Ken Griffey Jr. Each had a different career arc, and the appropriate question is “which road is Vlad Jr. on?”

Clint Hurdle

My first memory of Clint Hurdle was the cover of the March 28, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated. Clint was on the cover – smiling broadly. The headline read “This Years Phenom.” Unfortunately, Clint was anything but a can’t miss rookie. He missed badly.

Clint Hurdle – “This Year’s Phenom”

In ten years, he hit only 32 home runs, batted a mediocre .259 and only played more than 80 games in two seasons. He had a severe back injury that affected his play for a long time. He partied and may have battled alcoholism. Some suggested that they rushed him to the majors too quickly. 1

Hurdle is now the very successful manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Happy with his life and apparently the saga of his playing days a distant memory.

Ken Griffey Jr.

I don’t remember when I first noticed Ken Griffey Jr. It may have been his broad smile or the way he casually wore his cap backward. Possibly it was the understanding that Reds and Yankee outfielder, Ken Griffey had a namesake that played the game and was going to the bigs.

The Griffey’s

Griffey Jr. had the pedigree and was gifted. However, lineage is not a determinant of talent, and there was the chance that Griffey Jr. would not be that good.

He was more than good, he was great!

His 22-year career that started in 1989, when the 19-year-old Griffey Jr. was third in Rookie of the Year voting. It ended as a 1st ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame with 99.32 percent of the vote. The highest percentage until a guy named Rivera was a unanimous electee. In his career, Griffey Jr. hit 630 home runs and slashed .284/.370/.538. 2

Vlad Guerrero Jr.??

Vlad Jr. has the pedigree. He has his dad’s swing and has a presence on the field and seems to be a natural leader. Additionally, he enjoys the game and plays with as much joy as enthusiasm. Very highly regarded, he is either the number one or number two prospect in the game.

My only point is that his success is not assured. We shouldn’t be ready to engrave his Hall of Fame plaque at this point in his nascent career. I remember an old saying (that I can’t find a reference to anywhere) “There are two types of ballplayers – the ones that have been embarrassed and the ones that will be embarrassed.” Nothing is certain, especially in baseball.

Chris Carlson/ AP

If Vlad Jr. fulfills his destiny, remember that his success was not a sure thing. It took a lot of work and dedication to get to Cooperstown. On the other hand, if his career doesn’t pan out as expected – remember that he worked just as hard, it just didn’t happen.

I hope he enjoys the road he is on, regardless of the destination. He’s a good guy and deserves that much.

Note that I am not going to discuss the fact that the Blue Jays likely manipulated Vlad Jr.’s service time so that they can control him for an extra year. It’s not a good practice and hurts the players. However, I discussed the practice in a previous post, and I’m sure there will be time to do so later. Let’s stick to the game and fun weekend in Toronto.

Saturday Morning in Toronto

Peameal Bacon Sandwich’s

Carousel Bakery

What do you do when you have a free morning in Toronto? We decided to go in search of the St. Lawrence Market in Old Toronto. The market opened in 1803 and has been a centerpiece of Toronto’s culinary tradition for almost as long and was just a short walk from the hotel. We were in search of a Peameal Bacon Sandwich for breakfast. The best ones are from the Carousel Bakery, “The fabulous sandwich has been often imitated but never duplicated by many competitors.” The sandwich is an adult does of pork on a soft bun. I liked mine, but couldn’t quite finish it.

Montreal Bagels

Home of The “Montreal-style Bagel”

After we finished our sandwiches, we walked through the market. Past incredible seafood stands – a woman ladling mussels out of a big bin filled with water. Then we went by the meat stands – fantastic steaks, chops, and sausages on display. There were specialty shops, candies, chocolate, “Montreal Bagels” at St. Urban Bagel. A Montreal-style bagel in comparison to the New York-style bagel is “is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. It contains malt, egg, and no salt, and is boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked.” 3 We tried a delicious poppy bagel.

Canadian Mustard!

And then we found the Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard stand. Kozlik’s is family owned and operated since it opened in 1948. They say that their recipe and process to produce hand-maid mustard in small batches has not changed in 60 years.

www.kozlik’s.com

Something I did not know – Canada is the second-largest mustard producer exports more mustard seed than any other country in the world.4

Kozlik’s had numerous mustards on display. Very few were yellow. They segment their mustards into three groups, Spicy, Sweet, and Savory. As far as I can tell, the traditional Canadian mustard is a lovely shade of brown.

Imagine my concern that the Rogers Centre feature’s yellow mustard. See my comments regarding hot dogs below.

On To The Rogers Center

The game started at 3:00. We arrived at around 1:30 and headed straight to the team store. Unlike the other team stores that I have been to, they had numerous, friendly and cheerful salespeople to assist. I dutifully purchased my Blue Jays’ hat and broke down and got a Guerrero Jr. #27 jersey. Today’s a once in a lifetime event when you see a likely future baseball great in his opening weekend. Might as well commemorate the occasion.

My New Purchases

Then we walked the perimeter of the main level. It had been a long time since we were there. The last time was in the early 1990s. The Rogers Center is not a ballyard, it’s a stadium. It feels like a domed arena. The dome is impressive, and it was more than good to be in from the cold. However, it is a closed-in domed stadium without the beautiful windows featured in Marlins Park. as a consequence, there was not a connection to the outside. A fun time, but we felt like we were in an arena – not a relaxing ballyard.

However, if I lived in Toronto, I’d go often. The wave through the smallish crowd during the later innings was silly but quaint. And Rogers Centre is the only major league ballpark that can offer “Loonie Dogs Night” since the “loonie” is the Canadian dollar. So every other stadium can only try “Dollar Dogs Night” which just doesn’t seem to be as much fun.

The Game

“You never know what’s going to happen… And that’s the fun of it!! That’s what baseball’s all about!!”

Keiichi Arawi

The Blue Jays are playing a new style (for them) of ball. They’ve lost their power hitters (e.g., Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista”) and so they have turned to “small ball.” The change is likely due to new manager Charlie Montoyo who coached for Tampa Bay when they played similar ball. 5

The Blue Jays won 7 – 1. Guerrero Jr. went 1 for 4 with a walk and two strikeouts.

We saw a safety squeeze play in the second inning when Eric Sogard pushed a bunt up the first base line allowing Danny Jansen to score from third. Pretty play.

We saw some excellent defense too. Teoscar Hernandez saved the day with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Jays were ahead 4 to 1, and Matt Chapman was the tying run at the plate since men were on first and second. Chapman hit a scorching line drive to the gap between left and center field that Hernandez barely reached, stretching to catch the ball. If he missed the ball, Chapman would have been on second (if not third) with both runners scoring.

Here’s something I’ve never seen in a game. In the top of the seventh, Nick Hundley hit a ground ball to the left of the second baseman, Brandon Drury. Drury started moving to his left and collided with umpire Larry Vanover, allowing the ball to go through and Hundley to be safe at first.

The Great Hot Dog Challenge – We have a new leader!

Toronto’s hot dog offering was a very lovely rebound from my choice at Marlin’s Park! Schneider’s franks are the official hot dog of the Blue Jays. They were founded in Canada in 1890 by JM Schneider. So first criteria met – they are unique to the area!

A Really Good Hot Dog!

Moreover, the dogs are big not just long – a very meaty feast. They are tasty – with an exciting mix of spices. The dogs are grilled at a specialty stand and assembled as needed. They are on a soft bun with a little crust that works nicely with the crispy dog.

Additionally, they offer grilled onions and a series of condiments from raw onions, relish, chorizo sauce, pickled peppers and more.

So I am giving the Rogers Centre’s hot dog offering high marks and moving them to the top of my burgeoning list. However, I need to deduct some points for their choice of mustard.

It Doesn’t “Has To Be”

How is it possible that in the real home of mustard the mustard of choice is Heinz Yellow Mustard? Moreover, how can they taunt me with the slogan “It Has To Be?” No, it doesn’t “have to be!” Call the folks at Kozliks and offer their mustard, please. Doing so will restore my faith in what is possible.

Next stop is Southern California and Mexico.

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  1. Jeremey Newberg, “The phenomenal Clint Hurdle” MLB.com, November 7, 2009
  2. Wikipedia “Ken Griffey Jr.,
  3. Montreal-style bagel, Wikipedia
  4. The Case for Canadian Mustard
  5. Full game recap at Gregor Chisholm, “Blue Jays’ new approach puts squeeze on A’s,” www.mlb.com, April 27, 2019

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