Interleague a hit with fans, Jays enjoy "Cito effect"
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 | 10:26 PM ET
Interleague play in Major League Baseball was more exciting this year than ever. Why? It’s because the cross-town rivals are playing good baseball.
Just look at the Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox are kicking some butt this year. Growing up in Joliet, Ill., just outside of Chicago, I was a huge fan of both teams.
Now, some people say you can’t be a fan of both teams, but why not? I loved my hometown teams and had heroes on both: from Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub), Billy Williams (Cubs) to Dick Allen of the White Sox. The excitement for both the Cubs and White Sox fans seeing their teams go head to head during the season takes the rivalry to another level. Oh, I would have loved it! Can you imagine the trash talking in the stands? It must be crazy.
How about the Cubs, Reds and Braves coming to the Rogers Centre this season? It’s awesome! The Jays fans came out to get a look at players that they only hear of or see on TV - Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and wasn’t it great to have Bobby Cox back in town?
The stadium was full of excited fans that came to see how the Jays matched up to these National League teams. It started off pretty rough, but the Cubs are on a tear, they are just beating up on teams, so the Jays are in good company.
But when the Reds and Braves got to town, all the dust from the change of management had settled down, and the guys were playing good fundamental baseball, taking two out of three from both teams. I’ll take that any day!
And look at the runs they put on the board! That gave the pitching staff some room to just go out there and not worry about if they would get any run support. Where did all of this suddenly come from?
“Cito effect” comes into play
It comes from the top. The quality of leadership that manager Cito Gaston brings is almost father-like - he’s encouraging yet firm when he needs to be. The “Cito effect” in the Jays’ clubhouse is growing more every day. They’re now playing with more confidence and they’re even starting to get their swagger back. You can see in their faces as they take the field that the stress level has gone down tremendously. (And so can the opposing team, they know the Jays now mean business).
Now I see guys smiling in the dugout, coaches talking to the guys, and a new chemistry being developed. I even hear about game plans and how to execute them, and it’s starting to work. Look at the offence - it’s beginning to come around.
It takes time, though. They didn’t get into all this mess overnight and won’t get out overnight, but these are steps to getting back into contention. If the Jays will stay with the game plan, the second part of this season should be a lot of fun to watch.
Rios searches for rhythm
Speaking of game plans, Cito told Alex Rios to get a game plan at the plate and stick with it. That is advice well put. As a hitter, when you just don’t feel right at the plate, you start experimenting with all kinds of stuff, listening to everyone, trying everything that everyone else is doing and before you know it, you are really messed up!
Unfortunately, I can speak from experience about that ... believe me, no one likes going 0-for-4 or 0-for-5. It stinks!
The best thing I could say to Alex is: listen to the man! He knows what he’s talking about, trust me, he told me the same thing when I was your age. Cito mentored me, as well as many others who went on to have very successful careers, and it worked. That’s an added benefit of having a manager who was also a player, a hitting coach and has gone through all of this. Sit down, talk to him, pick his brain. After all, Cito knows about producing, he was Hank Aaron’s roommate!
By the way, a note to all the unbelievers, the Tampa Bay Rays are still in first place. No one saw this coming, except maybe them. Their pitching has been phenomenal and they keep getting clutch hit after clutch hit. And the defence is spectacular. They make web gems almost every night! Add it all together; you get first in your division. I keep telling you, these guys are for real.
And, I think the Jays are now too.
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About the Author
Jesse Barfield returns to the booth with the Rogers Blue Jays Baseball
on CBC broadcast team for the 2008 season as an analyst, after making
his debut with the program in 2007.
Barfield, a favourite with Canadian baseball fans, was selected by the Blue Jays in the ninth round of the 1977 amateur draft, debuted with the club in 1981 and helped the franchise reach the playoffs for the first time in 1985.
A two-time Gold Glove winner with a cannon for an arm, Barfield led American League outfielders in assists for three straight seasons (1985 – 87). Barfield was selected to the American League All-Star Team in 1986, a season in which he blasted 40 home runs to lead the majors while driving in 108 runs. He was traded to the New York Yankees in 1989, where he completed his playing career.
In 1,428 career games, Barfield was a .256 hitter with 241 home runs and 716 RBIs.
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