April 6, 2012

Updated and Rehashed: Need a Favourite Toronto Blue Jay? Try J.P. Arencibia

Is it the destiny of a Blue Jay to always look up at Yankees, Red Sox and Rays?

Adjective alert! After last night's opening day 16th inning game winning three run homerun, I saw a spike in people reading this ode to J.P. Arencibia, which I awkwardly wrote last May. Well, in anticipation of the Monday home opener, and in honour of my own self promotion, time to repost (with minor updates).

Maybe you don’t have a burning need to have a favourite Blue Jay. That’s okay: not having one is forgiveable, and in the pantheon of important opinion, rests somewhere between “What’s your favourite Canadian play of the last ten years,” and “What is the best Billy Joel song post Storm Front?” (So, like, low.)

But let's say you do want to have a favourite Blue Jay and don’t know where to look. Or, maybe your favourite is Bautista, but you have trouble committing, fearing he will someday be a Yankee or Red Sock. Might I suggest J.P. Arencibia. Who impresses me. Not to gush, but here’s why.

1. That proper balance of a connection with Alex Rodriguez & massive disconnection with Alex Rodriguez. Okay trivia buffs: who holds the record for most home runs at Westminster Christian High in Miami, Florida? I’ll give you a hint: the record is 17. Give up? It’s a tie between J.P. Arencibia and Alex Rodriguez (did the heading give this one away?). Now, just so no one confuses the two players, according to ESPN, Arencibia makes $US417, 400 and A-Rod makes 76 times as much ($US 32,000,000). I’m not sure why this disparity makes me like Arencibia even more. There's something very 1970s Bruce Springsteen about the difference.

I have no problems with this. If was A-Rod, I would do this. I might anyway.
2. Magic: I tried to explain to two people this weekend how Arencibia has the potential to be that new breed of “magical” baseball player (like Kirk Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, maybe even Joe Carter) without getting all pre-teen about it. To avoid the obsessed Twilight zone—the vampires, not the Rod Serling dreamscape—I have, more than once, compared Arencibia to Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

For any writer (still) reading this, Arencibia is to major league baseball what Johanna Skibsrud is to writing novels. In Arencibia's first Major League at bat, he hit a homerun on the first pitch. Only 28 players have ever done this. In that same first game, he hit a second homerun, for a total of four hits. He saluted the crowd, got a shaving cream pie in the face, and hugged his mother all on his first day. Magic...

Reminds me...the first Darkman movie was really good.

3. He is already the best catcher the Blue Jays have ever drafted in the first round. This might not be saying much given that Jay Schroeder (1979) never played for the Blue Jays and Matt Stark (1983) only played 5 games for them (and 13 in his MLB career), but it’s safe to say, J.P. can already claim this prestigious title. This is not to disparage either Schroeder or Stark, who in their own right, seem to have pretty great sporting lives.
a. Jay Schroeder played 11 seasons as an NFL Quarterback and picked up a Pro Bowl spot and a Super Bowl ring (as a non-starter, though); Schroeder enters that elite group of people you hate for being good at two things you suck at.
I wonder what it'd be like to catch for Jimmy Key....

b. Matt Stark was a hitting coach for the Florida Marlins AAA affiliate (apparently during one of the World Series years), and his bio boasts the curious stat that in 1993 he became the first player ever to earn 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBI's in a single Mexican League season. That’s a good thing, right?
4. Sportsmanship and proper comma usage: Last season, J.P Arencibia “broke up” Detroit Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander’s perfect game in the 8th inning by not swinging the bat at non-strikes, a logical choice. Post-game, Arencibia brought with a classy tweet, and what he lacks in full second person pronouns, he makes up for in commas used to join independent clauses when separated by coordinating conjunctions:
@jparencibia9 At times we u have to tip ur cap, and today was one of those... Verlander was special today… Hats off to him..
Ultimately, these smaller gestures are really good for the fragile image of baseball players en masse. [For more on tweeting Athletes, check the old entries on Rashard Mendenhall and Osama Bin Laden.]

5. He Likes His Mama: I was at the Blue Jays' game Mother's Day 2011, and there were some inter-inning clips of Blue Jays talking about what their mothers meant to them. All of them were a nice touch, but the clip of Arencibia hugging his mother (who it was mentioned raised him alone) after his first pro game (see point 2) combined with the fact that I had drank two ten dollar Budweisers had me a bit weepy. After that clip, a sea of people went to their phones to text their own mothers. It was impossible not to succumb to a bit of contagious behaviour—like when someone you’re talking to scratches their nose, you just have to scratch your nose.

6. UPDATE: The 2012 Opening Day Three Day Homerun in the 16th inning! Against Ricky "The Wild Thing" Vaughn in Cleveland! (Okay, so it wasn't the Wild Thing....but it was still darn awesome).

So yeah, not to gush, but in a world of athletes who can sometimes make it difficult to actually like them, this guy continues to impress. We'll worry about the batting average come July.

Yeah, man, you were gushing. It's a bit weird. You're really in your thirties?