Hear me out on this one.
Sure, hockey season has just begun– a sacred time across this great country, where rivalries are renewed, friendships are tested, and we all gather in collective agreement that Gary Bettman is the literal devil incarnate. The Vancouver Canucks home opener is this week, Wednesday, October 9th, vs. the lowly Los Angeles Kings. There is optimism in the air around the lower mainland as the upstart Canucks head into the new campaign, but I can’t help feeling my enthusiasm is muted for this next round of the good old hockey game.
I should preface this by saying, right out the gate, that I am a Vancouver transplant, and as such, my Ontario bloodlines insist that I cheer for the blue and white, those lovable losers, the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Canucks fans, I get it– I would be excited, too. A human highlight reel in Elias Pettersson, coupled with the drama of whether or not recently signed winger Brock Boeser can stay healthy all year, are merely two story lines in what will very likely be a make or break season for head coach Travis Green. (Bonus storyline: how many games does Loui Erikksson spend watching from the press box?)
On paper, the Canucks have all the tools to compete in the weak Pacific division, and perhaps lock up a wild card position; they’ve added size and grit, with the offseason acquisitions of Michael Ferland, and Tyler Myers, Pettersson has bulked up to Captain America levels of muscle mass, and the goaltending duo of Jakob Markstrom and a (hopefully) healthy Thatchter Demko, gives the ‘Nucks depth and stability between the pipes.
Add to all these good vibrations, the fact that my hometown, childhood heroes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are forecast to be Stanley Cup contenders this season (Spolier: They Won’t Be.), and you’d think that as the calendar flipped over from Septemeber to October, I would be in a rapturous state of mind at the return of our national obsession.
But then the Majour League Baseball playoffs came along and screwed everything up.
Roll your eyes if you wish. Hold fast to your belief that baseball is ‘boring, slow, and uneventful.’ October is meant for the Boys of Summer, even if the Blue Jays aren’t a contender this season.
And, before we go any further, a word on the Blue Jays– if you haven’t been paying attention, start to open your eyes to the future core of the birds. A home run crushing monster in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., coupled with the slick defensive stylings of infielder Bo Bichette, has The Jays poised for a return to glory in the next few years.
However, while we wait for the Jays to fulfill their future potential, we have a host of talent to feast our eyes on. While you’re busy watching the meaningless opening games of the NHL season, baseball’s best are fighting tooth and nail for the right to be crowned the 2019 Majour League Champions.
The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins are battling in the American League Division Series– by the time you read this, the powerhouse Yankees may well have dispatched with the Twins, who are suffering from a curse of historical ineffectiveness against the Bronx Bombers— but regardless, even a casual fan of the sport should be taking note of this series. You like home runs? We’ve got your home runs. The Yankees and Twins combined for 613 home runs this season. 613. That’s an obscene number, and both clubs shattered the record set just season by the Yankees, when they knocked in 268. Home Runs are up across all of baseball this season, a stat that has conspiracy theorists running mad with theories of juiced up baseballs. Purists, and advocates of National League style ‘small ball,’ may hate how frequently the ball is jumping out of the park, but for the rest of us, I say: Bring On the Dingers.
The American League Divisional Series also brings us the opposite side of the coin– God tier levels of pitching courtesy of the Houston Astro’s two headed monster of Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole, taking on the pesky Tampa Bay Rays– a team with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls, and a roster of players you’ve probably never heard of, all sporting a massive chip on their shoulder. They’ll need all the tenacity they can muster, as they face Verlander, a veteran of the league who’s been resurgent with Houston, posting a 21-6 record as a starter this season, to go along with 2 complete games, and a shut out. His earned run average is sitting under 3.00, to go along with a WHIP (Walks, Hits per Innings Pitched.) rate of .80
I’ll just sum up the stats for you thusly– he’s good. Like, really, really, really good.
He’s also married to a supermodel, and quotes Will Ferrell on his Twitter feed. Basically, he’s living his best life, and mowing batters down while he’s at it.
The experts agree that the American League Championship Series is likely to be a rematch of 2017 when the powerhouse Astros went head to head with the Yankees in an adrenaline pumping, 7 game affair. The Yankees ended up on the losing side of that series, but in the interim, have added power hitter Giancarlo Stanton to their formidable lineup, to go along with ace Canadian pitcher, James Paxton. Oh, they also still have this dude on their roster, as well as one of baseballs most exciting young talents, 22 year old superstar-in-the-making, Gleyber Torres.
But, enough about the MLB’s junior circuit, whats shaking in the National League?
No big deal, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, once again among the top teams in all of baseball, are trying to make their 3rd World Series Appearance in as many seasons. Led by the home run crushing talents of Cody Bellinger, and the dominant pitching of Clayton Kerhsaw, the Dodgers are looking to finally get over the hump this postseason, and win their first World Series since the late 80’s. They’re currently engaged with the Washington Nationals, who allowed superstar Bryce Harper to walk away this offseason to the tune of a 13 year, 330 million dollar mega deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals went full jilted lover on Harper and the Phils, in one of the years best story lines, eliminating their division rival from post season contention in a late season, five game sweep, and proving to baseballs cockiest slugger that they were indeed better off without him. It also helps that Washington has superstar slinger Max Scherzer on the mound– a dude so bad ass he broke his nose, and then went and threw 7 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts. No big deal.
And then there’s the matter of the Atlanta Braves, sporting another of baseballs best young studs, in Ronald Acuna Jr– a polarizing outfield talent who bashed 41 long balls this season, while incurring the wrath of his fanbase, manager, and fellow players for a perceived lack of hustle. Acuna has a habit of admiring his fly balls, much like myself in beer league softball, a tendency which angers baseball’s old guard, while signalling the spirit of the game is moving towards more personality driven antics. Acuna and the Braves, helped out by the talents of former Blue Jays MVP, Josh Donaldson, are embroiled in a battle of wills with the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise so well run that it approaches Detroit Red Wings levels of managerial efficiency. The Cards have been a playoff team 11 of the past 19 seasons, with World Series wins in 2006 and 2011, and have generally been making life miserable for the rest of their division for much of the decade.
Okay, that’s a lot to digest– so, let me sum it up for you:
Baseball is not your grandpa’s sport. It’s dramatic, it’s tense, it emotional. The game is full of superstars and personalities that will leave you breathless. Pitchers are dominating, at the same time that home runs are at historic levels. There is parity across divisions, and despite the constant death knell prognosticators love to ring for the game, it is better than it’s been in years.
Do yourself a favour, the next few weeks, spend a few minutes taking in some playoff action. Even if you need to fit things in between intermission on a hockey game. Heroes are made in October, as well as indelible moments that are seared into the collective minds of generations.
Don’t believe me? Watch this one again, and tell me you don’t get a little chill down your spine.
We’ve got a long, frozen road of hockey spread out ahead of us; let’s enjoy the spirit of the summer just a little while longer.