Friday, October 4, 2013
July 25- Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve been trying to come up with something clever tow rite about in regard to this Toronto Blue Jays cap, but I’m having difficulty coming up with anything. If you recall in any of my past Blue Jays posts, there has been a close fellowship of major events which go hand-in-hand in the event of the Jays changing their uniforms. It happened in the years to follow the second consecutive World Series in 1993 and amidst controversy. If there is one thing that I have been able to conclude in all of my research, whether positive or negative, it’s that the Blue Jays, in spit of their two World Series titles, are one of the most baffling teams ever run in Major League history.
A lot of it you could say started toward the tail end of the 1997 season when then-general manager Gord Ash thought it would be a great idea to fire beloved manager Cito Gaston five games prior to the end of that season. Gaston was the manager for both World Series titles and wasn’t even allowed the courtesy to finish out the end of the season. Well, as luck would have it, the Blue Jays came crawling back half-way into the 2008 season to replace a manager who seemed to have lost touch with players. That manager, current Jays manager John Gibbons. Like I said, baffling. One of the more notable moments that can throughout the short-lived history of this particular road cap had to do with the stadium they’ve been playing in since the 1989 season, SkyDome. Actually, I need to mention a few things about this cap before I roll into bits about SkyDome.
At the end of the 2003 season, the Blue Jays decided to make uniform changes/additions for the fifth time in their then-26-year history. Rather than making a slight tweak with the typeface or even the logo like in years passed, the Jays decided to go “bat shit insane” with this process and completely change EVERYTHING. I’m honestly not trying to make fun of the team or the designers, but someone needs to tell me how you can from this
between seasons and assume everything is going to be just fine. As much as this seems like more of a proposal than reality, I’m afraid to say that it all went down. From 2004-2011 the Blur Jays donned these uniforms; however, this particular cap (the grey) was only used for home games from 2004-2005 and has since become a sought after collectors item for Jays fans and cap enthusiasts. Or so I’m told. I picked mine up at the Lids in Eugene, Oregon rather easily, but I guess they’re hard to come by in Canada? Once again, I need confirmation of that.
Anyway, one of the key moments in Jays history that went down under this cap came on February 2, 2005 when Ted Rogers, president and CEO of Rogers Communications, purchased SkyDome and switched it up to Rogers Centre at the cost of $25 million, roughly 4% of what it cost to build the joint. Talk about a steal. Rogers also refurbished a lot of the stadium, put in a new jumbo screen television in centerfield, replaced the original AstroTurf with FieldTurf and increased the team payroll. They also made Rogers Centre the first smoke-free building in Canada in April of 2006. The jury is still out on that one. Either way, Rogers was making an effort to improve things on and off the field, but the whole uniform thing is still one of the more confusing choices for any team throughout Major League history.
I had a doozy of a time trying to come up with anything of note in regard to stats, players and moments that I wanted to capture with this cap so I rolled the dice with two guys who had similar, yet opposite experiences playing in Toronto. If you’re a Jays fan you’re totally going to understand where I’m coming from with these two guys. Enjoy!
#27- Frank Catalanotto began his professional baseball career in 1992 when the Detroit Tigers—who first noticed him while scouting higher-profile players at a Smithtown East baseball game in 1991—drafted him in the tenth round of the 1992 Major League Baseball Draft. Primarily a second baseman in the minors, he made his major league debut at second base on September 3, 1997. While in Detroit, Catalanotto battled injuries and a lack of playing time, and never recorded a season of 300 at-bats for the Tigers. Then-Detroit GM Randy Smith chose not to protect Catalanotto in the 1996 Rule 5 draft, and he was selected by the Oakland Athletics, spending spring training with them. Catalanotto did not make the Athletics squad and was returned to the Tigers for the 1997 season.
On November 2, 1999, Catalanotto was part of an eight player trade between the Tigers and the Texas Rangers. In the deal, he was dealt to Texas along with pitchers Francisco Cordero and Justin Thompson, catcher Bill Hasselman, and a minor leaguer for slugging outfield star Juan González, catcher Gregg Zaun (I can hear Jays fans groaning), and pitcher Danny Patterson. Catalanotto made a splash to start to his Rangers career, collecting ten hits and three walks in 13 consecutive plate appearances from April 21 to May 18, 2000. This streak stands as the Rangers franchise record for consecutive appearances reaching base. He also tied the club's record for hits in a single game (five) on May 17. After another season plagued by injuries in 2000, Catalanotto finally burst onto the scene in 2001 when he finished fifth in the AL in batting average (.330), and recorded a .431 batting average in August. He also logged a number of innings in the outfield, a position he had fielded for only one inning before 2001. Catalanotto battled injuries again in 2002, and the Rangers declined to offer him a contract at season’s end.
This of course allowed the Blue Jays to swoop in and sign him three days after Christmas in 2002 for four years and roughly $10 million. From 2003-2006 Catalanotto was a pretty solid bat in the Blue Jays lineup, while only missing a little more than half of the games in 2004 (I blame the hat). Of his accomplishments in Toronto: On May 1, 2004, against the Chicago White Sox, he set the Blue Jays record for hits in a game, going 6 for 6 in the second game of a double-header. Catalanotto was named AL player of the week after hitting .500 in the last week of the 2005 season helping him finish with an average of .301. He also won the AL player of the week on July 25, 2005. Catalanotto batted .299 with 29 home runs and 200 RBI during his Blue Jays tenure, but he was not re-signed by the Jays following the 2004 season. Instead, the Rangers bought him back… for twice as much money. On a whole though, Catalanotto’s career was never as good as it was when he was playing for the Jays.
Despite being born in the United States Catalanotto's Italian heritage made him eligible to play for the Italian National Team at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic
#29- This guy will always have a special place in my heart. Shea Hillenbrand was a 10th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox during the 1996 amateur draft out of Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. For five years he fought it out in the minor leagues before making his debut on April 2, 2001 (Opening Day) as the Red Sox starting third baseman. Hillenbrand hit .263 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI and would have finished in the top-five for American League Rookie of the Year honors if Ichiro Suzuki wasn’t, you know, so damn talented that same year. Hillenbrand’s second season was equally, if not more productive. He hit .293 with 18 home runs and 83 RBI, earning him his first All-Star selection of his career. In 2003 Hillenbrand’s numbers continued to rise. He was batting .303 with three homers and 38 RBI, but after 49 games the Red Sox elected to trade him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for… wait for it… Byung Hyun-Kim. The reason for the move was because newly acquired general manager Theo Epstein had signed Bill Mueller in the offseason and felt that he would make for a more productive everyday third baseman. As fate would have it, Epstein ended up being correct as Mueller won the AL batting title that season (.326), but he also took an ear and face full from Hillenbrand not too long after the deal was made. And by “not too long after” I mean within two minutes.
As fate would have it Hillenbrand had the best season of his career up to that point as he hit .310 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI for the Diamondbacks in 2004, but the Red Sox obviously went on to win their first World Series title in 86 years without him. In January of 2005 the Diamondbacks traded Hillenbrand to the Blue Jays for pitcher Adam Peterson. Now, back in the AL East, Hillenbrand dedicated his time to sticking it to the team who got rid of him every chance he could. That season he hit .291 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI, one of those home runs and five RBI came against the Sox in which he hit .313 against his former club. Naturally, Hillenbrand made his second and final All-Star Game appearance of his career as he also led the Blue Jays in hits with 173 that season. This would end up being the last truly notable season of Hillenbrand’s career as a rift between him, Gibbons and the Jays was about to explode.
On July 19, 2006, Hillenbrand criticized the Blue Jays organization for failing to congratulate him on his recent adoption of a baby girl and not playing him upon his return. He was also disgruntled about sharing first base duties with Lyle Overbay and third base duties with Troy Glaus while being made to play as a designated hitter. Hillenbrand refused to sit with his team in the dugout during that night's game. After the game, an argument in the clubhouse took place between Hillenbrand and Gibbons over Hillenbrand allegedly writing defamatory comments about the team on the clubhouse billboard ("This is a sinking ship" and "Play for yourself") after batting practice. This led to a confrontation between Hillenbrand and Gibbons. He was designated for assignment that same evening, with the club citing irreconcilable differences. Two days later, Hillenbrand was traded to the San Francisco Giants with reliever Vinnie Chulk in exchange for Giants reliever Jeremy Accardo. He later admitted to writing the comments on the board.
Hillenbrand signed a one year contract with the Angels on December 26, 2006. On June 27, 2007, he was designated for assignment a day after being quoted as saying, "If I'm not going to play here, give me enough respect to trade me or get rid of me." On July 9, 2007, having been replaced by the emergence of Reggie Willits and first baseman Casey Kotchman, Hillenbrand was waived by the Angels. He signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres on July 27, 2007. He spent 12 days with the Padres' Class-AAA affiliate, the Portland Beavers, before being released on August 8, 2007. He hit .147 during that span. He signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers two days later on August 10, 2007. He was called up to the Major Leagues three days later on August 13. He hit his only home run with the Dodgers on August 29 off Luis Ayala of the Washington Nationals. In 2008, Hillenbrand went unsigned by any major league organization, only being contacted by the San Francisco Giants during the off season. On July 2, 2008, the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League announced that they had signed Hillenbrand to be their starting third baseman. Hillenbrand played in 36 games for the Revolution hitting .340 with two home runs and 25 RBIs before his season was ended by a hamstring injury. Hillenbrand and his wife Jessica have three adopted children, Austin, Dakota, and Noah. They reside in the off season on a ranch in Chandler, Arizona where they run a foundation called Against All Odds. The foundation rescues and rehabilitates animals and allows underprivileged inner-city kids to visit and interact with the animals.