New Policy at Rogers Centre Is an Insult to Toronto Blue Jays Fans

April 23, 2009

By Graeme Frisque… I attended my first Toronto Blue Jays game of the season the other night.  It was a usual Wednesday night at the ballpark, full of cheers, hot dogs, and a pint of beer.

I was enjoying myself immensely until the ninth inning, when Michael Young of the Texas Rangers hit a solo home run off of closer B.J. Ryan to the section next to where I was sitting to tie things up at 7-7.

The young man who caught the ball had been sitting quietly all night long, enjoying the game with his girlfriend in section 141—one of the non-drinking sections at the Rogers Centre.

As is customary when the opposing team hits a home run, I and the other fans around the young man encouraged him to return the unwanted souvenir back to the field of play. Being a true Blue Jays fan, the young man did exactly that.

What occurred next offended me not only as a Blue Jays fan, but as a baseball fan.  Rogers Centre security approached the young man and escorted him from the stadium for this act of devotion to his team.

Upon witnessing this, I went to guest services and asked to speak to someone who could perhaps explain why this devoted fan was ejected. Surely, I thought to myself, there must be some other reason for his ejection beyond his display of allegiance.

To my surprise, I was informed by Kim, one of the “friendly” managers of ushers at the Rogers Centre, that the new policy following the debacle on Opening Day, was to eject anyone who throws anything on to the field of play—including an opposing team’s home run ball.

For those of you who are unaware of what occurred on Opening Day at the Rogers Centre, Detroit Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland pulled his team off the field after some unruly Jays fans began throwing balls and other debris at his outfielders.

The game was postponed for a number of minutes, and fans were warned that if the behavior continued, the Blue Jays would be forced to forfeit the game.

Granted, that sort of unruly behavior is unacceptable and, as I was informed, is the reasoning behind this new policy during Blue Jays games.

Now, I understand the need for such rules to ensure that opposing players are not put in danger at the hands of idiotic, drunken buffoons throwing objects from the stands.

However, this situation was very different. This young man was not being disruptive in any way whatsoever during the entirety of the game.  He had not consumed a drop of alcohol the whole time he was there, as he was sitting in a non-alcoholic section of the ballpark.

All he did was what any other true fan would do, he showed his devotion to his team with a symbolic gesture that has been commonplace in baseball since I can remember.

As with any rule, common sense must apply.

To eject someone for disrupting a game or attempting to injure an opposing player is most certainly warranted.  To eject a fan for showing their devotion to their team in a customary way most certainly is not, especially after that fan has paid their hard earned dollars for the right to be there.

Only the truest of fans would surrender a souvenir in such a manner.

I am amazed that a franchise who is trying to rebuild it’s fan base after 15 years of futility would impose such an asinine policy targeting their most devoted fans.

I for one am disgusted by this policy. I have been a Blue Jays fan since I was a boy.

If this is how the Toronto Blue Jays have decided to show their appreciation for their true fans, then perhaps true Blue Jays fans should show their appreciation for this new policy by not going to anymore Blue Jays games.

Bryan Colangelo: Is Toronto Raptors’ GM Becoming a Victim Of His Own Success?

December 5, 2008

by Graeme Frisque… With the firing of Sam Mitchell, the Toronto Raptors are back in the media’s sights.

Opinions and commentary on the state of the franchise are running amok. Most observers claim to see glaring holes in the Raptor’s lineup and are beginning to question the direction that Colangelo has taken the franchise since he’s been here.

It seems to me that many Raptors fans are developing a bad case of the “What have you done for me lately’s?”  Many in Toronto also seem to have forgotten that their team has only been a playoff team for two seasons.  It is no coincidence that the streak of playoff appearances coincides with Bryan Colangelo’s arrival.

Near the end of the 2005 season, the organization was mired in a state of perpetual dysfunction.  The Raptors hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons, and it seemed almost assured that Chris Bosh would follow the likes of previous Raptors superstars Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter out of town in search of greener pastures.

Enter Bryan Colangelo.

Bosh was re-signed and the roster completely made-over. Colangelo brought in nine new players to compliment his newly resigned superstar including T.J. Ford, Anthony Parker,  Rasho Nesterovic, and 2006 first overall pick Andrea Bargnani.  That season the Raptors experienced one of the most amazing one-year turnarounds of an NBA franchise ever.

The team went from 27 wins to 47 wins.  Along the way they picked up their first Atlantic Division title and their first playoff berth in four seasons.  Colangelo also won the Executive of the Year award.

Fast forward to last season.

The Raptors took a definite step backwards from their impressive ‘06 campaign; but it was only a small step. The team finished with a 41-41 record getting them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year.

The Raptors woes in the playoffs the last two seasons have been frustrating for fans, but should they really be unexpected?

I think that a lot of Raptors fans could use a little dose of reality and should be focusing less on where the team could be, and more on how far the team has come since Colangelo’s arrival.

Colangelo didn’t take over a team that made the playoffs every year and whose only problem was not advancing in the post-season.  Had that been the case, criticism of the team’s playoff troubles, and where the team is at this point, would most definitely be warranted.

But, Colangelo didn’t take over a team on the cusp; he took over a team that was in a very deep hole. Given where the team was when he took the reins, it’s actually quite astounding they are as far along as they are after just two full seasons.

If anything he’s earned the benefit of the doubt from Raptors fans.  When he took over, Colangelo assured fans that he was committed to building a winner, but that there was a process involved in rebuilding a team that could compete.  Colangelo has said many times that he is still committed to that process.  But are fans?

Have Raptors fans already forgotten that the Raptors are only in the third season of a re-building program?

I think it’s fair to say that since the Raptors breakout year in ‘06, fan expectations have been on the rise, and rightfully so.  But have those expectation risen too high, too fast?

Can fans honestly say they expected Colangelo to come in and turn the Raptors into a playoff team in his first year, get them to the second round by his second, and be contending for a championship by his third?

Three years ago if you had asked a Toronto Raptors fan if they’d be happy with Colangelo’s performance if he were able to get the Raptors into the playoffs in two seasons, most would have told you theoy’d be ecstatic.  He did it in one.

Perhaps it is this early success that is now fueling the scrutiny Colangelo and the Raptors find themselves under now.  Had the Raptors evolved as most rebuilding teams do fans likely wouldn’t have such high expectations after only two full years under a new GM.

Just ask a Toronto Blue Jays fan about that.

J.P Ricciardi has been the Blue Jays GM for seven years and fans are still waiting for a playoff berth. Never mind an appearance in the second round.

By comparison, in only the 3rd year of the Toronto Raptors rebuilding program, fans have had their expectation risen so high, that anything less than a second round berth is a considered a complete failure. Just three seasons ago, fans would have considered a second round berth a miracle.Granted, only four team per league make to the playoffs in Major League Baseball, as opposed to eight in the NBA, but the fact remains that Colangelo turned the Raptors into a playoff team much quicker than anyone really expected.
By turning the Raptors around as quickly as he did, Bryan Colangelo may have set a pace in terms of fan expectations that he might have trouble maintaining.  Success can be a double-edged sword.

Those who experience great initial success within a sport’s culture, mired in failure or sustained mediocrity, sometimes become victims of that success; buried by the expectations they themselves created.

Raptors Bryan Colangelo Is a Tough Act To Follow For New Leafs GM Brian Burke

December 1, 2008

by Graeme Frisque… It worked for the Toronto Raptors, but can their NHL sister franchise the Toronto Maple Leafs expect as quick a turnaround with the hiring Brian Burke as the Toronto Raptors saw with the arrival of Bryan Colangelo?

There are many similarities between the signings of the two GM’s.

Both are considered to be very capable GM’s in their respective sports.  Both are excellent evaluators of talent, and both have been described as independent thinkers and great deal makers.

Both came in after the rebuilding process had been started by an interim GM.  Colangelo took over from basketball sage Wayne Embry and Burke is taking the reins from Cliff Fletcher.  Both of whom were enlisted to weather the storm until the right man for the job could be found.

Like Colangelo, Burke is being given complete control over the franchises hockey operations, in so far as that that is possible within the corporate structure that is Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.

When the Raptors hired Bryan Colangelo three seasons ago a similar wave of fan excitement and anticipation erupted across the city of Toronto to the one that we are witnessing now with the arrival of Brian Burke to take the helm of city’s storied hockey franchise.

Raptors Fan’s expectations were rewarded with one of the more remarkable turnarounds of a sports franchise in recent memory, as the Raptors went from Eastern Conference basement dwellers to the third seed the conference in Colangelo’s first full season as GM.  But is it fair to place these same kinds of expectations on Burke?

Hockey and basketball are very different games.  Most NBA teams are just a player or two away from contending, as one player can have such a huge impact on the game, not so much in hockey.  The road from laughing stock to contender in the NBA is much shorter than it is in the NHL.

Bryan Colangelo also had a clear point from which to start rebuilding.  He had Chris Bosh, a bonified star to build his team around. Burke isn’t so lucky in Leafland.  Unlike Colangelo with Bosh, there isn’t a single player on the Maple Leafs roster that Burke can really use as a starting point.

Sure there are the Hagmans and the Schenns currently playing in Leafs’ system who look to be bright spots in the future, but there is nary a Maple Leaf right now that could be considered part of a core nucleus to build around.

Colangelo quickly went into rebuilding mode and overhauled the Raptors’ roster by bringing in 9 new players to compliment Bosh in his first off-season as the Raptors GM, including 2006 first overall draft pick Andrea Bargniani.  Who, despite last year’s dismal performance did post decent numbers as a rookie in that turnaround year, placing second in Rookie of the Year votes.

Having a top five draft pick when you are starting out as a new GM is handy, and it appears as though Brian Burke may end up with just that by season’s end. Ending up with the first overall pick next year as Colangelo did the year he took over wouldn’t be a bad thing for Burke at all.

John Tavares, whom many talking heads say will be the next Sidney Crosby will go first overall next year, and should the Leafs be fortunate enough, or bad enough for the rest of this season, they have a legitimate shot at owning that first overall pick come next year.  John Tavares could easily become Burke’s Chris Bosh should he end up in a Leafs uniform next year.

Knowing Burke’s history Leaf fans can safely expect Colangelo-like roster changes this season.  However, it would be unfair to expect Burke to have the same kind of first year success Bryan Colangelo saw with Raptors, given the nature of the game of hockey and the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise.

A new GM can’t put points on the board in games, nor can they make saves or block shots.  What they can do is change the culture of a franchise and acquire the appropriate personnel to help that culture thrive.

Bryan Colangelo definitely had a tall order in front of him when it came to instituting a new culture within the Raptors organization, for Brian Burke however, this is doubly so. The culture of mediocrity that has plagued the Leafs franchise has been entrenched over the last 40 odd years; a much deeper rut than Bryan Colangelo had to dig the Raptors out of.

Brian Burke’s task in terms of fan expectations definetely isn’t going to be made any easier with the success that Bryan Colangelo saw when he was given pretty much the same task with the Raptors three seasons ago.

Fans have every right to be excited with Brian Burke at the helm.  He is as capable and astute a hockey mind as there is.  However, sports fans in Toronto may have higher expectations than normal in terms of the impact a GM can have after seeing what Bryan Colangelo did with the Raptors.

What Colangelo accomplished in turning the Raptors around in so short a time was nothing short of incredible.  To expect lighting like that to strike the same city twice might be expecting a little much.

The blueprint worked with the Raptors and now we’ll see if it will work for the Leafs.  Brian Burke most likely won’t have the Leafs in the top half of the NHL’s Eastern Conference by next year… But with his arrival the road to get there is already shorter.