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Off The Bench

Coming off the bench to provide some in-depth analysis

What Does Courage Mean to You?

Courage. People throw the term around in situations that really aren't that deserving of it. 

Let's say a hockey player blocks a shot. “That was a courageous shot block by so and so." Or say a player has the flu but decides to play that night. “Look at his courage for playing with the flu."

I think that the term courage is something that should be saved for the extraordinary.

Craig Sager was extraordinary, Craig Sager was courageous, and Craig Sager was the model for what humanity should strive to be. Like San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said, “If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live every (day) as if it was his last, we would be well off." 

That's quite the glowing endorsement from one of the most successful NBA coaches of all time.

The Turner Sports sideline reporter represented some of the greatness that is really out there in this world. You don't have to look that far to see the kind of impact that people have on this planet every day if you just open your eyes a little.

It's probably not a coincidence that we've seen prominent athletes like Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton and New York Giants Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. speak out and show their respect towards the late Sager. It shouldn't surprise anyone how much of an impact  Sager had on the sporting community.

Here's one thing that really got me thinking. What does it all really come down to? How do you want your legacy to be defined? Sager is leaving behind one of the most powerful legacies in NBA history, and he never even played a game. Sager is going to be remembered for being a loving father and husband, for his passion of sports, and how could we forget his fantastic wardrobe?

If you want to talk about people that are honorable in society, look no further than Sager. Some of the stories that are being told now, as we reminisce on the great life he lived, really demonstrate the kind of courageous individual that beat the heck out of the sadistic disease that is cancer. 

When you hear about individuals with cancer, you don't think of them driving across the country to work a basketball game. You don't think of them putting a smile on their face and working their tail off. You think of someone that's tired because of their treatment and with little energy. 

Not Craig. Craig was still everywhere he could be. That's courage. Having a lifeless disease and not letting it defeat you, that's courage. Craig Sager stood for a lot of things, and these are values that everyday citizens should try and abide by. He was a special person and an inspiration for me in a career field that I am trying to get into. If you want to emulate someone in the business, Sager is the type of person you should look up to.

I hope that one day I can demonstrate the type of courage that Craig Sager had.

We should all strive to live like Sager did, and I'll always remember him by one of his ever so powerful quotes, “Each and every day is just a canvas waiting to be painted." 

Now go paint your canvas. We are forever #SagerStrong. 

An Apology to Shea Weber

I’d like to personally issue an apology to Shea Weber. Weber will likely never see this or encounter it, but nonetheless I’m writing this to come to terms with everything that has occurred this past six months. Closure is a near impossible thing in life. The moment that we think we are doing okay, our whole world comes crashing down and everything falls out of place again. It’s okay to not be okay. The first thing a lot of people will reply with is that sports are sports, they are supposed to be fun and a form of entertainment. That’s different for me. I fell in love with sports at a young age and haven’t looked back since. Sports are my cold beer after a long day. Sports are my sunset. Sports own my heart. Whether that’s irrational of me or not, it’s the way my heart functions and that will never change.

I may have just gotten a bit off topic, but the point remains. Much like anyone else, I have favorite teams, but I also enjoy sports in the purest form, even when my teams aren’t in action. When I think of my favorite athletes and players I admire in sports, the first name that always comes to my mind is Pernell Karl Subban. I have enjoyed watching and respected a lot of athletes over the years, but there was just something special about him. The fit for him in Montreal may have just been surreal. Subban had the spotlight he had always wanted and the skill, flare and passion to ensure that the city and fan base adored him. I can get into a lot of things about PK Subban, but the one thing that will always stick out to me was his compassion and caring nature. PK didn’t have to do what he did with the Montreal Children’s Hospital. It wasn’t just a coincidence that you could find Subban roaming the halls constantly at the Hospital, trying to improve children’s lives who weren’t so fortunate.

It’s disappointing the Habs brass didn’t see what everyone else saw in Subban. Dale Weise said it perfectly, they used Subban as a scapegoat and that makes me speechless in the worst way possible. The way that Subban played is the way every player should, he left it all on the ice. There were antics, and situations that probably shouldn’t have occurred, but if everyone played the game that way, the National Hockey League would be a lot more fun, and that’s what sports are all about right?

Now this wasn’t meant to be a PK Subban appreciation post, but I think he deserves a little more respect than what was given to him by the Canadiens. The point of this piece was to apologize to Shea Weber. A lot of Habs fans didn’t give him a fair shake, myself included, because he was the one who was traded for the beloved Subban. When you take emotion out of the trade, you should remember that Shea Weber is also a talented defenseman in his own and deserves credit for what he has accomplished in the league. He might not be PK Subban to you, but this is a guy with a pedigree few have in the league.

There is a much different feeling when Shea Weber is on the ice then when PK Subban is. Subban controlled a lot of the play, which is what you want in a player, specifically a defenseman, but with Weber there is a definite calming sense on the back end. Weber provides a type of presence that Montreal has lacked. As much as I hate the term “hard to play against”, Shea Weber is without a doubt hard to play against. You will pay if you go into the corners with him, and you will rarely find him out of position.

It’s time Habs fans give Shea Weber the recognition he deserves. I’m not saying you should like the trade, but at least show Weber the respect he has earned..

So, there you have it, I owe Shea Weber an apology, much like many Habs fans do. I fell in love with PK Subban, and as much as I will secretly enjoy watching him play in Nashville, it’s time to turn the page and find a new enamor. 

Oh What Could Have Been...

It was one heck of a ride. A ride that was very emotionally draining to be quite frank. It’s why baseball is such a special game, one where you're never as good as when everything is breaking right and never as bad as when it's not. Some people call the season too long, but it allows for so many highs and lows that it provides the perfect amount of theater and entertainment.

The Toronto Blue Jays had a lot of problems in their 2016 campaign, some might have even called it an emotional roller coaster. This team was a lot of things, but they certainly weren't boring. For a team that went into the regular season with one of the scariest line ups in baseball, their lineup ended up being a constant story line for all the wrong reasons. After scoring a league high 891 runs in 2015, and bringing the same core back, the Jays followed this season with 759 runs. What could possibly have contributed to a 132 run decline and who could have saw this decline coming? For starters, the Blue Jays have the second oldest roster in Major League Baseball behind the San Francisco Giants. This isn't to blame things on the Blue Jays aging core, but everyone is human right? It wasn't expected that core players like Jose Bautista and Russell Martin would have such drastic declines to begin the season. Martin recovered later in the second half of the season, but his WAR was almost cut in half from 3.3 in 2015, falling to 1.7.

Jose Bautista was abysmal for most of the season when he wasn't on the disabled list, and it's truly a shame that this is the Bautista that fans might remember when all is said and done. Stop having short sighted opinions and a “what have you done for me lately” attitude and look at the whole body of the work that Jose Bautista gave the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. Nine seasons. 265 home runs. 701 RBI’s. A .261 batting average to go along with a .910 OPS. These are fantastic numbers and many fans are going to forget what Bautista did for the franchise because of the way things ended. This is a player that single-handedly brought fans to the ball park in a very dark period for Toronto sports. People forget that Bautista had three 40 home run seasons, including a career high 54 homer season in 2010. This is a Blue Jays player that fans should remember as one of the best in franchise history, but the way the story looks right now isn’t very promising for the Blue Jay great. Time will surely roll on and fans will remember what Bautista did for the franchise, but let’s try to keep an open mind and remember what he’s accomplished for this city before we cast our judgements. I know I’m asking a lot, but try looking at things in a positive light. I can tell you one thing, the bat flip is never going away, no matter how hard Rangers fans try to flip it out of their memories.

For a team that had such promise in their lineup, hitting a putrid .136 with runners in scoring position (RISP) in the ALCS was certainly not going to cut it. To put that into context, the Jays hit .470 with RISP in the ALDS, but the truth likely lies somewhere in between. It’s completely troubling when the Blue Jays pitching rotation kept them in all five games, including a complete game loss by Marco Estrada, to only muster eight runs of offense against a banged up Cleveland rotation. It’s something that Jays fans will have to scratch their heads over this off season, but the facts remain that this was a team that hit the long ball or it didn’t hit at all. Losing their best contact hitter in Devon Travis to injury certainly didn’t help, but the Jays weren’t able to generate any offense and it led to their ultimate demise.

I guess you could say this is why you play the games. Going into the season, most expected the Blue Jays to be a top team in baseball, with a top offense and a rotation filled with question marks. Most assumed that if the Jays got mediocre pitching, that they were far and away the team to beat in the American League. Well, ironically enough, the Jays got elite pitching and questionable hitting. The team showed spurts of the hitting we saw in the 2015 season but watching this rotation go out there time and time again and keep them in games was something that no one in their right minds would have seen coming heading into the season. Leading Major League Baseball with a 3.78 ERA over a 162 game season is something the Jays can build on. With RA Dickey’s almost certain departure, the rotation comes back in tact, headlined by Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano.

With what seems like the parting ways of Jose Bautista and foreseeably Edwin Encarnacion, Jays fans can hold out hope with their rotation staying in tact. The facts remain, pitching and defense win championships and the Jays will bring back one of the leagues best rotations.

Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin will also be returning. These are not just starting nine players, these are core players and ones that will likely have a significant impact on the 2017 Blue Jays. In order to be successful in 2017, the Blue Jays will have to look to the trade market for offensive help or resign Encarnacion, as the free agent market is rather bleak this off season.

A few hits with RISP and we could be talking about a Blue Jays team headed to their first World Series since winning it in 1993, but here we are, thinking about what could have been. This Blue Jays team brought together a city for the second straight season, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten when we look back on the 2016 version of the Toronto Blue Jays.