10 things to add spice the 2011 MLB season

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:46 PM ET

1. Halladay Greetings

Last year Roy Halladay got preempted by the G20 so the Jays former ace returns with the Phillies for a Canada Day weekend July 1-3.

If the pitching rotation works out, itíll be the second time Halladay faces his former club after pitching seven shutout innings in a win June 25, 2010.

Yeah, heís great; too bad heís gone; yadda, yadda. Deal with it. Fans planning to attend are reminded there is no crying in baseball. Remember?

2. Pins & needles

The 82nd all-star game is July 12 in Phoenix.

Which can mean only one thing: Book tee times early at your local club because thereís going to be a lot of ballplayers clogging up the fairways around here that day. Itís not like theyíll have anything better to do if history is any indication. There hasnít been more than a token Blue Jay on all-star duty for most of the past two decades.

Pity, considering the Jays once owned this game. In 1993 Cito Gaston picked six of his players: Paul Molitor, Joe Carter, Devon White, Duane Ward, Robbie Alomar, John Olerud and Pat Hentgen. They won 9-3 and Cito became public enemy No. 1 in Baltimore for shunning Mike (Hey, Iím not showing anyone up; just getting in some work out here in the bullpen in the ninth inning to get ready for my next start!) Mussina.

3. Vernon ... BOO!

Vince Carter. Alex Rios. Chris Bosh. On Aug. 12-14, Toronto fans get a chance to welcome Vernon Wells.

Not sure exactly what he did wrong other than collect his pay cheque but, we all know how this type of thing always plays out in this city. Itís surprising how pig-headed and rude fans can get; but then you remember they donít call this Hogtown for nothing.

Game tickets should come with a warning that the dayís program includes mature language that could offend some people. Especially some people named Vernon.

4. Squeeze play

The Commissionerís Special Committee for On-Field Matters recommends a shorter spring training and compressed schedule allowing for the regular season to end earlier.

ďI shared the committeeís desire to make the necessary adjustments to assure that post-season baseball does not extend beyond October,Ē Commissioner-For-Life Bud Selig said.

Not sure what triggered the move finally. Maybe he got the hint the season was running a bit deep into winter when some kid at the World Series parade wanted to know what happened to Rudolph, the elves, and how come the bearded guy gave him an autograph and spelled

S-A-N-T-A as Brian Wilson.

So, itís curtains Sept. 28.

5. Old Boysí Network

The American League East will play National League Central teams in interleague play this year. That means the Braves and Jays will line up without at least one of Bobby Cox or Gaston in the dugout for the first time since the invention of the Internet, 24-hour sports radio and a time when players didnít know their steroids from their asteroids.

Cox, manager of the Braves since 1990, and Toronto manager Gaston, both retired after last season.

The interleague matchups also mean Lyle Overbay comes back for a visit with the Pirates June 28-30. We can feel the excitement building as we scribble. Or, maybe we just got some bad (pass the Pepto, please) chicken wings.

6. New guests

The Astros open interleague play against the Jays, May 20-22. Toronto is the only Major League city in which the Astros have yet to play. But forget the games.

This trip will be a success if nobody asks: Passport! What passport?; the customs officer doesnít have to answer any dumb questions like: ďIs this where the 9-11 terrorists crossed the border?Ē and nobody shows up at the Astrosí team bus wearing earmuffs and carrying a pair of skis.

7. Ruthian flashback

No sport is as obsessed with minutia as baseball. The 2011 season, for instance, starts on a Thursday for the first time since 1976. Itís the first non-Sunday or Monday start since 1998. Why this matters ó nobody knows. But there is a press release about it so it must be important, right?

Historical footnotes pervade every nuance of the sport. So when the Cubs go to Fenway May 20-22 itíll be the first time since 1918. And why should anyone not within distance of Paul Revereís paper route care?

Itís obvious. But it is necessary to be a seamhead to know why it is obvious. The last time this happened a guy named Babe Ruth pitched the Bostons to a World Series championship. Nobody in 1918 ever considered the probability theyíd have to wait until 2004 for the encore. The Cubs? Sunday. Thursday. Donít matter. They can lose any day of the week.

8. Last call

When Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium closed many fans made final pilgrimages.

This season marks the end for Sun Life Stadium. Thirty guesses where this landmark is ... and the first 29 donít have to count. Helpful hint: The Florida Marlins move to a retractable roof ballpark in 2012.

9. Long & winding road

Manager Buck Showalter is starting his first full season at the helm of the Orioles. John Farrell starts his first season at the helm of the Blue Jays. But this is still the toughest division in baseball. So, like that old saying says: May the best man finish fourth! Or something like that. And, we mean that in the nicest possible way.

10. All dolled up

The Jaysí opening weekend features a Jose Bautista bobblehead give-away on Sunday. The first 10,000 fans who pass through the turnstiles get a doll. Not sure what theyíll run out of first ó dolls, or fans. Anyway, everybody be careful getting through those turnstiles. It could be difficult getting the stains out of your clothes ó you know, from the grease they had to use to loosen the rust thatís built up on those things the past couple of years.


Videos

Photos