TORONTO - Much as he likes to say he remembers Joe Carterís home run ó he was all of three years old at the time ó itís reasonably clear that Brett Lawrie has not really seen a successful Blue Jays team in his lifetime.
He hopes to change all that.
They won a World Series when he was two, another one a year later, and before he was ready for pre-school batting practice and outfield sprints, there has been a lot of waiting for next year with the Blue Jays and then some waiting after that.
Finally, there seems to be some light. Tomorrow in Blue Jay land is suddenly about Tuesday and Wednesday. And when have we realistically been able to say that in recent times?
On Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre, the 21-year-old Lawrie made his debut at third base. On Wednesday night, the 21-year-old Henderson Alvarez. thrower of smoke but not mirrors ó didnít the opposite used to be true of J.P. Ricciardi? ó makes his major league debut. This may be a baseball week to remember, a corner turned: Yet another new beginning for a franchise in need of them.
The other week it was Colby Rasmus. On Tuesday, it was Lawrie. On Wednesday, Alvarez. More pieces for John Farrell and Alex Anthopoulosí puzzle to play with. More opportunities for a team apparently, and maybe even dramatically, on the rise.
There have been other call-ups in Blue Jays history, so many debuts over 35 seasons, but few that were anything like the opening for young Lawrie. Maybe itís because this is an age of information, a time when we know too much about players before they become players. But the buzz leading into the game against Oakland was unlike anything before it. There was anticipation. There was pre-game chatter. There was a larger media contingent than usual.
And there was Lawrie, the 21-year-old who doesnít look or feel like a 21-year-old. He is too confident. He is too sure of himself. He isnít just happy to be here. He is here to make a difference. Heís here to play a part in changing the way people look and feel about the Blue Jays. Heís here to wear that Canadian flag on his uniform, not just as a patch, but as a passport of sorts that says Brett Lawrie, Canadian, is in the big leagues, in his mind, to stay.
Lawrie knew he would play at Rogers Centre one day, long before it was called that. As a nine-year-old he travelled to Toronto as part of Team British Columbia for something called the Hit, Run and Throw competition. While some of his buddies were playing in the dirt at SkyDome, he was collecting some of it. He looked under the seats, found a small empty Glosetteís Raisin box and filled it full of stadium dirt. The plan, as a nine-year-old, was to put the dirt back when he returned as a big league player.
Lawrie showed up Tuesday night to play. The dirt remains in the raisin box in his parentsí home, a box now representing less dream than reality.
It wasnít this way for Dave Stieb or Lloyd Moseby or even Tony Fernandez. There wasnít drum rolls leading to their call-ups. So many of the best of the World Series players, Roberto Alomar, Carter, Tom Henke, Devon White made their major league debuts in other uniforms. And while Lawrie may have begun his pro career in the Milwaukee organization, he only advanced to double-A before being dealt to Toronto for Shaun Marcum. So this is new and different for Toronto in a baseball season of new and different.
The standing ovation for his first at bat, the pre-game media scrums, the radio interviews, the fawning and the attention would trouble many rookies. All it has done is inspire Lawrie. This is what he hoped for. He even has something, early, over Jose Bautista and even Roger Clemens: While they havenít been able to sell tickets in baseball challenged Toronto, Lawrie sold a few Tuesday. The normally tiny tweeting Tuesday crowd wasnít that tiny last night.
ďIím not that overwhelmed (by the response),Ē said Lawrie. ďActually, I feel kind of special. Thereís a lot of people in my corner. Iíve got my teammates, all my coaches, behind me and I guess I have all of Toronto and all of Canada behind me. Thatís pretty cool.Ē
He thought it was pretty cool when he received a standing ovation before his first at bat, he even stepped out of the batterís box to humbly acknowledge it. Then he proceeded to strike out on three pitches. And, truth is, nobody seemed to care.