Coach Shulman's tones missed every game

* ESPN's Dan Shulman (Thornhill, Ont.) watched the winter happening with the Blue Jays, then went to broadcast some hoops and now is ready for the Sunday Night Baseball opener from Houston. .... 2013 Top Canadians eligible for draft 2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent 2012 Canadians in the Minors  2012-13 Canadians at Canadian schools

By Bob Elliott

Like every member of Toronto baseball community and a father of two sons who love sports, he was caught in the off-season swirl.

The excitement could only be equalled maybe by Ben Shulman’s Thornhill Reds winning a minor bantam tournament this summer.

Before that, the Thornhill peewee coach, Dan Shulman, will begin his other baseball job in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth with Orel Hershiser and John Kruk this week.

“It’s exciting to see the Blue Jays spending money, giving themselves a chance to win,” Shulman said on Tuesday. “Twenty years between playoff appearances is a long time. I believe the Jays have a better chance of making the playoffs now than they’ve had in many years.

“The Jays have to stay healthy, and the AL East is still a deep division. We shouldn’t assume they will be successful simply based on how they look on paper.”

ESPN’s 24th season begins Sunday in Houston, as the Texas Rangers visit the Houston Astros, American League newcomers for 2013.

“I picked Toronto as the team to beat in the AL East for our predictions on,” said Shulman, who picked the Washington Nationals to win the World Series.

Hershiser, who went to high school in York Mills, Kruk, who was in town to watch Joe Carter end the 1993 World Series, and Shulman were on a conference call, discussing the upcoming season Tuesday.

It is a different season in the AL East.

Rather than New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox as runaway favourites, we have a horse race.

Some of the better nuggets from the boys in the booth:

Kruk: “It wouldn’t surprise me if any of the five teams won the division. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of the teams finished last. That’s how tight the division is.”

Hershiser: “In the AL East, winning the division is the only way to get to post-season play. It’s going to be hard for the wild card to come out of there.”

Shulman: “Look at what Toronto has done, you can never count out Tampa Bay with what they’ve done in recent years. It’s a division where everybody could be .500 but nobody might win more than 90 because the division is so deep and you’re playing so many games against one another.

“It’s got a chance to be the best divisional race this year.”

The Jays added R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, plus shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson, lefty Mark Buehrle and infielder Emilio Bonifacio from the Miami Marlins in a 12-player deal.

“It’s sad to see Florida fans get wool pulled over their eyes,” said Hershiser. “Usually the Canadian people come south to get warm, but it sounds like all of Miami had to go north to be in Toronto now.”

Shulman was impressed with what he saw of the Baltimore Orioles last fall.

“Orel and I worked their wild card game and their series with the Yankees on ESPN radio, spent time around the team and Buck Showalter. They had a great team,” said Shulman. “When you walk into their clubhouse it’s similar to the San Francisco Giants, you get the feeling this is a true team.

“All 25 guys are going to do whatever’s asked to help win. They had a great year. They’re not a fluke, they’re a contending team. You can’t talk about them without mentioning the record in one-run games.

“Sometimes those things even out a over time. They’re right in the mix.”

Shulman was the play-by-play voice of the Jays on TSN for broadcasts from 1995-2001, with former Jays catcher Buck Martinez, before joining ESPN.

Now, he earns danger pay working men’s hoops alongside analyst Dick Vitale as well as working baseball.

Shulman, whose son Matt, 19, attends university, was named the National Sportscaster of the Year in 2011.

It’s been years since the Sunday night crew has been to Toronto — maybe it was 1995 — after years of mid-week games scheduled because there wouldn’t be any rainouts and a 65-cent Canadian dollar.

If or when Shulman works a Jays game, it certainly wouldn’t be an issue, a hometown broadcaster covering his home team. He was objective and neutral, treating Jays games the same way he treated any other game: professional.

When they rank Jays free agents who got away: Al Leiter, Devon White, Jimmy Key, Jim Clancy ... Shulman tops the list.


To Mary Anne Sturley, Rogers Centre receptionist and long-time Jays employee, who lost her father William (Bill) Sturley at 79. Visitation will be Friday at 2 PM followed by a service at Bates and Dodds Funeral Home, 931 Queen St. W. in Toronto.