Keeping The Faith – The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Final Push

Toronto Blue Jays 2014It’s Friday, September 12 and the Toronto Blue Jays have 17 games remaining on the schedule, including tonight’s series opener versus AL East rival Tampa Bay.

So… what does this mean? Well, the Jays are currently 10.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East lead – but they are only 3.5 games behind in the race for the AL’s 2nd Wild Card spot – and that’s not insurmountable.

Here’s how the rest of the season looks for the Jays

Tampa Bay Rays logovs. Rays
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Baltimore Orioles logo@Orioles
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New York Yankees logo@NY Yankees
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Seattle Mariners Logovs. Mariners
vs. Mariners
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Baltimore Orioles logovs. Orioles
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13 of the 17 games are against the AL East.
14 of the 17 games are against teams that Toronto is either chasing or fighting off in the playoff race.
10 of the 17 games are in Toronto.
Toronto has a 4-3 record in Baltimore this season.
Toronto has a 2-4 record at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Blue Jays likely need to win at least 13 of these 17 games – and get some help – to make the playoffs.

Also… get ready because if Toronto wins 8 of those first 10 games we’re going to have some VERY exciting baseball when the Jays come back home.

I was texting with Brian last night and without hesitation I acknowledged that the Mariners series could be the most important series in the last 20 years for this team. And Jose Bautista Home Runmaybe I’m getting ahead of myself thinking about it. Maybe we all are. But that’s what fans do.

We look at Jose Bautista’s hot streak and tell ourselves that he can put this team on his back if he needs to. We’ve seen him do it before. And we think about Dioner Navarro and Edwin and Adam Lind supporting him so he doesn’t have to. We get excited with Jose Reyes and Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose and Danny Valencia contribute as they have been doing.

Marcus Stroman 2014 Toronto Blue JaysWe look at the starters and their recent ability to go deeper into games without giving up the big bad early inning and giving the team a chance to win these ball games. We drool over Marcus Stroman and what he’s doing. We nod with approval when Dickey and Buehrle perform like the veterans they are. We smile when the rested bullpen comes in and gets the job done.

And with every win we tell ourselves (and each other) that the Blue Jays chance at a playoff spot is improving.

Right now ESPN.com has the Blue Jays sitting with a 5.5% chance. But if they take care of business and give themselves a chance against Seattle… that 5.5% could get much higher.

And as a fan who has been waiting 21 years to see these meaningful games and then the playoffs that come as the payoff… I’ll take that chance.

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It’s About Accountability

Ray RiceEarlier this afternoon I was involved in an intense Facebook comment thread discussing Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case and the punishment he deserved from the NFL. Later in the afternoon the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had terminated the contract of Rice. In that thread the question of why sports leagues should be able to dole out punishment for actions that take place off the field.

It’s a valid question. Very. In this case specifically it is, Why should the NFL be allowed to suspend Ray Rice for his actions in that hotel elevator?

My answer, accountability.

Ray Rice, like all other professional athletes are paid a lot of money to put on a uniform and perform in front of their team’s fans. They are also public figures, particularly the superstars, who are role models to millions of young fans around the world… whether Charles Barkley likes it or not.

On top of that, these athletes are representatives of team and their league. In and out of uniform they represent their organizations 12 months a year. And they aren’t the only ones who fall under this umbrella.

Justine SaccoIn December 2013 Justine Sacco sent a tweet from her personal phone, on her personal time, before she left on her personal vacation. You might remember the tweet… Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white! The next day Sacco was fired from her position as Communications Director for “hateful statements”. She was held accountable to the standards of her organization and suffered punishment because of her choices and her actions. Sacco isn’t even famous (other than because of this incident) and she was fired for her racist and offensive tweet.

Rob Ford November 2013Almost exactly a month earlier, at City Hall in Toronto, council voted to remove the majority of Mayor Rob Ford’s power in the wake of his crack cocaine and drinking scandal. The police hadn’t charged him with any crimes (and still haven’t, though many people are still waiting to see if it happens) and there was no definitive proof that Ford had used illegal substances or alcohol at City Hall during working hours. However, as THE MAYOR of Toronto he was found not to be living up to his requirements as the leader of the city. He wasn’t portraying the positive image that the city expected. And while some people argued that he did it on his own time and it shouldn’t matter, the fact is that it does matter and that’s why so many Torontonians spoke out and took offense. Hell, before the transfer of power happened I spoke on BBC radio about Ford and the mess he was making in Toronto.

In these 3 cases the NFL/Ravens, IAC, and the City of Toronto all made the decision that the actions of these individuals was detrimental to the organization and the public – and so they were punished outside of any action by law enforcement.

I don’t know if what’s coming next for Rob Ford (re-election, losing the election, criminal charges, relapse, etc.), I don’t know what Justine Sacco is doing now, and I certainly don’t know what is going to happen to Ray Rice. But right now, today, I know that the Baltimore Ravens did the right thing (even if it was late) by holding Rice accountable for his actions and removing him from his position of privilege and power.

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2014 Canadian Country Music Association Awards Predictions

2104 Canadian Country Music Association Awards PredictionsThis Sunday night the Canadian country music industry will gather and celebrate the people that make the music. There will be performances from Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, Kira Isabella, Brett Kissel, and more.

Canadian Country Music Association LogoAnd there will be awards. Lots of awards.

If we’ve learned anything this year covering Boots & Hearts and talking to artists and seeing small shows and listening to the radio – Canadian Country Music is doing just fine.

In fact, things are going so well that predicting the 2014 CCMA Awards isn’t easy at all. But I’ve tried. So have a look, agree or disagree as you will… and watch this Sunday to see who wins!

FANS’ CHOICE AWARD
Paul Brandt and Joshua Boots and Hearts 2014Gord Bamford
Paul Brandt
Dean Brody
George Canyon
Johnny Reid

It’s a fan vote based system – so there’s no real handicapping to be done on my end. But my gut says that Canadian country star and role model to a new generation of artists, Paul Brandt will be the winner here.

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Bounty – Dean Brody
Started With A Song – Brett Kissel 
Take The Week Off – Deric Ruttan
Tippin’ Point – Dallas Smith
When Your Lips Are So Close – Gord Bamford

I know the words to all 5 of these songs, I can and do sing along to them when they come on my playlist or the radio. But looking at them on a list I have to think that Started With A Song comes in 1st as it has launched what looks like a huge career for Brett Kissel.

Tim Hicks 2014 CNE Side BannerALBUM OF THE YEAR
All Kinds of Crazy – Codie Prevost
Crop Circles – Dean Brody
Started With A Song – Brett Kissel
Throw Down – Tim Hicks 
Tippin’ Point EP – Dallas Smith

Hicks went Top 10 three times and Top 15 another with singles from his debut album Throw Down. Brody’s Crop Circles has also gone Top 10 three times and would be my second choice in this category.

SONGWRITER(S) OF THE YEAR
Bounty (Written By: Dean Brody, Performed By: Dean Brody)
Hell Raisin’ Good Time (Written By: Jeff Coplan, Tim Hicks, Casey Marshall, Neil Sanderson, Performed By: Tim Hicks)
Mine Would Be You (Written By: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Deric Ruttan, Performed By: Blake Shelton)
Started With A Song (Written By: Brett Kissel, Craig Wiseman, Performed By: Brett Kissel)
When Your Lips Are So Close (Written By: Gord Bamford, Brent L. Baxter, Byron Hill, Performed By: Gord Bamford)

It might be lame to pick a song recorded by an American artist to win a Canadian award, but Deric Ruttan has proven time and again that he knows how to write a hit song – and Mine Would Be You is no different.

Brett Kissel Gibson Bus Interview Boots and Hearts 2014CMT VIDEO OF THE YEAR
3-2-1 – Brett Kissel
Bounty – Dean Brody
Duet – Wes Mack ft. Carly McKillip
Friends Of Mine – Jason Blaine
Got A Feeling – Tim Hicks ft. Blackjack Billy
Take The Week Off – Deric Ruttan

When we spoke with Brett Kissel at Boots & Hearts and asked him which award he would like to win and Video Of The Year for 3,2,1 was one of the two that he mentioned. I have a feeling that he walks away with that award on Sunday night.

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Jess Moskaluke Boots and Hearts 2014Terri Clark
Kira Isabella
Jess Moskaluke 
Lindi Ortega
Mackenzie Porter

This is one of the hardest categories to pick in the whole show. We asked Brett Kissel what he thought and he wouldn’t answer. We asked Tim Hicks and he told us that all 5 deserve it… but he also said it would be cool to see Jess or Mackenzie win – and I agree. My edge goes to Jess on the back of Cheap Wine And Cigarettes.

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Dallas Smith Boots and Hearts 2014Gord Bamford
Dean Brody
Brett Kissel
Dallas Smith
Bobby Wills

Dallas has gone Top 10 with each of his last 5 singles (spread over 2 albums) and is a very strong performer on stage. If this goes to Bamford, Brody, Kissel or Smith I won’t be surprised at all. But if I’m picking a winner – it’s Smith.

GROUP OR DUO OF THE YEAR
Autumn Hill
The Boom Chucka Boys
The Road Hammers 
Small Town Pistols
The Western Swing Authority

This was another hard one. My first instinct said Small Town Pistols, but I think that The Road Hammers have this one to go with their new album. But don’t count out Autumn Hill either… 3 options – I’m hedging.

ROOTS ARTIST OF THE YEAR
The Lovelocks
Corb Lund
Lindi Ortega 
Jimmy Rankin
The Western Swing Authority

Lindi isn’t my pick for Female Artist, but she is my pick for Roots Artist Of The Year. It’s tough sledding against Corb Lund and Jimmy Ranking – and I LOVE The Lovelocks – but I think Ortega takes this one.

RISING STAR
Lindsay Ell
Tim Hicks
Wes Mack
Jess Moskaluke
Tebey

I know it’s crazy to pick Jess as Female Artist Of The Year and not Rising Star – but Tim Hicks just had such a HUGE year, and now 5:01 is already topping the charts as his 2nd record. It’s really hard to pick against him. So I won’t.

INTERACTIVE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Leah Daniels
Brett Kissel
Jess Moskaluke
Johnny Reid
Tenille

This is another fan vote category, so I don’t know how to make my pick other than to tell you that Brett Kissel does such a great job of interacting with his (growing) fanbase on social media that he locks in my vote. Special mention to Leah Daniels who has been great with us through her social as well!

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2014 Dallas Cowboys Season Preview

Dez Bryant DeMarco Murray Tony RomoLast season we had a special guest preview of the Dallas Cowboys season by Shannon Kelly. But this year it’s on me – which means you’re still going to get the passion, because I love the Cowboys, but you’re not going to get the in depth thoughts that Shan shared.

The New Triplets

20 years ago we celebrated the fact that Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin we all awesome at the same time and made a lot of big plays on the O side of the ball.

In 2014 we have Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant – and while I’m totally okay with those 3 guys being our go-to’s they aren’t going to the Hall of Fame the same way the 90’s triplets.

If the Cowboys are going to score the ball they’re going to need Murray to rush for 100 yards a game, Dez to catch close to 100 balls with 13-15 TDs. They’re also going to need Romo to stay healthy and be smart. Forcing things when they aren’t there, turning the ball over and losing control of the team are going to be bad bad bad.

2014 Dallas Cowboys LogoAdd in Jason Whitten and his (hopefully) 90 or so catches and 4-8 touchdowns – and the rest of the offense will just have to carry their own weight to make the ship go.

The D

The Cowboys are in trouble!

Last season’s defense ranked very near the bottom of the NFL… and this year isn’t looking to be any better.

Losing DeMarcus Ware in free agency (you’re welcome Broncos) and Sean Lee to injury (again) there are more holes than strengths. So don’t get your hopes up for low scoring games or small rushing numbers or close game wins on the road.

Note: Rod Marinelli coming in as Defensive Coordinator could shake things up and give the defensive unit a chance to compete. It might be a long shot. But it’s worth hoping for.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam Dallas CowboysSam was signed to the Cowboys practice squad after being released by the St. Louis Rams… and if the defense is as bad as they could be we just might see the Mizzou alum on the field before the end of the regular season.

There’s no guarantee – Michael Sam knows that and so do all of the fans. But it’s a pretty cool ‘maybe’.

Record

The easy to predict range is somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7. My predictions sits right in the middle at 8-8.

AND if the Dallas Cowboys go into the last week of the season with a chance to win the division again (like every season) I will gladly take the 50/50 chance for heartbreak.

Note: I say that now, but the heartbreak will be real if the Cowboys lose that game and miss the playoffs.

Overall

This could be a bumpy season for the Cowboys. There’s a good chance that a bunch of points will be scored… on both sides of the ball. And sometimes that will result in wins. But sometimes that will result in losses.

I predict a bunch of frustration for players, coaches, Jerry Jones, and fans. And mixed in with those moments will be awesome displays of football prowess that makes everyone think that this team is close to being great again.

No matter which way it goes – I’ll be rooting for the boys in Dallas.

Be awesome!

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Real Men Love Jesus – Thomas Rhett Live at the Rock N’ Horse Saloon Toronto

Thomas Rhett Live at the Rock N' Horse Saloon Toronto HeaderWednesday night a crew of Toronto country music fans were given a special treat when Thomas Rhett played an intimate acoustic set at the Rock N’ Horse Saloon in the Entertainment District.

In town to play with Miranda Lambert at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, country radio stations KX96 and KX94.7 brought in winners to see the show and give fans a chance to see Thomas Rhett up close and personal. And that they did. We may have been 15 feet from the dude as he stood and swayed and sang his 10 song set.

Thomas Rhett Live at the Rock N' Horse TorontoFirst thing’s first, I’ve been listening to country music for a couple decades and have been familiar with Rhett Akins (Thomas’ dad) since 1995 – and now almost 20 years later I’m becoming a fan of what his son is bringing to country radio on a regular basis. That’s a pretty cool thing.

And make no doubt, Thomas Rhett deserves to be where he is. Forget his songwriting ability and voice – this 24 year old Georgia boy is all kinds of charming and has stage presence that is going to take him to big places. Add in the songs and the voice and young Thomas looks like a star.

Note: Congratulations are in order as Thomas Rhett was nominated for New Artist of the Year by the Country Music Association on Wednesday morning.

The set opened with the announcement that there wasn’t really a set list and that invited the audience to start yelling out requests (from start to finish) that included that the first song of the night, and first of his career, Something To Do With My Hands. From there things moved quickly with Round Here, written by Thomas Rhett and released by Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett’s newest single, You Make Me Wanna, and Parking Lot Party which was a huge hit for Lee Brice and again written by Thomas Rhett.

Thomas Rhett Live at the Rock N' Horse Saloon TorontoThe next track was probably the one that I wanted to hear most (other than a very unlikely cover of his dad’s That Ain’t My Truck) – Get Me Some Of That. Check the bottom of the post for the video and get a sense of the singalong atmosphere we were in all night.

Next up was a brand new track, not yet recorded, called Real Men Love Jesus. It’s a slow, calm, song that should land on his next album. He followed it up with crowd-pleasers Front Porch Junkie and It Goes Like This before waving goodbye.

But in that small space, lined with fans and looking for more, the ENCORE chant came quick and loud. So Thomas Rhett came back to sing his own Take You Home and the first song he ever got released by another artist, Jason Aldean’s top 20 hit, 1994.

It was a nice mid-week break to catch the short show at the Rock N’ Horse – and I’m confident that everyone who sees Thomas Rhett on stage opening for Miranda Lambert on the rest of this tour are going to enjoy the show.

Keep an eye on this guy, he’s going all the way to the top.

Check out more pics from the show at Trish’s blog HERE.

Stay awesome!

Thomas Rhett Live at the Rock N' Horse Saloon Toronto Guitar

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