A Day Like No Other

Charlie Manuel had Jimmy Rollins as his DH on Friday against the Blue Jays. (Gene J. Puskar/AP file photo)

Today is Canada Day, when the great nation to our North marks the unification of three British provinces into an independent country. To celebrate this holiday, Canadians drape themselves in their national colors, drink gallons of Labatt's, and pay homage to their country's founding father, Bryan Adams. This is in contrast to Independence Day in the United States, when Americans drape themselves in their national colors, drink gallons of Budweiser, and debate the finer points of the latest season of Jersey Shore.

The important lesson is that there is one thing that unites our two nations, besides a border and a language and an economy: our love for country, alcohol, and B-List celebrities.

And, perhaps, our love for baseball.

Their bacon might be circular and ours might be asymetric, but the ball is still round, the dirt is still brown, and the mound is still 60 feet 6 inches, or 18.4 meters, from home.

Whether it is the smell of freshly-cut grass at Citizens Bank Park or freshly-vacuumed AstroTurf at the Rogers Center, nothing says the start of July like afternoon baseball.

It is a perfect day for a ballgame here in downtown Toronto. The sky is blue, the air is mild, and the sun is only partially obscured by the retracted dome. Although the Phillies face a stiff challenge in lefthander Ricky Romero, who enters today with a 2.74 ERA, they do get to use a designated hitter, which means a rare opportunity to employ a line-up that includes both Jimmy Rollins (the DH is hitting .235/.259/.309 against lefties) and Wilson Valdez (the SS is hitting .240/.333/.300).

Getting Valdez into the line-up does allow Charlie Manuel to rest the struggling Raul Ibanez. Of course, that means he has to play rookie Domonic Brown, who is 5-for-31 with one extra base hit and 10 strikeouts in his career against lefties. And it means that switch-hitting Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez is his only right-handed bat off the bench. But look on the bright side: after today, the next time Ruben Amaro Jr. attempts to downplay his need to add a hitter, the Phillies general manager will break down and say, "Ah, screw it. I can't even keep a straight face anymore."

More than anything, Amaro might need to invest in some bubble wrap for his prized 27-year-old lefthander, because Cole Hamels is one slip-and-fall away from resembling Hillary Swank at the end of Million Dollar Baby. Hamels was in good spirits and fully clothed today when he spoke with the media. He was also wearing heavy tape around his badly-bruised right hand, the result of the line drive that knocked him out of Thursday's start, and a bandage on his chin, the result of an infection that he had drained.

"I got really pissed at Chooch and I got him in the tunnel," Hamels said.

It was a joke. Everybody knows Hamels leads with his left.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee said he and the training staff made the decision to pull Hamels from Thursday's loss to the Red Sox after the fourth-inning mis-hap. That probably doesn't sit well with the people who continue to insist that the former World Series MVP and current Cy Young candidate isn't tough enough to be an ace. But those people also think that the Phillies should acquire Matt Kemp for a package of Joe Blanton, Matthew Rizzotti and Sarge.

Hamels said if it is up to him he will make his scheduled start in Florida. Dubee said Hamels does not necessarily have to throw a bullpen in order to make that start. More than anything, they want to see him be able to catch a baseball so that the next line drive he sees doesn't infect his entire face.

For now, though, let's just enjoy the pride and pageantry of this Canada Day.

Instead of the usual nameplates on the back of the Blue Jays' jerseys, each uniform has "CANADA" sewed above the number. The club is allowing its fans to take part in this selfless act of patriotism by selling the commemorative jerseys in their team store for only $159.99 ($159.99 CA).

If you are looking for retro CANADA jerseys, your choices are slim. Brad Canada played A-ball for the Staten Island Yankees in 2005, while fellow non-Canadien Canadian Romel Canada reached Triple-A in the Expos organization.

Neither player made it to the majors, but it's hard to feel pity.

Life can't be bad when every day is Canada Day.

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