On Wednesday, January 29th, 2014, over 1,000 Toronto Blue Jays season ticket holders attended the annual “State of the Franchise” event at Rogers Centre. Guests were treated to a coctail party, complimentary food from the concession stands, and adult beverages from the bar. Following introductions of Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons, Buck Martinez, the emcee for the evening directed everyone’s attention to the Jumbotron for the following Blue Jays 2013 highlight video:
Prior to the Q & A period, Beeston addressed the crowd, acknowledging the disappointing season of 2013:
Last year wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We got knocked down a bit. We hit the mat, and when you do, you can do one of two things. You can either stay down, or you can get back up and fight for another day. And that’s what we plan on doing. We don’t plan on just staying on the mat, we’re going to get up and do what we wanted to do, which is win the World Series…Last year’s team was not built for just one year.
Watch the full speech from Paul Beeston:
Next, attendees were treated to a video highlighting the Blue Jays Winter Tour. I attended the Mississauga event, hosted by the Erin Mills Town Centre. Click here to read about that event.
Watch the Winter Tour highlight video:
Q & A Session:
Buck began by asking Alex about the contrast between the busy off-season last year, and the relatively quiet one this year. Alex said he’s hopeful they will add to the ballclub, and that there are still some great quality free agents available. He went on to say that they’re still having active dialogues, and still discussing trades as well. “We’re definitely not done trying to add, we’re going to look to add, we just need to find the right deal”. Alex went on to say he felt like they may even add players into spring training.
Watch the full video of Alex discussing plans moving into the 2014 season:
Next, Buck addressed Gibby, asking him how he would conduct spring training this year, implying the approach may be different since 2013 was a World Baseball Classic year where some key players missed significant time with the ball club. Gibby, in his typical ultra-relaxed style, first replied with a good-natured ”Duck Dynasty” joke, aimed at Colby Rasmus. Once the laughter had died down, he reassured fans that this is a good ball club and to stick by them. He suggested that some “minor tinkering” might be necessary, but the real mission would be to get off to a good start early this year. One month into the 2013 season the Jays occupied the basement already 7 games under .500, and 8.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
Watch the full video of Gibby discussing spring training plans:
The standard (and expected) questions surrounding financial commitments and trade rumours followed. I’m actually surprised that there was no mention of Tanaka (other than the brief reference by Anthopoulos when he suggested that it had held up the free agent market action). While I never actually expected Toronto to have a legitimate shot at the Japanese super-star, it would have been interesting to know if they were ever “in the running”. Not that I’d ever expect Anthopoulos to say so either way. The man plays his cards close to his chest. Let’s hope he’s got an ace up his sleeve. The Jays could use a little help in this increasingly-stacked division this season. Then again, that’s the beauty of baseball. The mystique of the unknown. The Morrow of old could return and blow the roof off. I remain hopeful that at least one of either McGowan, Drabek, or Hutchison will be back to make an impact. Young studs like Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, albeit both dark-horses, could perform above expectations and either could make the rotation as a 5th starter. Yes it’s unlikely, but who predicted Happ would pitch like he did last season? While fans still have the bitter taste in their mouths from a high-expectation filled season gone bad, let’s not forget that for a time in 2013, the Jays bullpen was one of the most dominant in baseball, and played a significant role in the 11-game win streak they enjoyed in June. Thinking about that puts a smile on my face, how about you?
For the full video with Q & A from season ticket holders, click here.
Outside the Erin Mills Town Centre, the effects of the polar vortex were evident – endless mounds of snow and blistering, frigid winds made for an uncomfortable walk from the car. But inside the mall, on this Saturday, Jan 18th, 2014, over 1,000 excited baseball fans gathered with warmer thoughts on their minds. They anxiously awaited the arrival of some of their favourite Blue Jays players, for their last stop on the Winter Tour.
Some fans arrived as early as 9:00 am for the 2:00 pm event. Over 700 fans were able to meet and get autographs from Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and fan favourite, Colby Rasmus. Hundreds more were turned away, as the line of fans endlessly snaked through the crowded mall.
Having just avoided salary arbitration the day prior by inking a one-year, $7 million deal, Rasmus seemed relaxed as we chatted. But the topic of conversation wasn’t about money. I was more interested in re-hashing the past, where during the 2013 season, Colby found himself in a major league match-up more rare than a perfect game, batting against his younger brother Cory, who in the game at Toronto on May 27th took the mound in the 7th inning for the Atlanta Braves. The Blue Jays centre fielder got the better of his brother in the at-bat, taking him opposite-field for a double.
Colby mentioned that Cory had given him some hitting tips – suggestions for his swing a couple of days prior to their possible match-up. While inevitably with brothers there will always be competition, the modest Rasmus simply stated that “it was a crazy time”, but when I asked about the dialogue with Cory after the game, he said there really wasn’t any since he’s not the kind to rub it in. Cory has since been moved to the Angels organization, and there is a possibility of a re-match this season, as the Jays will face LA for a 4-game home set in May, and again for a 3-game set on the road in July. Colby remarked,“a few guys have been talking about it. John Gibbons joked about it saying we might get another brother-brother match-up”.
The Mississauga location marked the end of the Jays Winter Tour, which stayed within Ontario this year, having gone cross-country the previous year. Mal Romanin, Manager of Baseball Information and Stephen Brooks, Senior VP, Business Operations for the Jays were both on site, overseeing the successful event. Toronto pitchers and catchers have their first spring training workout in just under three weeks. Even though the snow seems like it may never melt, baseball is in the air.
Torontonians in the winter months must brave everything from frigid temperatures to ice storms and loss of hydro. For many, summer sports such as baseball couldn’t be further from their minds (even though Spring Training is less than a mere 50 days away). But for a select few Blue Jays fans (45 to be exact), on January 9th, 2014 they donned their baseball gear and took to the field at Rogers Centre, having the rare opportunity to interact with baseball greats such as Pat Tabler, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, and the most decorated Blue Jays player, Roberto Alomar. The special occasion? Another successful fundraising effort by the Jays Care Foundation, WINTER TRAINING DAY.
The official charitable arm of the Blue Jays was the 2012 recipient of the MLB Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence, as well as the 2013 recipient of the Beyond Sport Sports Team of the Year Award. The mission of the organization is to focus energy and resources toward community-based endeavours that develop baseball programs and help children in need to excel academically, get active, and lead healthy lives. To date, Jays Care has invested over $8.2 million in Canadian children and communities. This Winter Training Day raised over $38,000!
Greeted by a young and cheerful staff, myself and my cameraman made our way down onto the field. The participants were being taken through warm-up drills. Safety first, of course. We spoke for several minutes with Pat Tabler, who would spend a good portion of the day at the soft-toss station, giving hitting tips. In speaking with Tabby about his success in pressure situations (hitting nearly .500 with the bases loaded over his career), he attributed it to “being mentally tough”.
We then connected with the Executive Director of the Jays Care Foundation, Danielle Bedasse for a short interview:
While sitting in the dugout, I had the opportunity to speak with several participants, one admittedly in awe at moments, especially of Alomar. For baseball fans – and Blue Jays fans, it’s hard not to be. One fan approached Alomar, shook his hand, and said “I was at the game where you hit back-to-back homeruns from opposite sides of the plate”. Alomar’s eyes lit up, and responded, “right, against Chicago”. Even Hall-of-Famers have their favourite moments. This was obviously one of them.
Alomar looked on while men and women took batting practice throws from Tabler and Moseby. After one participant fouled off a few pitches, Moseby could be heard from the mound saying, “I’ll stay here all day until you hit one hard, baby”. Everyone’s “baby” to Lloyd. Super-friendly with a large grin, Moseby threw pitch after pitch for what must have been half-an-hour. Before interviewing Moseby, we were warned that he had come straight from the airport, and had no sleep. “Could have fooled me”, I thought. His energy is infectious. We reminisced about Lloyd’s infamous base-running blunder, back in 1987 when he stole second base, then in a moment of confusion ran back to first (as the ball had sailed into centre field). The errant throw from the centre fielder by-passed the first baseman, thus allowing Moseby to steal second again! “I’m suing major league baseball for airing that footage” Moseby joked.
Attention to detail and terrific organization was apparent within the entire Winter Training Day event. Announcements over the PA system signaled the rotation of groups between stations (batting practice, soft-toss, hitting instruction, and shagging flies). I can only imagine (as participants experienced) what a thrill it would be to hear your name called over the sound system in Rogers Centre.
Walking beyond the left field wall that Joe Carter’s famous homerun sailed over, we headed down a ramp and into the Jays batting cages where participants would be taking hitting instruction from Jesse Barfield. Always good for a story, Jesse re-enacted a moment in a game where an opposing team’s fan relentlessly heckled him from the stands in right field. Barfield’s response to the fan? A monstrous homerun. The fan never spoke another word.
Upon quietly observing the event from the dugout, I noticed how much fun everyone was having – staff included. The Jays Care Foundation appears to be in great hands. The dedicated team had put together an event that everyone in attendance was bound to remember, for years to come. After all, at the end of a baseball game all you are left with are memories and experiences. It’s even better when they are special ones.
Click here to listen to: Brock discuss the match-up between Tampa and Texas for the remaining Wild Card Spot.
Sometimes 162 games aren’t enough. Game 163 will be the tie-breaker that decides whether Tampa or Texas get a shot at a one-game playoff vs Cleveland for the official Wild Card spot in the AL.
In a one-game scenario, most stats go out the window. It will likely come down to who pitches a gem tonight, Price or Perez.
Both have the potential to throw un-godly stuff.
Baseball fans should be in for a real treat.
Getting an extra game, “Bonus Baseball” if you will, is a treat in itself.
Full interviews from this reel can be found here:
Click here to listen to: Brock Picken interview Carlos Delgado, Roberto Alomar, Cito Gaston, Duane Ward, and many more.
Click here to listen to: Brock Picken interview Tim Raines, Shirley Cheek, Rob Ducey, & George Bell
It’s no secret that the Blue Jays have had horrible pitching problems this season. And that may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. It’s been painful to watch, especially since there were so many expectations for this team in 2013. While they still aren’t out of a playoff spot mathematically, it’s highly unlikely the jays will be playing October baseball. Again, a huge understatement. I just don’t see the point of being so negative…although you wouldn’t think so if you listen to today’s show. But there is a silver lining…I did find something positive to talk about. Click above to take a listen for 20 minutes.
TheBlueJaysDugout.com has now made the Top 50 MLB Blogs Latest Leaders List for five straight months! (#36 March, #26 April, #31 May, #29 June, #46 July 2013).
Click above to see the full lists.