By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The stage sat near second base with three video screens behind and two in front.
It was a different than most years when the Blue Jays brass gathered to talk bravely about the upcoming season. They used to sit atop the third base dugout.
It was also different in that they had something to brag about.
If you were hoping for Josh Donaldson to emerge from the blue spotlights pointing heavenly -- like a dramatic Roger Neilson return behind the Maple Leafs bench moment -- to sign a new deal ... no chance.
Neither Jose Bautista nor Edwin Encarnacion emerged from the shadows to put their names on a contract extension.
There is no “wait til next year.” Not yet anyway.
It’s win this year. Baby.
Despite all that it was a love in befitting the American League East champs with plenty of applause directed at the fancy stage in place for Rogers Communications CEO Guy Laurence’s Friday road show.
New Jays president Mark Shapiro was cheered when introduced by Buck Martinez and manager John Gibbons was given a standing ovataion ambling up the stairs as if he had just hitched his brown mustang with the grey mane to a fence post.
“Wow,” said Gibbons said as he sat into the chair, “what a difference a year makes!”
In baseball a carry over comes after a successful season. A year ago 1,600 season’s ticket holders said they’d show for the state of the union and 900 came. This time 2,500 said they were coming and 2,100 were here.
The Jays have sold 14,000 seasons tickets for 2016.
Centre fielder Kevin Pillar, who also received a standing ovation, GM Ross Atkins, Shapiro and Gibbons fielded filtered questions from the fans.
Pillar was asked if the Jays could win in 2016?
“I truly believe the Blue Jays can and WILL win the World Series this year.”
And the crowd cheered.
They cheered for broadcaster Dan Shulman when he was introduced, cheered when Shapiro and Atkins each said ‘that they loved Toronto,’ and how the Jays represent Canada.
Fans cheered talk on an all-dirt infield and that study on growing grass at the University of Guelph would continue. Earlier Shapiro raised the angst of fans by saying that he had shelved plans for grass.
Put me down as being with Shapiro on that one. When was the last time your buddy phoned and said “hey let’s go to the game and watch the grass grow?”
That said a dirt infield would be easier on the oft-injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Atkins said he “wanted to keep Donaldson in Toronto as ‘long as humanly possible.”
Shapiro was asked about locking up both Bautista and Encarnacion.
“The best thing to say is it’s a no-brainer -- we want to keep them here. The sentiment is there,” Shapiro said. “We’ve expressed that to both guys.
“A lot will factor in, whether or not we’re able to get it done, but we’re going to make an effort and that will happen during spring training.”
Shapiro said that there were a lot of variables entering into a contract: age, medical history, track record as well as “the character that they represent, the teammate they are, the professionals they are.”
“And those guys not only have been responsible to contributing greatly to this team’s success last year, but they are great teammates and have been representative of the resurgence of championship baseball in Toronto. We recognize that.”
Gibbons said that last season began to turn in the spring with the arrival of Russell Martin and Donaldson in off-season deals. This season won’t be easy what with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox improving.
There were boos when David Price was shown on the screen, which was odd because the Jays did not make the free agent an offer.
“I love the moves both those teams made,” Gibbons said. “Boston picking up Price and beefing up their bullpen (Craig Kimbrel) and the Yankees doing the same thing with (Aroldis) Chapman.
“One thing about those two and it’s always been that way. They don’t sit back and wait. They don’t like not winning, so they make moves.”
Gibbons said the success of last season took a lot of weight off people’s shoulders.
“There was pressure on the coaching staff, the manager, the front office, everyboy going into last season,” Gibbons said. “We had to produce and we came through.
“What’s great about it, guys like Bautista, Eddie, some others are some of the best in the game and they finally got their true recognition under the spotlight in the post season.”
Shapiro called the Jays fans “the best fans in baseball.”
“Our offence is what gets me excited,” said the new president.
And the Jays season ticket holders were excited on this night.