By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
From Doug Ault’s drives on opening day in 1977 to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion Sunday afternoon drives.
From Cito Gaston’s teachings to his ability to pick up opposing pitchers tendencies to tip their pitches.
From the Exhibition Stadium Jet Stream to right field to ESPN’s Man in White.
From Glenn Adams, Russ Adams and Willie Aikens to Chris Woodward, Gregg Zaun and Eddie Zosky, this organization could always hit. Not every last man, A-to-Zed, but they could put up some numbers.
Whether clearing fences at the Ex, knocking them down at the SkyDome or the Rogers Centre or on the road, the Blue Jays made some memories at the plate in their first 40 years.
As Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson said years ago in a park since demolished: “In (Exhibition) a left-handed hitter should give a little money back to the club. You start the ball out in right-centre and it catches a jet stream. It’s beautiful, you watch the ball sailing out of there in batting practice.’
They brought back 10 sluggers and slashers for a Sunday celebration, the first of three in this the Jays 40th year. Ten pitchers and 10 memorable moments will be honored later in the season.
The aggregate numbers the 10 on the field compiled were impressive.
Of the Big 10, Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar, Carlos Delgado and Tony Fernandez received the loudest cheers.
The crowd of 47,916 also saw Shawn Green, Vernon Wells, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, John Mayberry, Jose Cruz and Ernie Whitt.
The Big 10 accounted for 17.5% of the total at-bats in franchise history, 22.6% of the home runs and 20.2% of the RBIs, despite Bautista, Encarnacion, Joe Carter and Adam Lind (all currently among the top 10 Jays home run leaders) not in the blasters from the past category.
Some pre-ceremony banter from inside the third base dugout:
Michigan natives Big John Mayberry, now Slim John Mayberry after dropping 30 pounds, and Whitt told about every time the Jays charter would land in Detroit, looking forward to hitting at Tiger Stadium.
“We’d get on the bus and ask who is going upper tank first? Big John always won,” Whitt said.
Replied Mayberry “usually we both got some, that was the strategy.”
Ryan Goins buzzed past Fernandez near the stairs, returned, introduced himself and the former all-star infielder wanted to know what kind of shape the current playing surface and the dirt infield. Goins said the dirt plays hard.
Yan Rivera just finished his second spring with the La Salle University Explorers. The son of Jays third base coach Luis Rivera met Delgado and later said “I had met him four years ago and I didn’t think he would remember me, but he did.”
Mayberry told of his first trips to Toronto and they were not as a member of the 1977 Kansas City Royals or the next year when he became a Jay. Nope, it was as a member of the 1958 Detroit Mohawks travel team.
“We played in North York three years in a row,” Mayberry said. “Their shortstop would take three of our kids home for lunch, the left fielder would take three more. We’d come back and play again.
“People used to come to the Ex with pictures ‘remember me from the North York All-Stars?”
A guy who looked an awful lot like Richie Cunningham introduced himself to Mayberry saying “Hi John, my name is Jamie Campbell, I met you when I was 10, you probably don’t remember me.”
Cruz was rocking some Hugo Boss socks which he said were better than Delgado’s. Judges had not officially ruled.
Alomar’s No. 12 is the only number retired by the Blue Jays. Whitt walked by wearing No. 12 which used to his.
“This is the only day someone can wear my number,” Alomar said.
We asked all 10 of the Big 10: what is THE name you think of when you hear Toronto Blue Jays? (Not all restricted their answers to one name.)
Hall of Famers Pat Gillick and Alomar tied with four votes each. Next were Delgado and Fernandez with three each. Former president Paul Beeston and Bobby Cox had two votes apiece, while others named were Bobby Mattick, Dave Stieb, Jimy Williams, Bell and Gaston.
Sluggers from three eras -- Bautista, Wells and Delgado, who form the newest bobbling head -- threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Encarnacion.
Holly Gentemann, who runs the Rogers Centre, and especially pre-game entertainment, saved some extra bobble heads for Jace Wells, 13, a rising hoops star, and his brother Christian, 10, a second baseman. The Wells live in Arlington, Tex. with their parents.
Best not to take a bobble head of Bautista to school, after his home run decided the American League Division Series in October against the Texas Rangers.
The mere shot of Bautista standing at the plate pre-flip sent Sunday’s crowd into cheers.
And then he flipped.
These guys can hit.