Elliott: Blue Jays fall cleaning numbers nears 30 staffers

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By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
On Friday, Oct. 13, her second day of her new life, she didn’t go to work.

She had been escorted out of the Rogers Centre on Wednesday, a building that did not exist when she went to work for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1984. She was one of roughly 30 employees told that they were no longer needed since the season ended.

So on that Friday she did not have to battle downtown traffic to be at her desk before 9 AM.

She did not have to answer phones.

She did not have to reply to emails.

No, she had time to attend a funeral of her friend without asking her boss for time off. 

She went to a funeral and greeted her late friend’s husband by saying: “I’m sorry for your loss.” 

And the husband replied: “I’m sorry for your loss.”

The rest of the day she spent with friends.

A normal Friday would have seen an early start, conduct regular business of the day, then at lunch either go for a walk or visit the regular hang out of Blue Jays employees, the St. Louis Bar & Grill. 

* * *
I have never been fired. Except once when a woman from USA Today told me in 1989 that my free-lance services were no longer needed. I had filed a note about the Jays (a promotion or a demotion) which had already been in their paper the day before -- and that was a no no. The woman told me I should have known, should have bought USA Today. Sure it was $3.25 in Mississauga back then and I was earning $20 three times a week. The you are-no-longer needed conversation was embarrassing, It was not the loss of income it was the “you’re outta here.”

Yet it was small French Fries compared to what these roughly 30 people have gone through. I have no idea what it is like to be escorted out of the building, to drive home and try to explain to your family ... especially if you walked in and your wife/husband opened with “so how was work today?”

And now what? Now that the Blue Jays and Rogers Communications have dismissed this many people.

These people didn’t want to talk on the record but some of them told their stories.

* * *
On Friday Oct. 13, her second day of her new life she didn’t go to work.

Two days before she was told “a change was being made.” Yet, as the rhythm of her morning started: a quick breakfast and somewhere late in the shower for a second she thought “what should I wear to work today?” 

And then the light went off: no work today. 

No more driving through morning rush-hour to reach the Rogers Centre. She had been a member of the work force since she was a teenager.  

So instead of her second house being the Rogers Centre, she cleans her own house and cooks for her kids. Sometimes during cooking her mind will drift “what about that meeting we have coming up next week with ...” Oh, never mind. No meetings. 

“As I’ve been told 100 times since Oct. 11 ‘one door opens another closes,’” she says.

* * *
Amidst the firings there were promotions: T.J. Burton (Ottawa, Ont.) was named manager of amateur baseball and head Canadian scout Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.) moves to talent-rich California area as a cross checker.

Lehman becomes one of the few Canadians to cover one of the top three areas for players: California, Florida or Texas. 

Blue Jays current assistant GM Andrew Tnnish (Ottawa, Ont.) covered northern Florida as an area scout for the Blue Jays in 2003.

Ron Tostenson (White Rock, BC) was an area scout on the west coast covering Southern California, then the North West and then was west coast supervisor for Seattle Mariners as the M’s drafted Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, Brandon Morrow, Brandon Mauer and Doug Fister. Now, Tostenson is a national cross checker for the Chicago Cubs for the last 10 years. 

Chris Mears (Vancouver, BC) has national coverage for the Boston Red Sox concentrating on pitching. 

* * *  
On Friday Oct. 13, his second day of his new life he didn’t go to work.

In fact he was able to sleep in until 9 AM, which was understood. He had been having a lot of trouble sleeping well since he had been escorted out of the Rogers Centre on Wednesday.

Friday was a different day. At noon he went to yoga with his girl, picked up his child at school around 3 o’clock and then picked up groceries.

People have been supportive of him since Wednesday calling on the phone, emailing and sending texts. And on Wednesday night his two sisters drove two hours with a six pack to be with their brother in this time of stress.

Now, he won’t have to spend money on gas to drive two hours each way to get to his desk and go about work he’s done for the last 15 years. 

* * *
I was unsure about writing something about all these people many who I have not even met.. But then I read Tweets which basically said “Who gives a crap?” “Tell me about the players, who cares?” and “Stick to players.”

The thought that hit me on when news broke and is still with me is of George Clooney appearing in “Up in the Air,” where he flew around firing people and the helpless look on the faces of the employees on the other side of the desk. 

These people didn’t work for Acme Widgets located in an industrial park. They worked for the Toronto Blue Jays, Canada’s team, owned by Rogers Communications, which bills itself as “a Canadian communications and media company.”

All the people we would pass in the hall post game going back to the fall of 1985 at Exhibition Stadium would have a smile on their face and a spring in their step after a win. And they’d be shaking their heads after a gut-wrenching loss in extras. “Those umpires don’t like us,” one would say.

Walking down the stairs after the Jose Bautista bat flip game we saw two workers hug and cry.

They were not strictly workers, they were fans. When the Jays won, they were happy. When the Jays won the World Series, they either received rings (men) or pendants (women). They suffered though the lean years and were as excited as anyone in the 200 Level or the 500 Level when Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off bomb against the Baltimore Orioles.

* * *
The second day of his new life when he didn’t have a job to go to work was much like his first. He didn’t leave the house.

“I was a good employee, to my knowledge I never had anyone complain about me, they didn’t pull out a manilla folder jammed with complaints,” he said. “

* * *  
On Friday Oct. 13, his second day of his new life he didn’t go to work.

On Wednesday he had been escorted out of the Rogers Centre after handling in his passes and credentials. He compared the trip from his office to the exit “like a perp walk you see on TV.”  

So on Friday he went for lunch with former colleagues to try and make sense of it all. A conclusion was not reached. His wife told him “When one door closes, another one opens.”

He worked at the Rogers Centre for 13 years. Working there involved more spirit than say the staff at a bank or an insurance company. When the Blue Jays were on the West coast like a lot of people he’d stay up late to watch his team. Or first thing in the morning he’d check how the team had done.

After all former president Paul Beeston had said at more than one staff town-hall meeting “When we win this thing you guys will get rings ... just like the players.” Just like 1992 and 1993.

And after he left the building there was another town hall meeting, this one run by executive vice president of business operations, Andrew Miller.
 
The employee had survived two other sets of firings -- under Beeston -- roughly 24 people lost their jobs in September of 2009. And 10 months before that about 40 workers were let go in the previous December.

And now he looks for employment elsewhere. 

* * *
The biggest question again is why?

We understand that the building no longer flips back and forth baseball-football-baseball since the Toronto Argos have left the building. So maybe the conversions department, whose job it was to make these changes, was in a difficult spot, especially with not a lot of concerts on the summer calendar.

General manager Ross Atkins told Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun he didn’t make all the decisions as to who would go, but signed off on them.

“Our goal is to have a values-based culture that is ultimately about creating the best environment in all of professional sport,” Atkins said. “And we have to make very difficult decisions across every aspect of baseball operations and obviously on the business side as well, that are never personal. And we are, in fact, all about making sure we’re doing everything that’s best for this organization and the people in it and unfortunately there are times in every business where change occurs and it’s very, very difficult for us by all means.”

Sebastian Gatica, vice-president of fan engagement, gave this statement to John Lott of The Atletic:

“In recent years, our business has become more focused on engaging fans through compelling experiences, unique content and personalized service. The changes reflect that evolving nature of our business as we shift to meet these needs through a new structure and resources aimed at delivering memorable experiences to our passionate fan base.”

Blue Jays fans aren’t certain who will play left field -- although we hear Dalton Pompey has looked good in instructional -- or right next season. Yet, they can look forward to memorable fan experiences.

Some in the ticket office were given a choice to stay in a different role or to leave and take a package. It was described as a poision pill by one man.

* * *
The Blue Jays rid themseleves of a Day I employee in the visiting clubhouse manager, 

Over the years he would put out a huge empty water bottle jug on a table in the middle of the clubhouse on the final day of a series. Many of the departing visiting millionaires would toss their Canadian coins and some of their Canadian cash into the jug. At the end of the year the visiting clubhouse manager would donate the money to Princess Margaret hospital. 

* * *
This whacking of almost 30 employees is much like the summer of 2002 when new general manager J.P. Ricciardi cut a bunch of scouts, minor league coaches and instructors with World Series rings. He would later say it was under orders by Rogers Communications.

Jim Ridley was one of the casualities. He ran the Blue Jays first open tryout camp in Utica, NY, and he got the phone call in 2002 when he was scouting in Utica.

A month later we saw him at Greg Cranker Field in Mississauga. I had never seen him so down. We stood with him for six innings and then went to the car to get an extra jacket.

When I came back he asked “are we winning?”

Pardon?

“Well, when you went to the car ... did you turn on the radio to see our score?”

Ah, no.

So, here he was despondent as heck, angry with His team for firing him ... still referring to his old team as “us” and “we.”

It this something these former employees will have to go through? As a Blue Jays fan who cheered and worked for the team do you have the ability to cheer for them after being fired? Would you want to go to games as you used to on your days off? It is a tough thing to go through: losing your job and maybe your favourite team.

They are not household names but here is the list -- nnd the date they were either escorted out or told their service were no longer needed.-- that made the Rogers Centre a happening place once again in 2015 and 2016. Some are gone after a year and a half or anywhere up to 20, 30 or 40 seasons. 

The list of 29 that we know of ...

Baseball ops:
Oct. 4
Mike Frostad, assistant trainer
Chris Joyner. strength and conditioning coach

Oct. 20
Len Frejlich, visiting clubhouse manager

Oct. 11
Communications:

Erik Grosman, coordinator, baseball information
Sue Mallabon, communications coordinator
Mal Romanin, manager of baseball information 

Conversions:
Jake Grady, field technician
Scot Murdoch, manager, conversions
Tony Mucha, field technician
Craig Noakes, field technician 

Events:
Cara Henry, manager, event planning
Rebecca Leighton, manager, event planning
Lesley Lovell, director, events
Joe Novak, senior director, event production
Lori Parker, executive assistant, group sales events 

Facilities:
Marion Farrell, administrative assistant, stadium operations and security
Wayne Sills, director, facility services 

Finance
Joseph Roach, manager, ticket receipts and vault services, 

Marketing:
April Whitzman, manager of digital marketing 

Merchandising
Mike Andrechuk, director, stadium merchandising
Teresa Michalski, manager, Jays Shop Gate 5 

Show services:
Medlyn Parchment, coordinator, show services
Hernan Rosa, event set-up technician

Ticketing:
Kris Erickson, account executive, ticket sales and service
Ryan Gustavel, manager, group sales
Adam Hagerman, account executive, ticket sales and service
Ryan Stevenson, account executive, ticket sales and service
Andy Topolie, account executive, group sales