I randomly got a ticket to the The Leadoff: Fan Forum event for season ticket holders at the Rogers Centre on Thursday night (thanks Gary!) I went with my new buddy, Ruth. I had never attended the previous version before (known as State of the Franchise) though I had watched the online broadcast in the past.
The attendance was just over 2000 people, apparently twice as many people showed up this year over previous years, and the crowd felt excited and a bit wary. There was a lot of emphasis on the great year of 2015 and the highlight videos featuring David Price were booed. On offer with the food and booze was Rogers Centre popcorn, and I thought immediately of him:
— Joanna (@HumandChuck) February 5, 2016
Dan Shulman came out to talk to Buck Martinez about working together again. Shulman made a comment about old pictures of the journey of his hair loss. Honestly, Buck has enough hair for both of them. I would've loved to have asked about his hair routine, because he is follicly gifted.
I gained a lot of respect for Mark Shapiro last night and I feel a little bad that people have been so harsh on him when he clearly has a lot of good ideas and wants to help the Blue Jays succeed. His sweater, his New England twang and his declaration that he walks everywhere and just loves the city just made me like him. Maybe I'm soft, but he didn't give off the cool corporate vibe he is often accused of.
He and Atkins both seem to really want us to like them. I read on Twitter, in a tweet I can no longer find, someone describing Atkins as the teacher that wants to make learning fun. This was a bit of a record scratch:
Ross would take Josh over Trout. Ross might be drunk— Joanna (@HumandChuck) February 5, 2016
There was a guy behind us screaming aggressively "Spend the money!" any time Shapiro mentioned Donaldson, Encarnacion or Bautista. Like, that's the information Shapiro was missing. He knows now what he needs to do. The guy was doing it so seriously and aggressively, I was a little afraid.
John Gibbons remains a treasure to the Toronto Blue Jays, baseball and every good thing there is. He wore a brown leather (possibly suede) suit jacket, jeans, possibly a denim shirt and cowboy boots. I got a good view of the boots because he was actively lounging for much of it. As per Twitter, it's his "Rancho Relaxo" look. He grinned, he lounged and he quipped about the standing O he got, "What a difference a year makes!" He had an easy rapport with Buck Martinez and Dan Shulman. So easy that here is my pitch for a new show:
They do a variation of those ride along videos that Kevin Hart and Ice Cube do, but it's just Gibby and Buck Martinez bantering and talking baseball. Low overhead, just a car and a camera, but sponsor the crap out of it. Buck could talk about his book and Gibby could pretend to have read his book. It's GOLD.
Kevin Pillar, the first active player to ever appear on one of these things, wore a beige suit jacket, with a blue pocket square, a flowered shirt, pin roll cuffed jogger pants, black smoking slippers and a giant watch. And because someone has to with Paul Beeston gone, he didn't wear socks. The pieces are a bit silly, but the sum of it seemed to work for him. It's a little European. He's a 27 year old with a bit of cash, with a fade haircut and a trimmed beard. He wants to look fly.
Pillar was the perfect combination of passionate and affable when talking about 2015, the team, the playoffs and his amazing catches. It might've been my imagination, but he seemed quite emotional when talking about the fans, the city, about how close the team was last year and his breakout performance. Pillar described the team as being full of "hard workers and believers." He really seemed to care. And given that I also care, it's nice to have that reflected back.
I gained a lot of respect for this guy over the last year. Pillar was not the starting CF out of spring training. He took this opportunity and worked his ass off to make the most of it. Pillar shut down his critics and has become a vital part of the team. I wish he'd work his at bats a little bit more and consider swinging at more strikes, but I guess it's good to have tasks to work on in a new season.
The issue I had with an event like this is that it's far too controlled and the pre-chosen audience questions were just not worth any attention. Someone asked Kevin Pillar whether he thought the Jays could win the World Series. What did they imagine he'd say? "No. We got really close last year, but this year we are going to take it easy. We aren't good enough. We are just going to burn your money and laugh." The boy is going to say yes. He might elaborate and offer some different details, but it's going to point to yes.
Someone asked Gibbons if the Jays were going to try to win more games in April this year. What do you think he's going to say? First of all, even if it were true, which it isn't, he would never admit to not trying to win games in April. Second of all, of course he's going to say winning in April is important. He's not going to say, "Games in April are worthless. I prefer having to mount a massive comeback. Of course, we may come up just short, but I like it that way. It makes me feel alive."
I shouldn't be able to answer the question before the talent does. This amount of control just makes it all a little remote.
While I was waiting to talk to Shapiro, I heard a guy bring up the roof being closed in April with him. This issue comes up every year and it drives me up the wall. Here is the deal: the awe inspiring technology is now 27 years old and it gets a little temperamental. Weather in Toronto in April is also temperamental. If it happens to snow or rain and the roof gets stuck open, they are screwed. The drainage is an issue. Also, the MLB has a pretty active say in it, too. Now, this is not new information. It has been covered extensively for years in the media and by the Jays as an organization. Stop asking Shapiro about it. He doesn't control the technology and he doesn't control the elements.
Also, if the roof stays open, there is no need for "The Josh Donaldson Roof Report" , which is by far the greatest in-game video they have. I honestly think he should've gotten the MVP just for that.
Shapiro mingled with a smallish crowd after the event. Ruth and I got a pic. Ruth has a Blackberry and Shapiro gently mocked it. I said, "Easy there, it's a Canadian company." And he said, "Oh, I know, I know. It does a lot of good stuff. It just isn't good for pictures." He so wants to be pals.
It's kind of a ridiculous picture. We look radioactive. I should not have stood closest to the camera, as I look about seven feet tall (and at least half that wide). Shapiro is actually taller than me (and isn't a stranger to the gym.) I joked with Ruth that this was basically us:
Big Dog and Little Dog meet Mark Shapiro.
I also explained to Barry Davis was hum and chuck meant. His mind was blown.
All of these pictures are by John Lott, who is back to covering the Jays for Vice Sports. He also had much better seats than I did.
This week in "Ballplayers in the Wild."
I maybe saw Joey Votto on the subway. I got on at Union, going north towards Downsview. I always look at people on the platform. I look at fashion and faces. And make sure to stay away from possible pushers. And I see a good looking guy, and think, "He looks like someone I know.... do I know him maybe?" (Yes, I know every handsome man in Toronto.) I get off the train at Osgoode and walk past cars and see the guy again. We make eye contact and he looks at me like he might know me and watches me as I walk past. (Now, I don't think I'm so important that Joey Votto would know me but I did just meet him three weeks ago at an event that had maybe five women in attendance and I did talk to him. So recognition might be at "that girl...." or he's scrubbed the entire encounter from his mind.) I head up the stairs and think, "Was that Votto?" He was wearing a toque, so I couldn't see his hair. Someone told me on Twitter that he works out in the offseason at U of T, so the route makes sense. Let's just pretend it was. "Joey Votto rides the TTC" should maybe also be a show.