February 2007

Pack it up

Meeting_6 This was the sight before noon on Wednesday, when the Blue Jays gathered one last time at the Bobby Mattick Training Center for a spring workout. After some rounds of catch, a few swings during batting practice and some conditioning drills, Toronto pulled up the stakes and moved south to Knology Park.

On Thursday, the Jays host their first Grapefruit League game of Spring Training. Roy Halladay is slated to take the hill for two innings against the Red Sox, who aren’t likely to send many of their regulars. As for the Jays, projected starters Reed Johnson (stiff back), Alex Rios (tender shoulder) and Frank Thomas (taking things slowly this first week) aren’t expected to be in the lineup.

Here’s who are tentatively penciled in: first baseman Lyle Overbay, second baseman Aaron Hill, shortstop Royce Clayton, third baseman Troy Glaus, catcher Gregg Zaun, center fielder Vernon Wells, Adam Lind (left field), Matt Stairs (right field and possibly Curtis Thigpen (designated hitter). As with every spring, the starters will probably play a handful of innings before hitting the showers.

Scheduled to pitch: Halladay (two innings), and one inning each from B.J. Ryan, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo, Ty Taubenheim and Ryan Houston. Boston is sending lefty Kason Gabbard to the mound as its starter.

LEAGUE UPDATE: The alarms aren’t blaring yet in regards to the health of right-hander Brandon League, but manager John Gibbons didn’t sound too optimistic when he discussed the situation on Wednesday. League, who entered camp as the leading candidate for the setup job, has been dealing with tightness near his throwing shoulder.

"Everything pretty much right now is revolving around League," Gibbons said. "Hopefully, he’ll be ready. If not, it shouldn’t be too long after the start of the season. That’s the biggest concern right now."

That’s all for now. There are some new photos (Halladay, Gibbons, GM J.P. Ricciardi and Phils GM Pat Gillick chatting today, Tomo Ohka, and Pat Hentgen, among others) in the Spring Training Photo Album. I probably won’t be able to take as many pics now that games are starting.

More to come tomorrow from Knology Park. Stay tuned…

IN CLOSING:

The photo below, taken by Mike Cassese (Reuters), was the subject of some debate today:

GibbyohkaWe were trying to decipher what exactly Gibbons was discussing with Japanese pitcher Tomo Ohka.

Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star: "He’s describing Godzilla."

Jeremy Sandler of the National Post: "He’s asking, ‘Which one smells better?’"

When Gibbons showed up in the media work room for today’s sit down with the press, I asked him if he remembered what was going on during the exchange. He looked at the photo, laughed, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Man, I don’t know. Maybe I was saying, ‘I thought you’d be taller,’" Gibbons said with a chuckle.

What are some captions that you would put with that photo?   

Almost There

Jp_1There’s just one more day left before Toronto kicks off its Grapefruit League schedule. On Wednesday, the Jays will file into the Bobby Mattick Training Center one last time for another round of BP and some other minor drills. It’s bound to be a quick day, ending with the big leaguers clearing out of camp and moving a few miles south to Knology Park.

On Tuesday, Toronto held its second intrasquad game of the spring. Today’s score? I couldn’t tell you. Us scribes were paying close attention to a few pitchers, and then needed to catch up with some players who were wandering back to the clubhouse during the game. The bottom line: for the most part, the pitchers have looked strong this spring. A.J. Burnett and John Thomson each started on Tuesday, and Josh Towers and Victor Zambrano made appearances, too.

Zambrano is quickly emerging as one of the better stories in Jays camp — aside from the improbable journey to a Major League invite by Brazilian Jo Matumoto. Zambrano continues to rapidly recover from the reconstructive elbow surgery he had last May, and there’s an outside chance he could crack Toronto’s bullpen. His comeback would be quicker if he came back as a reliever.

OTHER BITS: Alex Rios sat out on Tuesday and Toronto manager John Gibbons said he’ll probably use the outfielder as a DH in the first few games. Rios is battling a tender right shoulder, which bothers him while throwing — not while hitting. … Gibbons said DH Frank Thomas might not play the first few games. Gibbons said he wants to see what kind of schedule Thomas would like to be on. … Right-hander Brandon League threw for about 10 minutes on flat ground on Tuesday, and could be back on a mound in a few days. He’s had tightness near his right shoulder. "I feel good. I felt better," League said as he walked into the clubhouse after playing catch.

UPDATE: I added a few photos to the Spring Training Photo Album. There’s a few shots of closer B.J. Ryan, Vernon Wells, and one of general manager J.P. Ricciardi (shown above).

I’m calling it a night. I just got back from downing some great Chinese food at P.F. Chang’s in Tampawith Shi Davidi of the Canadian Press and Mike Wilner of The Fan590. Changs is one of my all-time favorite restaurants to hit up on road trips. I’ve Changed it up in Tampa, Orlando, Seattle, Boston, Denver, and Kansas City now. What’s funny is there’s one in Chicago, where I’m originally from, and one in East Lansing, Mich., where I attended Michigan State, but I didn’t experience Changs until I got on the baseball beat last year.

And since I know you all care so much about how much I like a particular restaurant (sarcasm), I’m going to turn in. Stay tuned for more…

Here's the pitch…

Over the last two weeks, the sounds of spring have been arriving. First came the popping of baseballs being fired into gloves when pitchers and catchers began their workouts. Then came the crack of the bat when position players started to trickle in to the batting cages. Today, we finally heard the "Striiiiiiii!" call of an umpire, who was behind the plate for Toronto’s first intrasquad game of Spring Training.

TEAM 1 STARTERS: Reed Johnson, LF; Russ Adams, 2B; Lyle Overbay, 1B; Gregg Zaun, C; Jason Smith, 3B; John-Ford Griffin, RF; Chad Mottola, DH; Sergio Santos, SS; Jeff Duncan, CF; and RHP Dustin McGowan starting, followed by Casey Janssen, Blaine Neal, Josh Banks and Tracy Thorpe in relief.

TEAM 2 STARTERS: John McDonald, SS; Adam Lind, LF; Vernon Wells, CF; Alex Rios, DH; Aaron Hill, 2B; Kevin Barker, 1B; Jason Phillips, C; John Hattig, 3B; Mike Vento, CF; and RHP Tomo Ohka starting, followed by Ty Taubenheim, Ryan Houston, Ismael Ramirez, Matt Roney and Brian Wolfe in relief.

BOX:         123 456 FINAL
TEAM 2
— 000 000 — 0
TEAM 1 — 100 100 — 2

BOTTOM OF THE FIRST: Johnson led off the inning with a single to right field against Ohka, and then he moved to third base on a single by Adams. Overbay than sliced a ball into shallow left field to score Johnson.

BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH: After retiring Smith, and throwing five consecutive strikes, Ramirez faltered with his control and walked Griffin with one out. Including the four straight balls to Griffin, eight of Ramirez’s last 15 pitches were balls. Catcher Sal Fasano doubled to the right-center gap, but Griffin held at third base. Eric Kratz came in to hit and subsequently singled home Griffin.

That did it for the scoring. This game was dominated by pitching. Taubenheim looked great, retiring three quick outs in the second with just 10 pitches — eight for strikes. He tallied the game’s first two strikeouts. Rosario (9 pitches-6 strikes), Janssen (13-10), Houston (13-11) and Neal (14-12) all looked solid, too.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS: On the first play of the game, Adams made a spectacular diving grab to his left into the hole between first and second base. Unfortunately, he then misfired the ball wildly out of Overbay’s reach, allowing McDOnald to reach first. Adams made up for it, though, turning a sweet-looking 6-4-3 double play with Santos to end the inning.

After Fasano reached third base on Kratz’s single in the fourth, the catcher attempted to score on a line drive out to deep center field off the bat of Rob Cosby. Minor Leaguer Aaron Mathews fired a bullet to home plate, beating Fasano by a few steps.

In the third, McDonald hit a hard grounder up the middle that bounced off Janssen’s left ankle. The baseball flew toward first base and McDonald was retired easily. Janssen was checked out by Toronto’s medical staff and was able to walk away fine.

FEELING SORE: Seeing Rios in as the DH looked a bit odd, but it is just an intrasquad game in the early portion of the spring. When I saw him playing catch with team trainer George Poulis before the game, I wondered if something was up. Apparently it isn’t anything serious, otherwise Rios wouldn’t have been in the game at all. But Jays manager John Gibbons said the right fielder has been bothered by a tender right shoulder for the past two weeks. We didn’t hear about it until Monday.

MANANA: Toronto will have a second intrasquad game at 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla. Roy Halladay will not be pitching, seeing as he threw in a side session on Monday. He is slated to start the Grapefruit League opener against Boston on Thursday at Knology Park. Pitchers A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Gustavo Chacin, John Thomson, Josh Towers and Victor Zambrano, along with some others, are scheduled to pitch in Tuesday’s game.

ROTATION: After Halladay on Thursday, the Jays plan on sending Chacin, Burnett, Thomson and Towers to the hill as the starters in the following four games. Ohka will piggyback Burnett on Saturday, and Shaun Marcum will follow Thomson in Sunday’s game against the D-Rays in St. Petersburg. Halladay and Burnett are still in line to be the Nos. 1-2 starters come Opening Day.

That about does it for today’s intrasquad blog coverage. Considering who’s pitching tomorrow, the pitchers will probably still be ahead of the hitters. Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Matt Stairs and Troy Glaus will still be sitting out on Tuesday. Nothing’s wrong with them, Gibbons is just letting the veterans get some extra rest before the exhibition games begin.

Stay tuned for more…

Follow the yellow brick road

ThomascarrollIt’s not every day that you come across a living piece of history, but that’s what happened on Sunday at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Mickey Carroll, who stands just 4-foot-7, showed up at Toronto’s spring site with one goal: to meet The Big Hurt. Not only did Carroll want to meet Frank Thomas, but he had an autographed picture to present to the slugger.

Carroll brought along a stack of signed, black and white photos of the cast of the 1939 Hollywood classic, "The Wizard of Oz." Pictured in the lower, left corner was Carroll, who played the role of a munchkin and spoke one of the most famous lines in the movie. He recited it for us, in his best munchkin voice: "We thank you very sweetly, for doing it so neatly. Follow the yellow brick road."

Seeing Carroll standing next to Thomas was quite a sight and it instantly attracted a contingent of photographers and reporters. He is one of the last living cast members from the legendary film, in which he did all of the voices for the munchkins (the others spoke only German), and he provided the voice of Auntie Em.

Carroll’s roomate at Paramount? Ronald Reagan. His godfather? Al Capone. He grew up with Judy Garland, met Babe Ruth, and had a friendship with Ted Williams. Talk about an interesting life.

"I always wanted to meet him," said Carroll, referring to Thomas.

Thomas stayed after practice and spoke with Carroll for about 10-15 minutes before needing to get back to the clubhouse. Before leaving, Thomas reached down to shake Carroll’s hand and remarked, "He’s a big fan."

"You know, I could’ve been 7-feet tall, but there was no money in it," joked Carroll.

Crosby2_1HOCKEY NIGHT IN TAMPA: A couple Toronto writers and I took a night off from baseball and headed over to the St. Pete Times Forum to catch the Penguins/Lightning hockey game tonight. We couldn’t score tickets, because it was sold out, be we were able to get into the pressbox to watch the game from there. It was the first NHL game I’d been to in more than a decade — I’m American, remember? — and I was excited to see Sidney Crosby play. Well, he pretty much skated around for three periods, and didn’t do much else. He had an assist, but it was the second assist, so it wasn’t anything spectacular.

Tampa Bay won, 5-1, and two of the Lightning goals were in the net within the first five minutes, which was right before we showed up. We arrived six minutes in and had missed two goals, a fight, and we sat down just in time for a delay to replace some broken glass. Ain’t that how it always works?

Crosby3BACK TO BASEBALL: Munchkins, hockey, where’s the Blue Jays coverage? There’s another picture of Sidney Crosby on the left, but I did add about 10 new photos to the Toronto Spring Training photo album.

On Monday, Toronto will play the first of two intrasquad games — the second being on Tuesday. The younger pitchers will throw in the first game, which will probably be around six innings long. Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and the other Major League starters will pitch in Tuesday’s game. Thomas, Troy Glaus, Royce Clayton and Matt Stairs won’t play in either game. There’s nothing wrong with them, Jays manager John Gibbons just wants the veterans to take more time before jumping into games.

Gibbons also said Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, Burnett, John Thomson and Josh Towers are slated to start in the first five Grapefruit League games. Once the regular season starts, though, Halladay and Burnett will go back-to-back at the top of the rotation. Tomo Ohka will piggyback Burnett’s start on Saturday in Dunedin, Fla.

That’s all for right now. I have to hit the sack. A new edition of the Blue Jays mailbag will hit bluejays.com some time tomorrow. Remember to get your questions into bluejaysmailbag@gmail.com if you want something to be considered for inclusion. Stay tuned for more…

2007 Spring Training

Sights of Spring

I thought it would be fitting to bring my camera with me to the Bobby Mattick Training Center today for the Blue Jays’ photo day. My wife bought me a nice digital camera for Christmas, and one of the reaons I wanted a new one was to occasionally take some photos for this blog. Between interviews, I watched some fielding drills, batting practice and bullpen sessions, and snapped some shots along the way. Here’s some pictures from Friday’s walk around camp:

Gibbons_4No Spring Training workout is complete without the watchful eye of the manager. Here’s Jays skipper John Gibbons surveying a few of his infielders turning double plays. Royce Clayton, John McDonald, Jason Smith and Sergio Santos workout out at shortstop, while Aaron Hill, Russ Adams and Ray Olmedo covered the ground over at second base. Believe it or not, The Big Hurt — Frank Thomas — was digging out throws over at first base.

Thomasfirst_2

You probably didn’t realize that the big man could still get down so low, huh? Here’s Thomas (right) getting ready to scoop up a throw from short. After practice, someone asked Gibbons if he’d consider using Thomas at first at all this year. The answer, accompanied by a slight chuckle, was no.

Clayton_2I have to say that Royce Clayton (left) looks younger than his years. He’s lean, athletic, and from what I’ve seen in practice, is still smooth with the glove at short. He also seems like a really good guy, and a player that the fans should have an easy time liking. You have to respect a man who has four kids ages three and under — that’s including a set of triplets! Needless to say, Clayton is plenty busy during his offseasons in Arizona with his wife, Samantha. The Jays brought Clayton in with a one-year deal, which means the middle infield will likely take on another new look next season.

Hill_2

Here’s Aaron Hill (right) turning a 4-6-3 double play. Hill can finally come into camp knowing that the Jays don’t have any plans on moving him in between positions this season. But, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d be back at shortstop in 2008. Toronto hasn’t given up on Adams, yet, and he’s receiving continued training at second base.

Riosbp_5 Here’s a shot I took of Alex Rios (left) getting ready to make contact with a ball during batting practice. One of my favorite times during a baseball season is when the big leaguers start taking batting practice in the early weeks of Spring Training. That’s when it really starts to feel like baseball season is back after a long winter.

Thomaswatching_2 Here’s The Big Hurt (right) watching BP. He hit in the first group with Reed Johnson, Rios, and Vernon Wells. Could that grouping be an indication of who the first four hitters in the lineup will be? Perhaps. On paper, that appears to be who will be in the Nos. 1-4 slots. Both Thomas and Glaus are fine with the other being the cleanup hitter. It’s possible that Lyle Overbay could hit fifth, and Glaus sixth, too.

Thomasbp_2Here’s Thomas (left) connecting on a pitch during BP. I don’t know how many times we can all reiterate this, but the man is gigantic. I’m only 5-foot-8, but I feel about 4’3” whenever Thomas walks by me. I had a good conversation with him this morning. When we both sat down on the same side of a picnic table to chat, part of me wondered if the table might tip over. I survived.

Wellsshades_2

Here’s center fielder Vernon Wells sporting some shades and waiting for his turn in the cage. Players began stretching for the workout today a little before noon and Wells was delayed by a few minutes due to a photo session. When Wells walked onto the field, Matt Stairs — quickly becoming the vocal joker on the squad — chirped, "What, you get a $100 million contract and you think you can just show up whenever you want?"

The big story of the day, though, was the arrival of 36-year-old Brazilian pitcher Jo Matumoto, who is of Japanese descent. After years of toiling away in the Japan industrial leagues and then gaining little notice with the Brazil national team, Matumoto’s wife sent a desperate e-mail to agent Randy Hendricks, who represents Roger Clemens. Hendricks arranged a tryout for an Independant League team, but they were so impressed, they decided to let Matumoto try his luck in front of Major League scouts instead.

Matumoto1_4On Wednesday, the Jays watched Matumoto (left, pitching in front of Toronto coaches Ernie Whitt and Brad Arnsberg) throw at Jesuit High School in Tampa and they decided to give him a chance. Friday marked just his fifth time on a mound since December. Matumoto had no one to catch him in Brazil, so he whipped baseballs against a wall in order to keep his arm in shape. He needs to build up his arm strength, but Toronto plans on starting him at either Double-A or maybe even Triple-A. Matumoto speaks three languages, but not English. So his wife, Maria Fernanda De Luca, translated for reporters in an emotional interview with the pitcher today. Matumoto was about to give up his dream of pitching in the Majors only a year ago. Now, he is on the verge of realizing that dream with the Jays.

Matumoto2_1 Matumoto doesn’t have high velocity, but he has a unique sidearm delivery that can be deceptive, especially against left-handed hitters. He also throws a changeup that he described as being more like a screwball — he learned it from a Cuban pitcher.

The best line of the day came from his wife, who said, "If he succeeds and this becomes a movie some day, it’ll start with him living in the jungle, throwing coconuts. Matumoto definitely is the type of heartwarming underdog story that you truly hope has a happy ending.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the photos. I’ll try to do more picture taking throughout the spring. But probably not as much once games begin. Stay tuned for more…

Not again…

If only HillenGate would just die. A few days after Tampa was consumed with a major non-story — Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter’s diminishing friendship — another issue was pulled out of the old news filing cabinet.

Shea Hillenbrand spewed some more anti-Toronto sentiments onto the notepad of Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott and his remarks subsequently made the rounds at the Bobby Mattick Training Complex on Thursday. I don’t blame Bob, if I were in Arizona, I’d be hunting down all the recent ex-Jays, too. But all Shea had to do was take the old "no comment route."

Actually, if you read the article, an interesting part if what sent Hillenbrand into his most recent Jays-bashing session: "And to think his conversation with the Sun started off with the probing question: "Have you been following your old team?""

The only new developments from the story (if you’re going to take Hillenbrand at his word. Remember, this is the guy who denied the on-air comments he made about Boston GM Theo Epstein after being traded by the Red Sox) were that Jays hitting coach Mickey Brantley apparently was the one who told manager John Gibbons about the whiteboard exchange between Shea and catcher Gregg Zaun, and Hillenbrand actually copped to writing "This is a sinking ship." He also denied that previously.

The most attacking thing he said was that Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi "tried to bury me. J.P. will deny it, but he told my agent, Dan Lozano, they’d bury me … keep cutting down on my playing time, unless I got in line." This coming from a guy that played in 81 games and had 296 ABs through July 14 with Toronto. That doesn’t exactly sound like they were cutting his playing time. He wasn’t happy for a long time about serving as the designated hitter, though.

Everyone around Jays camp just wants this issue to be done with. When I asked Zaun if he could go back and change anything about his whiteboard write-off with Shea, he said he regretted not just erasing what was written and leaving it alone. Instead, someone saw the message, word got to Gibbons, who then confronted Hillenbrand in a players-only meeting.

That of course led to Hillenbran’s depature. Now, if the story would just die, too.

GETTING CONCERNED: Brandon League sat out of today’s workout due to a sore shoulder. Gibbons said that Toronto’s medical staff was going to look at it to see if it was anything serious. League also turned some heads — not in a good way — when he was throwing from a slightly lower arm slot the other day in the bullpen. Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg also expressed to me that he doesn’t believe the setup job is sitting there waiting for League:

"I think the job is kind of up for grabs with the experience that [Jason] Frasor has," Arnsberg said. "He has a little bit more time on the mound and quite a few more big league innings and big league outings. I don’t think it’s actually that we’re handing that job to Brandon. He’s going to have to open our eyes and show us that he’s not intimidated out there.

"You can’t forget that this [Frasor] saved 17 games two years ago and then had a tremendous season the next year. He had a couple stumbles last year — a couple hiccups here and there — but when he came back up that last time, he was really good. I think [League and Frasor] will battle it out and it’s one of those may the best man win."

BULLPEN BITS: Jeremy Accardo, who was acquired in the trade that sent Hillenbrand to the Giants, isn’t a lock for the ‘pen either. Ricciardi told me today that "He’s fighting for a job." Francisco Rosario is out of options and will probably be considered for a spot. Gibbons has also expressed that he believes Shaun Marcum will have a job in the ‘pen if he isn’t a starter. That being said, B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet (out of options), Frasor, League and Marcum seem to be virtual locks. Accardo and Rosario seem to be leading the pack for the final slot. Pete Walker and Victor Zambrano might be considered down the road, but I don’t think they’ll make the Opening Day bullpen.

BATTER’S EYE: "He had tremendous movement on his ball," Zaun said about facing new pitcher John Thomson. "It’s very deceptive. I told him after he got finished that there were a couple of pitches that fooled me, where I couldn’t even see the spin. That’s huge, because as a hitter, we try to pick up spin as early as we can."

HE SAID IT:  "I was a free agent one time and I had a GM tell my agent that as long as he was in this game, I would never play for his team. I have to tell you, I deserved it. I wasn’t a real great guy when I was with that particular team. I was young and stupid and I said and did a lot of dumb things. But over time, I was able to stay around in the game and kind of remake myself — kind of grow up and learn that there’s just certain things you do and certain things you don’t. Certain things you say and certain things you don’t." –Zaun, in response to the Hillenbrand debacle

QUOTABLE: "You don’t need shaggers during that session." –Gibbons, referring to how many hitters had their bats broken by pitchers Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan on Thursday

WATCH OUT: While sitting in the work room today, a ball flew over the left-field fence on field No. 2 and we heard it bouncing on the roof above our heads. I don’t know who hit it, but that was a  L  O  N  G way from home plate.

Ohkamania

We all started to wonder why we were waiting so long. More than an hour had passed from the time Tomo Ohka headed into the clubhouse to go through a workout, and us reporters continued to stand outside, soaking up the sun as we pondered why this was a story in need of our immediate attention.

As the minutes passed by, though, the story quickly became how contrasting this interview was in comparison to Sunday’s Matsuzaka mayhem in Fort Myers. That’s where more than 200 media members, including 100-plus Japanese reporters, were on hand for Daisuke (pronounced Dice-K, thus, the nickname) Matsuzaka’s first bullpen session with the Red Sox.

In Dunedin, it was eight of us Toronto reporters and seven members of the Japanese press. But, as we soon learned, it was a larger showing that when Ohka broke into the Majors with the Red Sox in 1999. Ohka said that nobody was there when he first came over from Japan.

Ohka understood why there was such hype surrounding Dice-K: "He just came here. He’s special for the Japanese." But he also sounded a bit surprised by how much attention the new Boston pitcher has received: "It’s crazy. I saw him on TV. He just threw in the bullpen. Nothing happened."

Ohka has sort of flown under the radar, as far as having a following of Japanese press, since coming to the Major Leagues. He certainly hasn’t received even remotely near the amount of attention that players like Matsuzaka, Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo, or even someone like Hideki Irabu received when he came over. There’s one story about Ohka refusing to speak to Japanese reporters during his time in Milwaukee, because they never made the effort to talk to him at any other time.

Knowing that, we wondered if we were witnessing a repeat of that when Ohka emerged from Toronto’s clubhouse. He said, "No, no," and shooed away the Japanese reporters when he first came out. It turned out that he just wanted to meet with the Toronto, English-speaking, press first. He conducted the interview with the Japanese press corps second, and concluded it with the customary exchange of multiple bows.

Also on hand was Canadian Matt Stairs, who is in line to be Toronto’s fourth outfielder/backup DH/backup first baseman. Stairs spends his offseasons in Bangor, Maine, where he coaches high school hockey and plays in a recreational men’s league. "It’s supposed to be a gentlemen’s league, but you get some guys out there where it’s like Hockey Night in Canada. The only thing we’re missing is Don Cherry," Stairs laughed.

FUNNY MOMENT OF THE DAY: After batting practice, some players got in a group to decide where to go next. They opted to split up and head in different directions. Stairs then said, "Where do backup DHs go?" which caused quite a bit of laughter from his new teammates. Frank Thomas — three months younger than the (soon-to-be) 39-year-old Stairs — responded with: "Old guys over there," waving a bat towards the clubhouse.

ALL IN: All of Toronto’s 59 players are now in camp. Besides Ohka and Stairs, Jason Smith and Ray Olmedo were among the new arrivals on Wednesday. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Thursday — pitchers and catchers in the morning, position players aiming for an 11:30 am start after their physicals. Intrasquad games are on deck for Monday and Tuesday.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: Thomas was in Las Vegas — his home — during the recent NBA All-Star game, but he didn’t attend the festivities. He said that the city was as wild as he’d ever seen it: "That place was too crazy. I’ve never seen Las Vegas like that. It was unbelievable. That place was packed until six in the morning on the strip. It was crazy. It was a strange crowd — they were partiers."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "No, I’m not tired — just a little bit sleepy." – Ohka, who traveled 15 hours from Tokyo to Washington to Tampa on Tuesday

Jays extend Gibbons

Technically, it’s not official, but it’s close enough to being official that Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi and manager John Gibbons were willing to discuss it. "It" being the one-year contract extension that the Jays are giving to Gibbons.

Gibbons is currently under contract for $500,000 in 2007, and the new deal would pay him $650,000 in ’08. Instead of looking at it as simply a one-year contract, Ricciardi preferred to view it as a two-year deal, considering the contract covers the next two seasons.

Ricciardi also said that the run-ins that Gibbons had with former players Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand last year had no bearing on the length of the contract, or on how long it took to put together. Ricciardi said the club waited until the spring so that Gibbons could spend more time with his late father this past winter witout having to worry about any ongoing negotiations. His dad, William, passed away of cancer in January.

So that was the big news of the day. The contract should be officially announced later this week — maybe later. It’s virtually done. Ricciardi said the rest of the coaches, who are signed through ’07, will have their contracts dealt with at the end of the year.

The sun was finally out today and at lunch time there were no clouds in sight. By the time I left the Bobby Mattick Training Center, the temperature guage in my car said it was 64 degrees fahrenheit. Needless to say, it was a much more enjoyable day of work.

In camp today were former Jays pitchers, and now guest coaches, Pat Hentgen and Dave Stieb. We were joking that they might just jump into the mix for the open jobs at the back end of the rotation. "I was kidding them both today. ‘Hey, get loose you guys,’" laughed Ricciardi.

Victor Zambrano — coming off Tommy John surgery — arrived to camp today and threw off a mound. He said he feels close to 100 percent, but Toronto is still going to take it slow with him. Pete Walker — coming off shoulder surgery — also threw and could be in the mix for a bullpen spot. Gibbons and Ricciardi had nothing but positive things to say about both pitchers. Tomo Ohka is expected to arrive in Florida on Tuesday, and should be in camp on Wednesday.

Windy City

Us non-baseball folk scooted between the comforts of the media workroom or clubhouse and the baseball diamonds today — mainly keeping to the places that were, well, indoors. The wind was howling at the Bobby Mattick Training Center and the Blue Jays kept their workout short, sticking with PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice drills) and taking a day off from throwing off the mounds.

At around 11 a.m., when the pitchers and catchers were about an hour into their workout, Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield made his way into the complex. That’s a load off for the rest of the coaching staff, who have grown accustomed to having Butter lead the charge as far as setting up the daily schedule. Snowy weather slowed his travel from Maine to Dunedin.

Not a whole lot to report today. Brandon League (tight hammy) was back on the fields today, showing no ill effects from his very minor injury. Pitchers Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano still aren’t in camp (visa issues), but they should be arriving some time in the next few days. Pitchers will take the hills again on Monday.

Toronto manager John Gibbons offered his praise today for catcher Jason Phillips, saying he "has an edge" over Sal Fasano for the backup job. One plus to keeping Phillips on board is his ability to also spell Lyle Overbay occasionally at first base. Fasano will certainly try to win the job, but he’s also indicated that playing in Triple-A is fine with him. Besides, it’s practically inevitable that any team will need a third catcher at some point during any season.

Speaking of Fasano, who — like me — is a native Chicagoan, he was in attendance for the Bears’ Super Bowl loss to the Colts earlier this month. Fasano is a season ticket holder in Chicago, and had much better things to say about his seats at Soldier Field than where he was sitting (and getting drenched by the rain) in Miami. He was obviously upset about the loss, but there were some good moments, such as Devin Hester’s opening kickoff return for a touchdown: "I had already lost my voice by that point," Fasano said.

That’s all for now. How about a question for you all to dicuss: Who would you like to see win the final open job in the bullpen? Candidates include, not in any particular order, Pete Walker, Shaun Marcum, Davis Romero, Francisco Rosario, maybe Josh Towers. Guys like Matt Roney or Geremi Gonzalez could be darkhorses for the job, too.

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