I strolled down the sidewalk alongside the Blue Jays’ spring complex, fresh notebook, new pen and empty digital recorder in tow, ready to begin another Spring Training. I said hello to the security guard, wandered up to the clubhouse door and gave the handle a tug.
“Hey!” came a shout.
I looked over at the batting cage.
“No media this year!”
Aaron Hill, smiling and in a joking mood already. I was on the scene for two minutes and already was being given a hard time. Ahhh, it’s good to be back. I headed over to the cage to meet up with Toronto’s second baseman.
“What’s up, brother?” said Hill, never one to hide his inner Californian.
We chatted for a few minutes and the security guard — an elderly fellow who sets up camp in a folding chair outside the clubhouse doors each and every spring — came over to join us for a moment. He extended his hand and greeted Hill.
“It’s good to see you,” said the guard. “I wanted to congratulate you on last season. You really were great.”
Hill, always modest, smiled and said, “Thanks.”
“Personally, I thought he’d be better,” I said.
“Hey, there’s always room for improvement,” he replied, then motioning to the other hitters in the cage. “That’s what I’m trying to tell all these young guys.”
And, that was the main theme today on Day 1 of camp for me. Hill, who is still only 27 years old, has been thrust into a leadership role with these rebuilding Blue Jays. There are a lot of young players in camp, and roughly half of the Opening Day roster is up for grabs, and Hill is excited for the opportunity that exists for many players.
“It’s a good time to be a Blue Jay,” is something Hill is quick to say.
Maybe not in terms of playoff hopes or high win totals. But, it’s a good time to be a Blue Jay in the sense that there are so many available jobs and so many young players with a shot at earning them. It is something that Hill hopes they all take very seriously this spring, which obviously is lacking ace Roy Halladay for the first time in years.
“I hope these guys know what kind of opportunity they have,” Hill said. “If I’m seeing it, I just hope that they see it. I love seeing guys really get after it and fight for it. I hate seeing young guys, or anybody, that just expects to be given something. You should always work for whatever it is — not just baseball.
“I want to see the edge, the fire in these guys’ eyes, to get out there and just kick some butt.”
- Most of the pitchers and catchers are already in camp. The only notable pitcher I did not see today was newly-signed Kevin Gregg. Beyond Hill, I saw Adam Lind and Travis Snider in camp today. I asked Hill is John McDonald had been in camp yet. Hill laughed and rolled his eyes. “We still have that guy?” he joked. “What’d we sign him to, an eight-year deal?” Don’t worry, it’s all in good fun. Everyone loves Johnny Mac.
- Chatted for a bit with new Blue Jays catcher John Buck, and he seems like he will be a good guy to have around. During bullpen sessions today, Buck caught Brandon Morrow and Toronto’s ’09 first-rounder Chad Jenkins. “They have some good arms here,” Buck said, eyes widening. “I mean, real legitimate arms with great secondary stuff.”
- Shaun Marcum threw in the bullpen today, as did Jesse Litsch, who isn’t expected to be ready to return until at least June or July. Dustin McGowan threw off the mound yesterday. Talked to him and he said, as has been reported for a while now, that he’s feeling great. He’s done five mound sessions so far and is hoping to make the team.
That’s all for today. Catch you guys from here tomorrow.