He was in the batting cage taking swings and he was in the outfield shagging flies. He was joking around and smiling and looked a bit trimmer, even if he said he actually reduced his offseason workload. Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells arrived to camp.
One question entering camp was, “Who would replace Doc Halladay as the clear team leader?”
Over the past few years, Wells has been a clubhouse leader — there is no question about that. But, he even admitted on Wednesday that he felt like the team was only “partly” his because Halladay obviously filled the leadership role. Now, as Wells arrives in camp as the longest-tenured Jay, things are different.
Since we’ve been down here, it’s been clear that Aaron Hill has been ready and willing to step up as a leader for this young group. Manager Cito Gaston said Hill is willing to be vocal, if needed, and he’s even had the younger guys in full uniform before it’s required. That, and Hill’s comments to the media have already shown his feelings on this group.
“I hope these guys know what kind of opportunity they have,” Hill told me on Thursday. “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.”
Asked whether he or Hill were going to be the team’s leader, Wells smiled.
“I’ve got him on that one,” Wells said. “It’s weird. It’s one of the first times that I’ve felt like this is my team.”
The reality is that there is plenty of room for both Wells and Hill to become veteran voices in the room for the Jays, and that is a great thing for the ballclub. With so many young players, Toronto needs some guys to fill the lead-by-example void created by Doc’s departure.
Wells did have more to say…
On general manager Alex Anthopoulos: “I think he’s been amazing. To come in and make the kind of changes he made in your first year as the GM is impressive. He’s got a direction that he wants to take this organization in and I think everybody is on board with it and everybody is looking forward to it. It’s an exciting time, even though there could be a step backwards at certain points.”
On whether the Jays are rebuilding: “I think ‘retooling’ is a better word. We’ve got guys that are close. We’ve got some young arms that got some experience last year and it’s a period of getting to where we need to be. Whether that’s now or next year, we’re building toward something. We’re building toward an organization that can be strong for years instead of a year or two.”
On working out less over the winter: “I gave my old body a chance to reover over the offseason. I did some working out, but I think now it’s just a matter of gearing up for April. I think over the last couple of offseasons I’ve been gearing up for February and kind of wearing down.”
On suggestions that his defense has declined: “I don’t know. Apparently there’s mathematics that can go along with catching a fly ball or something. I don’t know. I just say ask the pitchers that are on the mound and ask the guys that are hitting in the box and they’ll answer that question for you.”
On his wrist problems: “The real pain didn’t really come until about three weeks in the offseason. Once the cortisone shots and the anti-inflammatories were out of my system, it hurt to turn a wheel. So I said, ‘I should probably get this looked at again. They went in and looked at it and said, ‘Let’s get it cleaned out.’ I saw the before and after images and it was pretty neat. I got to see the inside of my wrist and it looks normal again.
“There was just fraying and it was inflamed. It was pretty ugly. I don’t know. I learned some different things about the wrist and tendons and everything else that goes along in there. I’m a little smarter because of it and it’s taken the slice out of my golf swing, so that’s good.”
On the team’s expectations for 2010: “We’ve got guys that can play. I think it’s been lost obviously with what the Yankees have been able to do, what the Red Sox have been able to do, what the Rays have been able to do in our division. We’re not going to put any limitations or expectations on what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out and play hard and at the end of the day just look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘You know what? We did what we could to help this team win today,’ and move forward.”
On late-season clubhouse issues: “I think a lot of things kind of got blown out of proportion with that. It’s a family. Youre around guys for almost 200 days including Spring Training and you’re going to have issues regardless of who it is. You deal with them in-house and unfortunately this got out, but I don’t think it was any bigger than anything else that goes on in any other clubhouses.”
On losing Roy Halladay: “It’ll be different. It’ll be different playing in center field and every fifth day not seeing No. 32 on the mound. But, to be honest with you, those were boring days for me. I didn’t do much in the outfield. I’d yell at him sometimes, but he wouldn’t hear me.”
GUESS THAT BLUE JAY:
Which player is wearing these custom-made shoes?
ANSWER AT BOTTOM OF POST
BIRD FEED: That picture right there is the precise moment when Gaston approached Adam Lind to discuss where the young designated hitter will hit in the batting order this season. Gaston has decided to keep Lind in the No. 3 spot. As the manager told reporters, he told Lind, “Why mess with it?” Gaston also talked to Hill about keeping the second baseman in the No. 2 hole for 2010. Gaston said, “Hill is a great kid. He said, ‘I’ll hit anywhere, even sixth if you want.” … Gaston said he will not play Wells or third baseman Edwin Encarnacion in a game until he is absolutely certain that are 100-percent recovered from the wrist surgeries they had over the winter. … Anthopoulos has been in the Dominican Republic this week scouting different players. The Jays watched Cuban first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz workout and the free agent is expected to make a decision about where to sign in the coming days. … Pitchers threw bullpen sessions on Wednesday and Gaston was impressed with what he saw from righty Dustin McGowan, who hasn’t pitched in a game since July 2008 due to health woes. If McGowan proves to be a legit contender for the rotation? “That’d be a great, great surprise for us,” Gaston said. … Gaston noted that Randy Ruiz (not in camp yet) and Brian Dopirak were definitely in the mix for a 1B/DH role with the Jays. If one made the team, they could be used as a DH on days when Lind played left field or at first base if Lyle Overbay needed a day off. Gaston said Ruiz and Dopirak’s chances of making the team would drastically improve if the Jays felt outfielder Travis Snider needed more time in the Minors to open the year. That would necessitate moving Lind back to LF regularly. … Gaston noted that Toronto will most likely open the year with 12 pitchers and 13 position players, which has become the common breakdown for MLB clubs these days.
GARFOOSE SIGHTING: Blue Jays reliever Dirk Hayhurst, who has been banished to the disabled list with a bum right shoulder, emerged from the training room and showed off his upcoming book to reporters today. “The Bullpen Gospels” hits book stores on March 30 and is definitely worth a read. I read it over the offseason and enjoyed it. I wouldn’t keep mentioning it if I thought it wasn’t good. I swear.
QUOTEABLE: “I think they’re capable of doing it. Expected to do it? No, I wouldn’t put that on them. I think they’re going to get pitched differently. They’re certainly going to get a lot of respect.” Gaston, asked if Hill and Lind are expected to repeat last year’s performances
CLUBHOUSE CONFIDENTIAL: The daily workout schedule sheet once again include a “Quote of the Day” for players to ponder as they headed out to the fields for practice. Today’s quote: “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”
ANSWER: The shoes belong to none other than Adam Lind. He said they were made for him for the All-Star Game, which he had a chance to attend last year as a Final Vote candidate. Lind did not wind up winning the vote, but he received the cool kicks anyway.