There are a lot of Blue Jays fans out there. There are life-long fans, die-hard fans, superfans, casual fans, indifferent fans and all kinds in between. Many love the game from afar, or take it in when they can, and then there are others that need to be right in the action for as many games as possible. For the most part, those are the fans that go out and buy season tickets, and on Monday, January 30th, those were the fans that Rogers invited to the Blue Jays 11th annual State of the Franchise event! From 5:30 to about 9pm fans (and some media and select other guests) were given a night of VIP treatment like few fans ever receive, and on January 30th, I was lucky enough to attend my first State of the Franchise event!
I was one of the first to arrive at Gate 9a, which was actually still locked when I got there, but some people who had arrived ahead of me, let me in from the snowy weather, where I was greeted by something I hadn’t encountered at the Rogers Center before: almost total silence. There were obviously some quiet conversations going on around me, but no cheers from the fans, no cracks of the bat from batting practice, and no music blaring over the PA systems. Greeting us were two tables for people to get and then give their tickets to enter, followed by a coat check. Once they began letting people in, we were greeted by servers bringing around free beer and wine and the food shops serving up free food. There was jerk chicken on a bun, hot dogs, sausage, and likely some other bits of food that I was too distracted to taste as I looked out onto the field to see a perverse sight. No dirt in the infield!
The stadium seats were eerily empty at first, so I walked down the concourse, trying savour the experience, and ended up at the Jays Shop which was all decked out in brand new Blue Jays gear after the uniform/logo change, and had everything on sale for 50% off. It was a can’t miss opportunity and I may have gone a bit overboard, but it was worth it, and for as busy and as packed as that shop was pretty much the whole event, I would say everyone agreed with me.
Just as I was about to pay, an announcement came that everyone find their seats as they were about to begin. I got a little ancy, but finally was able to pay while they were doing the introductions for Paul Beeston, John Farrell, Alex Anthopoulos and the MC for the night, Buck “Albert” Martinez. I was just finding my seat as Buck Martinez got the event started with a recap of the Blue Jays Winter Tour event.
Likely anticipating what was coming, Buck Martinez started off the Q&A portion of the event, and got the two big questions out of the way first, by asking the panel about Prince Fielder and then Yu Darvish. Not a lot of new information was revealed, but AA did put some emphasis on the fact that if Prince Fielder (read: Scott Boras) was willing to look at a three or five year deal, the Blue Jays would have been in. Beeston added that their previous maximum contract length would be three years, but they’ve increased it to five years. Beeston also touched on the fact that the Jays will begin to attract players (and fans) once the team really starts winning. Obviously players want to play for a winner, so there isn’t anything new there. After Buck’s two questions they opened up the floor to the fans. The first question was asked the Jays “as in any business, you have to have a plan. A 1-year plan, 3-year plan, and a five-year plan. What is Farrell’s one year plan, AA’s 3-year plan, and Beeston’s five year plan?” A fair question which could have been skirted around quite easily, but got a decent response. Farrell answered first stating that he really plans on giving the bullpen more defined roles this year, as last year there were many question marks and he felt he could’ve handled the bullpen better. I believe that handled the bullpen more efficiently will help the Jays, so it’s good to hear that this is something Farrell is looking at. Alex Anthopoulos was next, and basically stated he wants to continue to improve the team, and briefly reviews how much the team has already improved. He mentioned Dustin McGowan as a member of the rotation in an example, so maybe Dustin has an inside track to the rotation to start the year? Apart from that, AA would like to add a front-line starter or another bat – really anything that can help the team. Then Beeston stepped in, and gave AA another vote of confidence as he stated that he feels the team they have today is the best they’ve had since AA took over, and that the team last year was better than the team AA had his first year - “record notwithstanding.” Beeston then reassured us that the plan is to win a championship and to bring the postseason back to Toronto and that over the 5 years he envisions the team being in the postseason 2-3 times. This was great to hear, but as we all know, it was just another vote of confidence for his GM, and time will tell. Beeston continued with “once we’re in the postseason, we have just as good a chance as the other 9 teams,” perhaps revealing that the additional wild card may come into effect this season.
Another fan question from a “long time fan, who may not be fan after this season any longer.” He is disappointed that the Jays haven’t been able to land big name free agents, and used Carlos Beltran as an example. Beltran signed a two-year deal at $12 million per (and added that this was “cheap”) and doesn’t understand why AA wasn’t in there. Before I get to AA’s answer, $12 million a year would put Beltran as the second highest paid player on the Jays team JUST behind Jose Bautista, and more than doubles Ricky Romero’s salary. That isn’t a cheap addition. AA responded that he hopes the fan would have patience as the team grows, but that there are some players who don’t want to play on turf, don’t want to DH, and don’t want to switch leagues (from NL to AL), even if you offer them MORE money and MORE years. Sometimes even the best GM in baseball can’t always get the guy he wants, that’s just the nature of the game. This was followed up with a couple of other frustrated fan questions, and one question from a “long-time diehard Jays fan” who was doing a business pitch about his baseball academy, which came off as very unprofessional and I think caught AA off-guard, but he handled it well. So well in fact, that he started his answer off by asking why a long-time diehard Jays fan, came to the Blue Jays State of the Franchise wearing a Tigers jersey. Well played AA. Well played.
Following up to the comment about some players not wanting to play on turf, a fan asked about the possibility of bringing grass into the Roger Center. At first, I expected this to be immediately rejected, but Beeston let everyone know that they were looking into the possibility of maybe bringing grass in. It was a very non-committal response, but if they are indeed looking at it, that’s a good sign that Rogers wants to win, because I am sure it’ll be expensive and provides no guarantees that it will end up doing what they want, which is to help the Jays win games and to attract premier players. I doubt if this was approved, that it would happen in time for opening day this year, so likely 2013 is the earliest we’d see the turf replaced.
Questions continued for a bit longer without much of consequence being asked. One girl wants more female merchandise, another guy thought we paid too much for Rasmus (we REALLY did not) and a question on the Jays poor interleague record, to which Beeston suggested we may have reverse rules in AL/NL ballparks so that fans get to see “the other side of the game.” I both like and dislike this idea. I enjoy the DH, and I enjoy watching pitchers hit, but I think fans, for the most part, like their team, due in part to the league they play in. Most White Sox fans probably don’t care to see their pitchers hit, and I don’t know how many Mets fans want a DH. Regardless, full-time interleague play is coming in 2013 and it is something that will need to be addressed. Hiring Kevin Cash as an advance scout is a good start, but I’d like to see more.
Afterwards, Beeston gave some closing remarks and let fans know they can give him a call anytime. If he’s in his office, he’ll answer, if not, leave a voicemail and he’ll call us back. He invited us to e-mail Alex Anthopoulos as well. He thanked us for coming and that he’s looking forward to the season! Buck Martinez thanked everyone and invited us to retire to the concourse for more drinks and some really delicious ice cream. As everyone made their way back upstairs, I caught up with the boys from @BackinBlue2012 and gave them a quick interview which you can check out at www.backinblue.ca in their 5th Weekly Podcast! After the interview I went back upstairs where back on the concourse there was a media circus surrounding Alex Anthopoulos
John Farrell was being swarmed by fans,
and I couldn’t track down Beeston. So I was able to meet some of my twitter followers and chat Blue Jays! (Nice to meet you @JaysDome @HighSockMoho @Rallycap_andy @gcm_1979 @bluejays_giants @alanclough @BlueJaysBatBoy @FakeCitoGaston @NickHansen33 @bradjames41 @BackinBlue2012!) After chatting with all the fans, it was time to hit the road, so I packed up all my new merchandise and headed for the door, only to find Paul Beeston chatting with some people and taking pictures! So I had to get mine in!And then it caught my eye, arguably the highlight of my night, Paul Beeston’s (gigantic) 1992 World Series Championship Ring. It was amazing, so I asked if I could grab a photo and he was all for it.
That’s what we’re after now, and it was a fitting way to end my first State of the Franchise event. A special thanks to Danielle Bedasse for everything, and a special thanks to the Blue Jays and Rogers for throwing such an event. It was one I won’t soon forget.
You can follow Brandon on Twitter @Bam_86. Comment below and let us know your opinion on the State of the Franchise event!