By Bob Elliott
MONTREAL _ Six Blue Jays rookies will line up along the third base line Monday afternoon for pre-game introductions.
A year ago Monday Aaron Sanchez watched his double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats lose 11-5 to the mighty Trenton Thunder.
A year ago Monday second baseman Devon Travis was hitless in four at-bats as his Erie SeaWolves lost 4-1 to the Altoona Curve.
A year ago Monday lefty Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey helped the class-A Dunedin Blue Jays to a 5-2 win over the Clearwater Threshers as Norris pitched five innings allowing one run and Pompey singled.
Well, this afternoon when the bell rings, the flag drops, the gun goes off and all that other good stuff, the anthems will be played and the Young Jays will look across a diamond to the first-base line.
They won’t see the Thunder, the Curve or the Threshers.
Nope, it will the New York Yankees.
They the Yankees are old and tired as they have been labelled for years, but as one scout is fond of saying “the thing about the Yankees is THEY ARE the Yankees.”
So, how big a deal is it that the Jays go into this season trying to win with six rookies?
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jose Bautista sitting in the clubhouse formerly known as the home of the Montreal Expos on the weekend.
It doesn’t matter?
“It’s all about executing, you can by 17 years old or you can be 40 like R. A. Dickey … as long an you execute,” said Bautista as part of our 29th annual state of the union address by the senior Jay — not named Jay Stenhouse of the crack P.R. staff — in terms of service time.
We’ve asked Jays to take the podium usually in Florida. This was the first time someone has done the address in Canada.
Bautista, who has been with the Jays since Aug. 21, 2008, joins the likes of Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby, Dave Stieb, Tom Henke, Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen and Adam Lind to name a few.
So we turn the floor over to the senior member of the Jays from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, via Chipola College, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
* * *
* The most impressive player he saw in came since arriving in camp?
“Devon Travis,” said Bautista. “People talk about our young pitching all the time, but he gets overlooked. He came in, worked hard, didn’t panic, didn’t question a strike if an ump made a bad call, stayed in on double plays turns and didn’t say a lot. He kept quiet. Pompey is similar. I take my hat off to both of them. They just shut up and played.”
* Does Bautista see himself as a young player in any of the Jays young bucks?
“I don’t like to compare myself, everyone has there own way of doing things,” Bautista said. “You need to be yourself as a player or you lose your essence.”
* What concerns does he have heading into the 2015 season?
First he points out that there is “no such thing as a perfect team.”
“But we have an opportunity, a chance to take things in our own hands,” Bautista said. “People came in and won jobs.
“You’re here, you can contribute and execute. The day you do that you tip the scales in your favor, then management and the coaching staff looks as a key figure … and then in a while they are figuring out a way to lock you up long term.”
* How devastating was the loss of Marcus Stoman, who tore his ACL going to field a bunt on the turf field behind the centre field fence.
“We were all counting on him after he sent such a strong message last year,” said Bautista. “He might have been the ace by the end of the year.”.
Bautista gave his head a can-you-believe it shake, thinking how Stroman was injured. Stroman sped off the mound during Pitcher’s Fielding Practice to field a bunt, was called off by Josh Donaldson, stopped and Stroman’s knee blew out.
“To loose a pitcher for the year doing something that invaluable is rough,” said Bautista. “I know PFPs have benefits. But it’s almost like a player getting hurt in the batting cage.”
Ten or 15 years ago teams took pre-game infield with outfielders throwing to the bases before each game. Nowadays it’s only done during the spring. Managers and coaches decided it was too tiring on arms. Bautista had a similar thought about the PFP drills after the injury: “I’m not saying anything negative about the coaching, but you wonder how many times the drill is done … at what intensity?”
* Who is the team the Jays have to worry about most in the American League East?
“Tampa Bay seems to be re-grouping and they’ll miss Joe Maddon, so you never know,” Bautista said. “New manager Kevin Cash is very smart. Baltimore has reached the post season the last two years. Boston won in 2013 and then they were last last year. New York didn’t advance the last two years.
“It’s either Baltimore of Boston. They’ve been there the last two years and Boston made a lot of additions.”
The Jays start with 28 of their first 35 against their AL East rivals. They could find out quickly what kind of a season this is.
“You can eat right, sleep right, do all you work and not execute,” Bautista said, “We have to execute.”
* Was the clubhouse culture different this spring than last year?
“I played on teams in the minors and in winter ball where we didn’t get along and we won,” said the former two-time home run champion. “With Licey in winter ball we had groups and cliques. Guys would show up late. Starting pitchers only came to games they started. We had all kinds of problems … and still won.”
“A lot of that stuff about our clubhouse here last year was overblown, it all comes down to …”
* His opinion of former teammate Russell Martin?
“He’s more experienced, more accomplished, more travelled, more knowledgeable,” said Bautista, re-united with Martin for the first time since 2000 with Chipola. “You can see his desire to be a leader and how much he’s excited to be one.
“I can see at some point this season he’ll take the blame off our young pitchers, he’s the type who will take the pressure off his staff.”
* How impresed has he been with third baseman Josh Donaldson who has a similar late kick and swing to Bautista?
“I had seen him from afar, but until he got here I didn’t know he was so methodically in depth. He sets the bar very high. He’s his own motivator.
“On our swings we have a similar set up, we both have a flat bat, huge leg kicks, a slight shift forward, land with a slightly open toe and we both have violent swings.”
Donaldson has said he found his swing with the Oakland A’s studying video of Bautista.
* Is this 3-4-5 (Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson) the best he’s ever been involved with?
“My first year (as an every day player with the Jays it was Vernon Weels, Lind and myself. Vernon didn’t have the year that was to his standards unfortunately. Then it was Edwin, Lind and myself for a few years.
“All three of this group are in their prime.”
The three combined for 98 homers and 299 RBIs while walking 242 times in 2014 although Encarnacion missed 34 games due to a quad injury.
“If we can replicate …” Bautista said forecasting into the future. “What’s that 100 homers, 250 times on base. Say we get on base five times a game 160 games a year … two runs, two RBIs a game maybe?”
* In 2009 Roy Halladay said his status might be tied to whether president Paul Beeston returned. What if ownership decided to down scale the team payroll? Is Bautista concerned that this is Beeston’s last year as president?
“Believe me I am very respectful what he has done for this organization, what he has done for baseball in Canada,” said Bautista. “I don’t think who is president has an impact on players.”
* This is the final year of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s contract as well. How does he see that playing out?
“I’ve always said Alex has done a tremendous job putting good teams together,” he said. “Once he puts the team together it’s out of his hands. He can put the car together but he can’t oil it.”
* What kind of a home run total does Bautista see for himself this season?
“That’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “You hit 50 and finish last, what good were the home runs? I’d rather hit 30 and win.
“Home runs are nice but you create lasting memories and good friendships from going to the playoffs and winning.”
* Where does the 2015 edition of the Jays rank compared to other years?
“This is the most talented team, but it will be measured in wins.”
* And how many wins with the Jays have this year?
“One more than the second-place team,” said Bautista.
State of the union over.
Time to execute.
* * *
Some previous state-of-the-union nuggets:
_Vernon Wells in the spring of 2010 when asked who was the most impressive player in camp: “Jose Bautista, it’s nice to see someone finally getting a chance to be an everyday player and seizing the moment. Every game he plays, he either has two hits or one with a line drive at someone.”
Bautista hit 54 homers to lead the majors.
The Jays won 73 games. Hutchison starts Monday.
_ Roy Halladay, 2009 with the Jays coming off an 86-win season: “This year will be a challenge. We have more talent than last year — but other teams have gotten much stronger.”
The Jays won 75 games.
_ Halladay in 2007: “The Jays opened in Detroit in ‘92 right when they won the World Series the first time. Now we open there. That’s a good sign.”
The Jays won 83 games, finishing 11 games back of the Red Sox for the wild-card spot.
_ Halladay in 2004, when his locker mate was Pat Hentgen, back with the Jays after four years with the St. Louis and the Baltimore: “Pat was the first to come and say hello in 1996, my first camp. He was wearing the same old shirt then as he is today.”
_ Carlos Delgado in 2003: “We’re a better team, much better. We’ll surprise some people. We may win. Maybe we’ll surprise the GM, too,”
The Jays won 86, eight more than the year before to finish nine games back of the wild-card spot.
_ And our fave … Kelly Gruber in 1992: “If all of our pitchers are back from the disabled list from their minor injuries by May 1, we’ll be in great shape. September will be unlike any other. The atmosphere will be like Florida– relaxed. We’ll be 10 games up by Sept. 1 and resting guys the final month.”
Toronto clinched the on Oct. 3 … Game 162 on their way to winning the World Series.