Manfred drops in on Blue Jays opener

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 * New commissioner Rob Manfred, left, Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar and LHP Mark Buehrle surround Ben Sheppard after the nine-year-old threw out the first pitch at Monday night’s home opener at the Rogers Centre. ….

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By Bob Elliott

Bud Selig never made the Rogers Centre on his farewell tour last season. The outgoing commissioner visited over 20 stadia in 2014.

Toronto was not on his major-league map.

In fact, we don’t ever remember Selig visiting the Rogers Centre/SkyDome. Selig was in Toronto about eight or nine years ago for quarterly owners meetings in August but the Jays were on the road.

New commissioner Rob Manfred, of strong upstate New York stock (Rome, N.Y., attended Le Moyne College in Syracuse where the Dolphins play), found his way this far north on Monday.

Manfred was front and centre as the Blue Jays staged their 39th home opener against the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night.

He addressed topics such as pace of game, the prospects of Montreal getting a team again (while pre-season crowds have been impressive a “major-league facility, site and financing plan must be in place”), St. Petersburg’s stadium issues (the Rays remain “amazingly committed to the idea of trying to make Tampa work”) disputes between Alex Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton and their respective clubs (player will have to file grievances) before heading to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch ceremonies.

Manfred was well rested, working on four days rest. He threw out the first pitch before the Seattle Mariners hosted the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday at Safeco Field. And before that he kicked off the Washington Nationals home opener with first-pitch duties against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on Monday April.

Yet, once the new commissioner met Whitby’s Ben Sheppard he yielded his start.

The nine-year-old threw a Whitby strike to Mark Buehrle, who performed a frame job, almost as well as Russell Martin.

Last July Sheppard needed surgery after being diagnosed with a rare form cerebral palsy that effected the way he walked and restricted him to a wheel chair. The Blue Jays Baseball Academy, in partnership with Honda Canada, held a special Super Camp and raised $75,000. of the required $100,000 for the surgery, as our Andrew Hendriks covered earlier this year and last year.

Soon, Ben, along with parents Robyn and Norman, were off to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for a selective dorzal rizotomy (SDR) procedure.

Ben took a tumble and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar was there to lift him up to cheers from the sold-out crowd.

Just as Manfred passed duties to Ben, Selig gave way to Manfred at owners meetings in Baltimore last August. Manfred won on the sixth ballot beating out Boston Red Sox owner Tom Werner. Jays president Paul Beeston had supported Werner initially.

There were reports of a feud between the two, who had worked together when Beeston was the CEO of Major League Baseball.

Obviously those were false or the commissioner, who officially took office Jan. 25, wouldn’t have been here for Beeston’s finale.

The game was played before 48,414 fans including a host of Sportsnet hockey luminaries, one of which I recognized — Don Cherry of Kingston.

Skipper Cash: Tampa Bay rookie manager Kevin Cash is one of seven former Blue Jays to manage in the majors. Cash played in 101 games from 2002-04 for managers Buck Martinez, Carlos Tosca and John Gibbons. Back then under general manager J.P. Ricciardi there were two titles in the Jays dugout: manager and manager in waiting.

Cash is one of three ex-Jays currently managing. Mike Matheny, who played in 1999 and is in his fourth year managing the St. Louis Cardinals and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor a Jay from 1993-95 is in his rookie year running the Minnesota Twins.

The other ex-Jays to manage are Tim Johnson, who played for in 1978-79 and managed in 1988; Ken Macha a 1981 Jay, who managed the Oakland A’s and Milwaukee Brewers for six seasons; Bob Brenly who played in 1989 and managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2001-04 including the 2002 World Series champs and Buddy Black who pitched for the 1990 Jays and is in his ninth year managing the San Diego Padres.

Level 200: The usher is dressed in blue. His goatee is dyed blue. The back of his pony tail is dyed blue. His name tag even reads Jay.

“Oh, that’s my real name,” said usher Jay Gangursky starting his seventh season under the roof.

“I’ll be wearing the blue in my beard until November.”

Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Satuesque: The Rogers Centre has one statue outside its doors that of the late Ted Rogers, who ran Rogers Communications and bought the Jays in 2000 from those whacky Belgian brewers Interbrew S.A.

Next year is the franchise’s 40th years and there is talk of a erecting a statue of an actual player.
Anyone see a life-sized statue of Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar in the Jays future?

How about Alomar’s hands over his head pose after he homered in Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series against Dennis Eckersley? The two-run homer tied the score and the Jays won in extras to move to within one win of the Series.

And then conversations like this will take place:

First fan: “Where will I meet you?”

Second fan: “At the Alomar statue.”

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