DUNEDIN, Fla. – The past and present managers of the Toronto Blue Jays crossed paths Monday.
John Farrell, who left Toronto to take over in Boston, brought a Red Sox split-squad to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for a spring training game. He will face louder music, no doubt, when Boston visits Toronto in early April in its second series of the regular season.
Jays fans will likely have something to say about Farrell’s decision to jump ship, especially to an American League East rival. Those in Dunedin gave him a taste of what to expect with a hearty chorus of boos during introductions Monday.
“I appreciate that people might have differing opinions,” Farrell told reporters earlier. “All I can do is go about my work, day in and day out. People are going to form their own impressions, so I certainly can’t control that.
“April will get here when it does … I fully respect that team. They’ve got a darn good team. And looking forward to competing against them.”
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale brought out the Toronto lineup, with Farrell doing the honours for Boston.
Boston won 4-2 on the day, with Toronto manager John Gibbons and Farrell never actually making contact.
“I don’t know John real well,” said Gibbons. “I met him a couple of years ago. I came to town with Kansas City, met him briefly but I don’t really know him.”
Gibbons did reminisce with old friend Brian Butterfield, who left Toronto in the off-season after 11 years to become Boston’s third base coach
Farrell, who spent four years as Boston’s pitching coach prior to joining the Jays, told Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos that the Red Sox managerial opening was his dream job. Toronto eventually traded Farrell to Boston last October to fulfil his wish.
Veteran infielder Mike Aviles came to Toronto as part of the deal, while pitcher David Carpenter went to the Red Sox along with Farrell.
Farrell seemed less than interested Monday in looking back, although he called his time in Toronto “two great years.” And he stressed that he was as engaged in Toronto last season as he is with Boston this year.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the time there,” he said of Toronto. “The time with the players, the fans were great. And certainly there’s probably more even more of a growing anticipation for the team that’s been assembled.”
When asked whether advance knowledge of Toronto’s off-season acquisitions might have persuaded him to stay, Farrell paused before saying: “Well I think if memory serves me correctly, I was traded.”
By choice, he was reminded.
“Well again these questions were raised during the winter meetings and I spent quite a bit of time talking about it at that time,” Farrell replied. “Right now my focus is on what the Red Sox need to do to get ready for this season.”
He said he had already talked to some Toronto front office officials and planned to renew acquaintances with some of the Jays players.
“Those relationships, those experiences that you share with guys in uniform they don’t go away,” Farrell said.
Gibbons, who succeeded Farrell for his second stint at Toronto’s helm, played down the spring training meeting.
“Truthfully I haven’t given it much thought. It’s more for your guys,” said Gibbons, referring to the media. “You guys will probably enjoy it more than I probably will.”
People back home are making a big deal out of the meeting, he was told.
“Are we supposed to go out there and have a wrestling match or something?” Gibbons replied. “He’s a little bigger than I am.”
The separate scrums just served to reinforce the differences between the two.
Farrell looks like he spent the morning pressing his baseball uniform and rehearsing his lines. Gibbons comes across like he’s just rolled out of a pickup truck and forgotten why he’s here.
Both are smart baseball men. They just show it in different ways.
Butterfield and Gibbons swapped stories before the game.
“Butter and I go way back,” Gibbons said. “He’s one of my favourites. We’re great friends. I think it was a big loss here. Luis (Rivera) is going to be very very good at what he does, but Butter helped make his name here too. He was one of the best coaches in the game.”
Butterfield said it was going to be an emotional day.
“Even today it feels a little bit different,” he said. “We bused into the other side (of the stadium). We’re in the visitors’ clubhouse.
“John’s cool about it but I think that there’s going to be some butterflies early in the season when we start in New York and I think it will be heightened a little bit when we get to Toronto.”
Butterfield said his decision to leave Toronto was tough but he had no guarantee of work there with a new manager coming in after he failed to get the top job.
“They got the best man,” he said. “I think John Gibbons is a outstanding manager, he’s an outstanding man.”
His decision then was to wait and see who the next manager was or to look elsewhere for work.
“The Boston Red Sox seemed like a good fit and an easy decision at the time. But I loved Toronto.”
Added Butterfield: “I also grew up a Boston Red Sox fan. I also grew up in New England, wanting one day to play for the Boston Red Sox. There’s only stipulation with that though, you’ve got to be good to play in the big leagues.
“I’m doing second-best right now. I’m in the big leagues, No. 1, and I’m in a great city, a very passionate city and a great organization in the Boston Red Sox and I just left a great organization and a great city in Toronto.”