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Cito preaches gospel of calm


Cito preaches gospel of calm
Cito Gaston would like to remind the good burghers of Toronto that it was many, many years ago now. Long enough, he figures, to forget.

No, not that. Or them. Not the two World Series the Blue Jays won with him as the helmsman, the only African-American to manage a major-league team to a championship.

Remember those. Nothing around here has been close since, although Gaston's bashing bunch today is tweaking long-dormant hopes.

What Gaston, back managing the club since last June, would like fans to get over is the 1994 Baseball strike that shut down the game for the better part of a year, the season after the Jays' second of back-to-back titles.

For more than a dozen years, going to a Jays' game had been the thing to do in this part of the country, a cultural chic reflected in yearly attendance topping four million. They had become such a part of spring-summer-fall in Toronto the Jays could have lost 100 games a year and never have sagged below three million in total attendance. They had become the anchor of Toronto's summer tourism.

"But we never packed the place after '94," laments Gaston, who led the club until he was axed in 1997, then never managed again until he replaced John Gibbons last June.

"I see people all the time up here who stop and thank me for those World Series years. The one thing that bothers me is that most of them say they used to have season's tickets but, after the strike came, they didn't come back.

"But none of our players had a beef with our owners, they loved them. Our guys had to go on strike, they belonged to a union, but everyone loved the people who ran this organization.

"I wish people would forget the past and forgive the players."

That's mostly an issue among older adults. Likely, most sports fans under the age of 25 don't even know there was a strike, let alone understand the damage it caused. What they do know is that Baseball has not been hip in their time, that you can always get a Jays' ticket if you really want one, that in a town absolutely crammed with losing teams, the Jays are just one more.

And that, because they don't wear skates, they don't get a free pass for any of their sins.

The Jays aren't looking for that free pass. They just want to commit fewer sins. And with Paul Beeston returning to run the team on an interim basis -- Gaston was originally an "interim" too, but his managership lasted nearly a decade -- and Gaston back where he should be, that has been the case.

It's calmer in Jayland these days. There is less nervous edge around the team, far less of a chip on the organizational shoulder.

Gaston not only understands Baseball calm, he epitomizes and exudes it. GM J.P. Ricciardi and the rest of Jays management probably thought they had created the right balance of tranquility and aggression until they saw how Gaston and Beeston do it.

There's no doubt Gaston's Zen-like belief the sun always comes up, even during an 0 for 20, has much to do with the Jays' 10-4 record heading into last night's date (before another, undeservedly undersized crowd) with the Texas Rangers.

This is a team with, after the Doc, minor-league starting pitching and most nights they must bludgeon the opponent to win. Everyone, including the hitters, knows this. Yet, despite that outward pressure, Toronto hitters rank No. 1 in runs, hits and RBI and second in homers.

That's because of the atmosphere created by Gaston, who hasn't changed a whit in that regard, and by his hitting coach of yore, Gene Tenace, who rejoined him last year. They've removed the handcuffs of the previous regime, favoured by Riccardi, which paid almost biblical homage to working deep in the count. This is moneyball theory, and it can work, but it's not flexible enough and makes bad foreplay for the three-run homer.

What Gaston and Tenace have always preached is to go to the plate with a precise idea of the pitch you want and, if you see it, attack it. No matter what the count.

"But only in the strike zone," Gaston emphasizes. "You can still work a walk that way. Look at the Red Sox. They make you go deep in the count but, if they see their pitch, they're on it."

This may take time for Jay mainstays Alex Rios and Vernon Wells to grasp but, if and when they do, they'll remind those long-absent fans of those great hitters the Jays had when they were the Kings of Toronto sport.

And maybe then the fans will come back in droves. This is a Baseball city gone underground, but dying to breathe fresh air again.

"When I see people on the street they thank me for those glory years," Gaston says. "But I turn around and thank them. Without the support we had here, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did. Montreal didn't have that support, as far as getting money to keep their players, and get free agents and our fans did that for us."

Not lately, though.

smilton@thespec.com

905-526-3268

Jays lose to Rangers 5-4, umpire struck by broken bat barrel

TORONTO The Texas Rangers put an end to Roy Halladay's perfect start to the season in a game delayed 10 minutes when the barrel of a broken bat struck home plate umpire Kerwin Danley in the side of the head.

Ian Kinsler clubbed a go-ahead two-run shot in the seventh inning of a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays last night. But much of the drama in a terrific game was lost amid concern for Danley, who never lost consciousness but was taken off the field on a stretcher and to hospital for examination. Halladay sawed off Hank Blalock at the hands during the sixth inning, and as the DH followed through on his swing, the barrel separated from the handle and flew full speed into Danley's hockey-style mask.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 22, 2009

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