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Sean Fine

A change is in the air for Blue Jays Add to ...

The first time Paul Beeston met Alex Anthopoulos, he was overwhelmed.

“Where did this guy come from?” he remembers thinking. “He thought differently. He asked questions that were different.” Anthopoulos was asking him about the stock market. The conversation slid into baseball. “What’s more important,” Anthopoulos asked him, “scouting or development? Who’s easier to get – a good scout or a good development person? How do you build a team?”

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The conversation went on for 31/2 years. Beeston wasn’t even working for the Blue Jays then. He was back from New York, where he’d been the president and chief executive officer of Major League Baseball. The Blue Jays had given him an office in the Rogers Centre, but no title. Anthopoulos was an assistant general manager.

Today, they are the heart of the Blue Jays organization: Beeston, an accountant from Welland, Ont., who, given his chance decades ago, went on to become president and CEO during the World Series years of 1992 and 1993, and who came back to those jobs after the 2008 season; and Anthopoulos, who started out opening fan mail for the Montreal Expos and in less than a decade was chosen by Beeston to run the Blue Jays’ baseball operations. What the Blue Jays lost when they lost Pat Gillick, architect of those championship teams, and Beeston, they have once more.

“What they lacked most of all after the big split-up of Gillick and Beeston, and Beeston going to New York, was the emotional core, the moral authority in the front office,” says one former Jays insider.

As spring training begins in Florida, the air in Toronto is different. A city on a long losing streak in baseball, hockey and basketball senses the lost glory at hand. The team has been transformed. Starting pitching to die for – a strong bullpen – home run power – speed to salivate over – good defence.

Beeston and Anthopoulos changed the air.

Going big

“I can get Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes,” Anthopoulos said to Beeston one day this past off-season. Buerhle and Johnson are outstanding starting pitchers. Reyes is one of the top two shortstops in baseball.

“Which one?” Beeston asked.

“All three.”

The Jays were a big-city team with a small-market budget – about $80-million last season. The Yankees have spent more than $200-million (all currency U.S.) on player salaries some years, and the Red Sox $160-million. Buerhle, Johnson and Reyes had big, guaranteed contracts.

“You gotta be [fooling] me,” Beeston said.

It would mean exploding the budget, and taking on the risk of expensive, long-term commitments. He wondered, “How are we going to do this?”

FOLLOWING A DREAM

Anthopoulos dreams big. Outside of his neighbourhood league as a child in Montreal, he had no baseball background. All he had was a passion for the sport. “I remember being in school and all my friends were going about their careers, and I thought ‘I’m just going to work with my Dad, and that will be my life,’” he says. He got his economics degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, and at 21, when his father died, ran the family heating and ventilation business. One day at 23 he woke up and thought, “I am just a miserable person. I’m going to take a shot at baseball.”

Like the poet T.S. Eliot, he supported his dream with a job as a bank teller. His weekend volunteer job opening fan mail for the Expos gave him a chance sit with the scouts behind home plate and ask questions. “I couldn’t get enough of it.” One day a scout, Fred Ferreira, now with the Baltimore Orioles, asked him if he’d like to do an internship at his baseball academy in Fort Lauderdale.

“I helped out when they ran the batting cages, picked guys up at the airport, went to get lunches,” Anthopoulos recalls. “I was on the field every day for about a year and a half. It was unbelievable, a whole other side was opened up to me. I got to go to Japan and the Dominican Republic. [Ferreira] used to bring me all his binders and books and I would just devour them.” Anthopoulos was unpaid; Ferreira picked up his food and hotel bills. Anthopoulos signed up for Spanish classes at night at a local college.

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