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A microphone is seen during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A microphone is seen during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Daily Grind

Dowbiggin: Jays fans would miss Ashby should he bolt to Astros Add to ...

The stampede to the Toronto Blue Jays’ bandwagon has reached sold-out proportions as the club wheels and deals for star players. But there appears to be one lonely figure headed in the other direction.

Alan Ashby, who has shared the Blue Jays’ radio booth with Jerry Howarth since 2007, might be leaving the team’s broadcasts just as things heat up for Toronto’s pennant hopes. The former major-league catcher is among those being considered for a job with the Houston Astros’ TV team. Reached at his Houston home on Thursday, Ashby says that nothing has been decided, but the chance to work where he spends the off-season is attractive.

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“I haven’t got anything to announce at this moment,” Ashby told the Daily Grind. “I’ve made my interest known in the position here, but there is no time frame for having a decision.”

Ashby says that leaving Toronto would be difficult. So, he added, would departing just as the team made the postseason after so many years of mediocrity.

Leaving Toronto would likely be a financial decision above all for Ashby. While he’s well compensated with the Blue Jays, there might be a chance to make more doing TV for the Astros, where he worked from 1998 to 2006.

Losing Ashby would be a loss for Blue Jays fans. While not flashy or witty, he’s become a trustworthy voice around the team, calling it as he sees it. Drawing on his 17 years experience as a big-league catcher, Ashby chides or compliments with a keen edge. That authority belied the in-house perception of Rogers squelching dissent about the team it owns. That will be hard to replace.

Should Ashby depart, there is no obvious candidate to replace him. Sportsnet analyst Gregg Zaun told the Daily Grind Wednesday that he enjoys his gig working before and during games with Jamie Campbell. He’s not looking at a full-time announcer job any time soon. Sportsnet baseball announcers Mike Wilner and former pitcher Dirk Hayhurst might be in-house names to consider.

Ad it up

The anticipation for the Blue Jays’ 2013 season has filled a void with sports fans in Toronto. Apparently advertisers are trying to get involved, too. And spring training doesn’t start for another eight weeks.

Some industry sources have been suggesting that the excitement generated by general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s two big trades, with the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets, has led to all Rogers’ TV and radio inventory being sold out. Not yet, says Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, but the numbers are encouraging.

“We have received instantaneous increased demand after the first trade, and then another big bump after the R.A. Dickey [deal],” Pelley told the Daily Grind in an e-mail. “The advertising community knows this is the hottest property this summer and are acting accordingly. Safe to say the percentage sold is considerably higher than last year.”

There’s no doubt the Blue Jays’ aggressive winter moves have caught the attention of sports fans deprived of their NHL fix. The team has also profited from advertisers left high and dry by the NHL looking around for alternative media buys. “Fewer people are following or caring about the hockey these days,” says Brian Cooper, president and CEO of S&E Sponsorship Group. “Our clients are looking for different ways to reach them, and the Blue Jays have captured a lot of interest.”

Cycle rights

Sportsnet has announced that it has acquired TV rights to the Tour de France starting in 2014 and continuing for the next six years. The rights previously belonged to TSN. Sportsnet hit the timing right for increasing its tennis content just as Milos Raonic soared on the ATP rankings. It may do the same if Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, who won the 2012 Giro d’Italia, continues to perform well at the elite levels of cycling.

As part of the deal, Sportsnet gets the rights to the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. They’ll go with the rights to the new Tour of Alberta, Canada’s first major international stage race, taking place Sept. 3-8, 2013. They’d make fine properties for the newly acquired The Score network.

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