September 30, 2010

The Best Of Times

We've all been guilty of some healthy Rogers-bashing, ever since the Mother Corp. took control of our beloved Toronto Blue Jays. But credit where credit is due, and damned if the organization didn't get it right Wednesday night, as they -- we -- sent Cito Gaston off in style.

I wasn't able to make it down to the Cable Box for the festivities, but that might have worked out for the best. Because the video tribute in Cito's honour left me speechless, and, no lie, teary-eyed. If you were at the ballpark, let me know what the atmosphere was like. It looked electric on the tube. And tell me I wasn't the only grown man all emotional.

Watching the Cito testimonials from the likes of Hank Aaron, Dusty Baker, Gord Ash, Bobby Cox, and the Toronto Blue Jays heroes of years gone by -- Tony "Thanks Clarence" Fernandez, Robbie Alomar, Jesse Barfield, Duane Ward, Pat Hentgen, and Jack Morris, to name a few -- I was struck by how much everyone had aged. They were young men when they patrolled the field, and when they stepped into the batter's box, at the SkyDome. Not anymore. The game goes on, leaving players in its wake. And there stood Cito, having managed, and more importantly mentored and befriended, so many of them. Watching footage of Cito and Paul Molitor hug, both in tears, after Toronto had won the 1993 World Series ... I was at a loss for words.

Much like Cito's tenure as The Manager -- and you really ought to read read Dustin Parkes' "Thank You Cito," and Stoeten's "Why Tonight I'll Cheer For Cito" -- his tribute was a roller coaster of emotions, as well. When Joe Carter had the floor, and finally looked towards Cito and said, "Thank you, brother. I love you," that was it for me. I was reaching for the goddamn Kleenex. Because Carter nailed it. We're all thankful to Cito. We all love Cito, in some way, because he is synonymous with the best of Toronto's baseball times. Synonymous with success. With pennants. With back-to-back World Series championships.

Vernon Wells was next, as he should have been. Next season, Wells will pass Tony Fernandez's mark of 1,450 games as a Blue Jay. For better or worse, Wells will have worn Toronto's jersey longer than anyone. And he nailed it, too, about Cito's mustache. Whoever came up with the idea for all the guys to wear fake mustaches to start the game, I salute you. Bloody brilliant.

What I'll always remember about Cito is, of course, the salad days. I'll also never forget how I felt the day it was announced he was on his way back to the Toronto dugout. It made sense, in a way, that he never managed elsewhere. He was Toronto's manager, and only Toronto's manager. Cito Gaston, from 1982 onwards, the year I came into this crazy world, was a goddamn Blue Jay. And what Cito taught me, and his players, was to always play with pride. Hustle and heart, yo. Right up until the very end.

When I think of Cito, I think of respect. Is there any more humble gesture than the fact he always refers to Jackie Robinson as "Mr. Jackie Robinson"? And when I think of Cito, I think of pride. Cito always carried himself with immense pride, and that's got a lot to do with the incredible racism he endured while he worked his way up to the Major Leagues. Most importantly, Cito leaves baseball, and leaves the Blue Jays, with pride. In retrospect, looking back to last season, when mutiny broke out in the Blue Jays clubhouse, and I and others were calling for Gaston's head, I'm now glad the Jays kept Cito in charge. He deserved a send-off; a party. He deserved to go out on his own terms. He deserved to go out a winner. And over the Yankees, in his final home game, no less.

Look, Travis Snider will be fine. I disagree with Alan Ashby when he says the Jays still don't know what they've got in the young phenom. They've got a guy who's raked at every level, and will do it in the Majors, too. J.P. Arencibia will be fine, too. Maybe. Hopefully. A September sitting on the bench, while not practical, and certainly not ideal, will not ruin his career. Cito did what he had to do, and leaves with his head held high, and with pride. It would have been a lot tougher to watch The Manager leave the dugout with a Baltimore OrioLOLes-esque 63-95 record.

Fitting, no, that John Buck hit his 20th home run on Thank You, Cito night. Fitting that in Cito's final home game did the Blue Jays break their club record for home runs in a season. One last time, thanks to Jose Bautista, and all the home runs, did Cito leave his mark on the Toronto Blue Jays. A hitting coach, until the very end.

And in that very end, during his post-game interview with Sam Cosentino, as he looked back on his career, his more than 20 years as a member of the Blue Jays, as a citizen of the fine city of Toronto, I thought Cito said it best ...

"It was all good. Everything was good."


Forever The Manager in my eyes, and in my heart. Thanks, Cito.

Getty image, yo. Via daylife.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

I'm glad you and the Blue Jay faithful had a wonderful moment to celebrate someone so rich in your history. Well done, Blue Jays.

I agree that the proud way that Gaston conducted himself on and off the field was his biggest strength. Contrast that with the smarmy body language of Jerry Manuel, for example. Gaston was a credit to the organization in every way.

Peace out, Cito. Enjoy yourself.

The Ack said...

I was good until they rolled out the Tom Cheek audio at the end of the tribute. Got me a little.

Greg E said...

I was lucky enough to be at the Dome last night.

And yes Navin, the atmosphere was amazing. Multiple standing ovations for Cito, (and for Carter and Bell), loud cheers for the rest (even Vernon felt the love). The only black mark was the smattering of boos when our Rogers overlord made an appearance.

One moment that really stood out was when Jeter came up to bat at the beginning of the game. The boos had already started before his name was announced, but when he took off his helmet and saluted Cito, people applauded -- appreciating a very classy move by Jeter.

Frankly, the whole thing was pulled of perfectly, and I can't imagine a better send off for Cito.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ William: Gaston represented the Jays with passion. Loved what he said about the Yankees last night, too. Whether we can admit it or not, he's right, we want the Jays to be celebrating a playoff spot in September, and getting to the playoffs year in and year out. Now, maybe if the Yankees could lend a brother a dollar or two ...

@ The Ack: Yeah, Tom. I wish it wouldn't bother me so much that he's yet to win the Frick Award, and probably won't win it this year, either. But it does.

@ Greg E: Thanks for the insights as someone who was there. Appreciate it. Kudos to the Rogers organization. And I did hear the booing of Nadir Mohammad. Classic. As for Jeter, he's pure class, and proved it again last night. Still don't get why he's booed in Toronto. Jealousy. That's the only reasonably explanation.

Ian - BJH said...

Aside from a couple of crazies in section 136 that were insistent on trying to start the wave every 5 minutes, it was a great atmosphere. It reminded me of the Home Opener, but without the drunken assholes.

I loved how in the top of the 9th, the crowd started cheering "Cito, Cito, Cito". It was a great farewell for a hell of a guy.

Escaped Lab Rat said...

Operative word: classy. For everybody.

Is V-Dub really going to be the longest-tenured Jay? Pretty soon we're going to have to win one for Vernon so his dad can make a portrait of him, too.

Greg E said...

@Navin: "Still don't get why he's booed in Toronto. Jealousy. That's the only reasonably explanation"

One insightful fella in my section started screaming (every time Jeter came up) "I HATE YOU FOR BEING GOOD AT YOUR JOB!!"

Ya gotta appreciate the honesty.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ Ian: I had a friend who enjoyed the hell out of doing the wave at the game on Wednesday. She's crazy!!!1

@ Escaped: V-Dub. Next season. He's a lifer. It seems to get forgotten. And he's still under contract for four more years. Vernon's got his dad a lot of work, when you think about it.

@ Greg: I can appreciate that honesty, too. Thanks, mate.