Friday, April 21, 2017

Greetings from PitchTalks Toronto--Shapiro Edition

Tickets are purchased and we're off to PitchTalks. To see Mark Shapiro and hear his words concerning the state of the Toronto Blue Jays. It's Monday afternoon, 2 weeks into the season, and I wonder what the reception will be like for the current architect of the 2 and 10 team. My friend meets me at my house. Burgers or wings? He opts for wings. Good choice. I head the car for Duff's on College Street figuring it's close enough to the venue, Queen Elizabeth Theatre at the EX.

"I have something to do while we eat", he says. An over/under survey they did on the At The Letters podcast. What the fuck, I'm game. While we wait for the wings and drinking some fine draft, he hits me rapidfire with obscure questions. Over/under on the number of Jays complete games pitched?How many games Pearce will play?How many games will Morales play at first? Pillar's OBP at the end of the year? Perhaps I'll pry the quiz from his clenched hands and let the commenters here have a go at it.

Wings are finished. Beer is consumed. and off to the event. Twelve bucks for parking? I wanted to park the car, not rent a spot in the middle of nowhere for a week. Screw it, pay the man. Into the theatre we go. Guy wants our names so he can check it off the list, then big dude slaps on a wrist band. Ah okay, this hasn't happened before at a Pitchtalk event. I ask big guy, Just how many people are here? Don't they know the Leafs are playing tonight? He replies, dunno, 5 or 6 hundred. Well okay then. Over our shoulder we watch Jamie Campbell head in for the event.

The theatre is pretty full and we're fashionably late for the first panel, so we sit in the 4th row from the back. Swell. My buddy gets a text. Psst. What'd mean Psst? "We're moving up to the VIP seats", he says. You've been drankin' too much my friend. No, c'mon old man. This fucking guy has lost it. But off we go and sure enough, 2nd row seats. It seems he knows somebody, who knows somebody, who is involved somehow,who actually likes him enough, to give both of us access to a very fine vantage point. Sometimes things work out. I feel like a celebrity.

The first guest who was being interviewed was, Malcolm Johnston, who wrote this article on Donaldson. Second up was Tim Raines and Jonah Keri. Very entertaining, but the star of the show was coming up after the intermission.

Originally advertised as Dan Shulman interviewing Shapiro, I was pleasantly surprised when I seen Brunt join Shulman for a preamble, before being joined by Shapiro.

This is what I came for. Shapiro was greeted with applause and it seemed to be a very cordial crowd, understanding that Shapiro probably had a thousand other places he could be.

The Q and A from Brunt and Shulman
  • Shapiro first let us know that he normally turns down interviews during the season but agreed because " how bad can it be, speaking to the fans 10 games into the season?"
Q.  With the Jays poor start,do you have any point of comparison?
  • He couldn't think of anything he's experienced that was like it. That said, he doesn't dwell on it and stays positive.
Q. Had he talked to Gibby?
  • He talked to Gibby during the day and Gibby told him " it has to get better" to which Shapiro responded "Well yeah, it actually does". Shapiro said there was no finger pointing by the players in the clubhouse and they're not a gimmicky group who do funky stuff to break out of the slump. Like wearing Hawaiian shirts or crazy slump buster stuff.
Q. Who takes the reins in the clubhouse?
  • He said it was either Tulo or Donaldson. Some times Pillar. There's a group of 7 or 8 guys.
Q. How do you balance not making moves?
  • He looked at other teams and the history of all the moves they made in previous Aprils. No consequential trade has been made in April.
Q. What is the injury status of  Happ, Sanchez and JD?
  •  About Happ, he was optimistic about a positive outcome and a minimal of time. Sanchez would miss maybe a start. About JD he knows but wasn't saying ( Note: this was Monday night. We now know Happ's injury is inflammation and should be back quick. Sanchez had part of his fingernail removed and should be back after 10 day DL. And JD is expected to take 2 to 4 weeks to heal)
Q What is the vision going forward for the RC?
  • He's looking at other ballparks around the MLB. Listening to fans , looking at trends.Seeing what works and he wants to incorporate that into the fan experience. He wants to turn a stadium into a ballpark.
Q. Grass?
  • Still in discussions but it is a much bigger problem than expected. There's also a huge cost issue. It's enormous. Can it be done? Anything can be done with enough money.
Questions from the audience.
( Note. He took quite a few, I don't want this to be tl:dr so I won't do them all)

Q. Did you rent or buy? ( asked by JITH commenter danpleasacshorse, well played )
  • Huge round of laughter from everyone including Shulman, Brunt and Shapiro himself 
Follow up- Has he thought about getting unsigned FA pitchers such as Peavey and Fister?
  • They keep track of every guy available
  • What would it take to get those guys into game shape.
  • He's optimistic, with what he knows, that he won't have to answer that question
  • He considers Latos ahead of those guys
Q What is the message to the fans and the players during this start to the season?
  • You have to know how much all the staff care and how hard they are working.
  • To the players. If you have to rally the players, you picked the wrong players.
Q With the minor league system depleted, how confident is he going forward?
  • The system is better now than it was one year ago.
  • Atkins did a great job in the Liriano trade by acquiring two great prospects, McGuire and Ramirez
  • Goal is to build a strong farm system that is flush with talent for sustainability
  • Aside for the usual Bichette, Alford, Tellez there are other prospects making strides, he mentions catcher Dan Jansen who they really like
Q How did you get your start in baseball?
  • Great question, then he explained ( I already knew so I didn't take notes )
Q What was your off season plan?
  • He deadpanned " To Win" ( I thought this was a great response)
  • To fill the 9 FA holes left by players moving on
  • If he couldn't bring EE back then to bring JB back
  • Build on core players
Q. What does he think of the CBA proposal of a shorter season and rest for the players?
  • Not a bad thing but the owners would lose too much revenue
  • The grind of schedule does affect how you build a roster
  • Teams no longer have an analytical advantage, everybody's using it.
  • The season will be longer next year with more rest days
Q Biggest challenge or surprise coming to the Jays?
  • Seeing the fan reaction across a whole country
  • Feeling the pressure and responsibility for a fanbase that large and spread out across the land
  • Not a lot of surprises, he was prepared
There were more questions. One was for Shulman, one about Jose and a few others but I'll leave it for now.

If you would like to listen to the podcast of the Shapiro part of the show and get more detail you can hear it here.

Definitely a good time, it ended soon enough that we were able to watch the Leaf's score in overtime.
You should try and attend one of these.