TORONTO – On a normal day, there might be a dozen reporters tops in the manager’s office before a game. Tuesday afternoon, prior to the most eagerly awaited Blue Jays home opener since 1994, there were three times that many in John Gibbons’ tiny corner deep within Rogers Centre. And after one perfunctory question to Gibbons about his Opening Day memories came this belt-high fastball from a longtime Toronto columnist.
Where were you when Joe Carter hit the home run?
If you need an explanation, maybe this isn’t the column for you. But OK. Game Six of the 1993 World Series at then-SkyDome. Carter goes deep in the bottom of the ninth, dances around the bases and touches them all as the Jays win, 8-6, to take their second straight title.
Gibbons, then 31 and three years removed from his playing days, was home in San Antonio with his father. And truth be told, he said sheepishly, he was a roommate with Lenny Dykstra with the Mets, knew Darren Daulton and knew some other Phillies from his days in Scranton.
“I don’t want to say I was rooting for anybody but I was watching them,” Gibbons said with a big smile. “Little did I know.”
Now Gibbons is in charge of a team that was the talk of the winter as it tries to get back to the postseason for the first time since that night. The talk of the town even with the Leafs about to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Even the talk of Toronto heroes of yesteryear like Carter, who was on the field during batting practice dreaming big like everyone else.
“If I had said in ’93 that was going to be the last time the Blue Jays would be in the playoffs, I never would have thought that in a million years,” Carter said. “But it is. And now there’s finally excitement again about what can transpire.”
There might be plenty of excitement here all summer, but the sellout crowd of 48,857 that jammed Rogers Centre got an Opening Night clunker Tuesday. J.P. Arencibia couldn’t catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball early and the offense managed just one base runner over the final seven innings as the Cleveland Indians beat the Jays, 4-1.
April 2 had been the target date since the big trade with the Marlins in December, since Dickey was acquired from the Mets, since spring training began in February in Dunedin, Fla. So this was a letdown.
“The welcome I got from the fans was borderline supernatural. It was pretty awesome,” Dickey said. “You wish it would have went different. You hope for it to be different. Opening night, everybody is here, full of energy. But the nature of this game is it’s a marathon and you can’t panic.”
“It was tremendous. The fans were into it. They were excited,” Gibbons said. “I know they’re all disappointed. We’re not. It’s part of baseball. We just got outplayed tonight but they’ll be back. We’ve got a good ball club. They’ll be back. They’ll have a fun, entertaining year.”
Carter said he sees a lot of parallels.
“You talk about All-Star Games, well every day in ’93 was like an All-Star Game,” Carter said. “The fans would come out here and you’ve got Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, Tony Fernandez, Paul Molitor, Robbie Alomar. ... We knew teams couldn’t focus on just one player. That’s what has to happen here. It has to be somebody new every day.”
Carter shook his head in disbelief when asked about the Jays’ long drought.
“You hope it wouldn’t end and you think it will never end but it does,” he said. “You have to be realistic. Every dog has his day. When you get that opportunity to play and win in a World Series, you better do it because you never know when that can happen.”
Of course, Carter goes very few places – especially here – without people approaching him and telling their story of the home run. And that’s fine.
“It’s a lot better than, ‘You were at the plate and you stunk it up when you made the last out of the World Series’, and them being mad at me,” Carter said. “I never get tired of it. It’s the way I’ve always been that I’m 53 now and I’m still a big kid.
“Your history is etched in stone. That’s going to be my legacy. I can think of 100 million people that would love to trade positions with that legacy so I’m going to keep it like it is. I never get tired of it.”
The Blue Jays are trying to write a similar story this year. Prior to the game, Gibbons joked about people expecting slugger Jose Bautista to hit a walkoff home run in the curtain-raiser.
Told most folks are thinking more about it coming in October a la Carter, Gibbons said, “Hey, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. But we’d love to repeat that, that’s for sure.”