If you spent enough time at McKechnie Field 10 springs ago, you would have gotten to know a pretty bad Pittsburgh Pirates team. Okay, they had Jason Bay in left field, Jack Wilson at shortstop and Matt Capps closing out games, so they weren’t completely helpless, but still, the fans who showed up at the Pirates’ Bradenton, Fla., spring training facility didn’t have all that much cause for hope.
As for the clean-shaven 27-year-old Pittsburgh was bouncing from position to position, he would have seemed only slightly more likely to end the team’s losing ways than a stadium usher.
J.P. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos spent a lot of time at McKechnie Field 10 springs ago. Then the general manager and assistant GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, respectively, Ricciardi and Anthopoulos often visited Bradenton for road games. Just as often, the Pirates made the quick trip north to Dunedin. Relatively speaking, it was — and remains — an easy Grapefruit League trip. The Blue Jays and Pirates see a lot of each other every spring, and familiarity builds along the way.
So it was with some help from geography that the Toronto Blue Jays’ top executives became familiar with the player who would define much of the franchise’s next decade, Jose Bautista.
“We knew him inside and out,” Anthopoulos recalls. “We knew he was athletic and could play all over the place, [that] he could throw.” But that familiarity alone wasn’t enough to complete a deal: injuries, opportunity and some cooperation from the waiver wire were also necessary to bring Bautista to Toronto.