(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - Every spring, the Toronto Blue Jays minor leagers gather inside the Bobby Mattick Training Centre in Dunedin, Florida to acknowledge those who had success the previous season. Awards are handed out to the system's elite players at each level and as the hardware is handed out some of the executive from Toronto are on-hand usually leaning against the back wall just steps away from some 250 players all aspiring to reach the bright lights of the Major Leagues.
General Manager Ross Atkins is there sipping on a glass of water while Mark Shapiro looks on alongside any number of his staff that are also at Spring Training trying to get the Blue Jays ready for Opening Day. At some point during the ceremony, the emcee of the event will take a moment to introduce the players to those execs, coaches and instructors that are all there to tip caps to these young prospects. The players will politely applaud as the role call of names whips through the classroom air that is thick with everyone knowing that once this 'get together' wraps up its right out to the field to start yet another day of training. But before they head out, a pause as one of the men introduced from the back of the room draws a special type of attention.
Cito Gaston has slipped into the back of the room with hardly a peep, and yet once the players see that the two-time World Series Championship manager is among those guests in attendance the room rises collectively and Cito receives a lengthy standing ovation from every single person in attendance. The irony in the moment comes when you realize that a good chunk of the players in the room weren't even alive when Cito led Toronto to a pair of titles in both 1992 and 1993 - but to be a Blue Jay is to know the franchise's history and you can't go anywhere within the complex and not see a number of photos and acknowledgements to Gaston and both of his tenures as manager of "Canada's team."
For those like the players who might not know much about Cito Gaston, here's 10 items that will surely make you appreciate his place within baseball and in particular the Toronto Blue Jays organization:
10. Cito was hired in 1982 by the Toronto Blue Jays as the team's hitting coach working alongside Bobby Cox. He was brought on just a few seasons after wrapping up an 11-year playing career with Atlanta, San Diego and Pittsburgh.
9. In 1970, Gaston was named to the National League All-Star Team that featured such players as Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron & Johnny Bench. That season, Gaston, a member of the San Diego Padres hit .318 wih 29 home runs and 93 RBI.
8. "Cito" was not his given name as the slendar athlete from Texas was born Clarence Gaston. Legend has it that "Cito" stemmed from a local friend who thought the teenager resembled a local professional wrestler named "Cito."
7. When Gaston was first offered the Blue Jays managerial position in 1989, he was reluctant to accept the role until a number of his players pushed him toward it stating that he was the right person for the job. He must have been as the Blue Jays after stumbling out of the gates under Jimy Williams went 77-49 with Cito at the helm tracking down Baltimore and winning the American League East pennant. The Blue Jays under Gaston would win the AL East (1989, 92 & 93) three times.
6. Cito had five (5) sisters growing up.
5. On September 14th, 1967 Cito made his Major League debut pinch-running for Terry Francona and went 3-for-25 (.120) in nine games as a September call-up. The silver lining? His roommate over the season's final few weeks was baseball legend Hank Aaron.
4. Gaston was plucked by the San Diego Padres in 1968 with the last pick of 30 in the MLB Expansion Draft. He would play six seasons with the Padres before returning to Atlanta for the next five.
3. Former Blue Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield touted with having one of the best arms of his generation said that Cito Gaston had one of the best, most accurate outfield arms he had ever seen. Gaston had 16 assists in 1973.
2. Cito would have a pretty extensive LinkedIn profile if you took into consideration that in 1989 he was named Canada's Baseball Man of the Year; Sportman of the Year (1993), was added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence (1999), was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (2002), inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame (2006), presented with the Negro League Legacy Award named after the great Jackie Robinson (2008), inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2011) and oh yeah, was presented with an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Toronto (1994). Did we mentioned he had five sisters?
1. Upon helping the Blue Jays win the first of two back-to-back World Championships, Cito became the first African-American manager to ever lead his team to the World Series. At the time of his hiring he was just the fourth African-American manager in baseball history. Cito was once asked about his being a minority in baseball and his response was "I don't get to emotional about it. To me, it doesn't matter what colour you are. I only think about it when you bring it up."(New York Times, October 26, 1992).
Don't miss your chance to see Cito Gaston, Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins and longtime Blue Jays great President Emeritus Paul Beeston - all part of the 9th Annual Scotiabank Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon set for Friday, January 25th, 2019 from 12:00pm to 2:00pm at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver with tickets on-sale now by calling 604.872.5232, or by visiting us at historic Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium (4601 Ontario Street, Vancouver, B.C.).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.