SIMMONS: Getting his Jays home is a big victory for Mark Shapiro

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Mark Shapiro didn’t sound a lot like Mark Shapiro — which by itself was a victory all its own.

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He was talking about dreams. He was talking about unlikely possibilities. He was talking about being part of the greatest story in baseball in a season that’s been all about great stories. He was talking, fantasizing about winning in October.

And he couldn’t stop smiling.

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Which meant he didn’t sound like himself, like the normally steel-faced, cliche-filled, textbook quoting Shapiro: He didn’t look much like himself either. He wore happy at his Saturday afternoon press availability. Like the world was no longer his baseball burden. Like he could finally exhale after too many meetings and too many proposals and much governmental circumstance, which in truth, translated to a season and a half with so much frustration.

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The Blue Jays are coming home. The baseball hostages have been freed after 670 days, a number Shapiro repeated over and over again. Six hundred and seventy. If Shapiro could wear a uniform now, that would probably be his number.

See, the president of the Blue Jays is human, even if we haven’t necessarily known this before. He hit his own home run here. He circled the bases. He worked with government. He broke down barriers. He did the near-impossible.

He brought his Blue Jays home safely. July 30 is the first game in Toronto. There will be 58 games left after that. Enough time to become a contender.

THIS AND THAT

The MLB Players’ Association could have put a roadblock in the Blue Jays way by grieving the manner in which non-vaccinated players and coaches will be dealt with in their time in Toronto. The union chose not to. The MLBPA took the approach that the entire Jays roster needed to get home and they weren’t going to stand in the way of that … Many big league teams are working at an 80% vaccination rate or less than that. That means there is an average of five unvaccinated players per team. So this is still complicated business … The eight-year deal worth $8.45-million per season signed Saturday by Dallas defenceman Miro Heiskanen is just the latest example of how much the Leafs overpaid for Mitch Marner at $10.9 million per season and how much the Sabres overpaid for Jack Eichel at $10 million a year. Heiskanen had 26 points in Dallas’ Stanley Cup run of 2020. Marner has 25 career playoff points. Eichel has none … I asked an NHL coach if he was surprised by how often the highly skilled Tampa Bay Lightning dump and chase the puck in their offensive structure. His answer surprised me: “Even the elite ‘possession’ teams are still dumping it in 60-70% of the time. It’s the reality of the NHL,” the coach texted … So I wonder: Would the Edmonton Oilers have traded for Duncan Keith if they knew they had a chance to get Ryan Suter, two years younger, at almost no cost? Or would they have still preferred the older leader that is Keith as opposed to the perceived individual that is Suter, who was bought out by the Minnesota Wild … More than one NHL forward has told me: You don’t want to go into a corner with Shea Weber. Or stand around the Montreal net, for that matter. You can’t quantify what all that means in a hockey game, but you will see a difference when Weber is missing from the Montreal lineup next season… New Leaf Jared McCann played in the Soo for coach Sheldon Keefe and GM Kyle Dubas. He’s likely to take Alex Kerfoot’s spot with Toronto … Zach Bogosian could become the first NHL player to change teams because of COVID-19 restrictions. Bogosian wants to return to an American-based team where his family won’t have to face the kind of restrictions it faced in his first season with the Leafs. But all that could change as Ontario opens up ever so slightly and the Blue Jays story certainly helps … No one is saying much about it, but after bouncing around from place to place Alex Galchenyuk wants to stay with the Leafs. He appreciated the way he was handled here.

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HEAR AND THERE

At least five athletes not born in Canada — Donovan Bailey, Steve Nash, Ben Johnson, Daniel Igali and Alphonso Davies — have won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year. Which begs the question, half-kidding, half-not: Does Vladimir Guerrero Jr., born in Montreal, Canadian citizen, qualify as a candidate for the Lou Marsh? Now that will be a fascinating conversation when December comes around … After a decent start, Aaron Sanchez hasn’t pitched in San Francisco since early May. And this time, he can’t blame Pete Walker for his injury problems, can he? … Even in a pandemic, this is how rich it gets for the NFL: All teams are being paid $309 million for their share in television revenue in a league with a salary cap of $198 million … If that late block by Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 4 of the NBA Finals leads to a championship for the Milwaukee Bucks, he will be known for that forever, much more than winning back-to-back NBA MVP awards. It is the Giannis equivalent of the Game 7 shot by Kawhi Leonard in Toronto … Willie Mays is the Say Hey Kid. Could Shohei Ohtani become the Show Hey Kid? … Are these Kyle Lowry’s final days with the Raptors? It sure feels like it. He becomes a free agent on Aug. 2, if the Raps don’t trade him before that. The interest in Lowry should be brisk if he winds up exercising his free agency.

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SCENE AND HEARD

A tale of two leagues: Trevor Bauer remains on leave from Major League Baseball since July 2 after allegations of sexual assault surfaced. He has yet to be charged with any crime. Former Raptor Terence Davis, levied with a variety of domestic assault charges last October 28, played the entire NBA season without interruption. On Saturday, the NBA hosted a roundtable on social justice and police reform. Bet Davis’ name never came up … Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003, the most recent time an American won a men’s tennis singles Grand Slam. Since then, 38 American men have won Grand Slam golf tournaments … The two-year anniversary of Bianca Andreescu’s U.S. Open win is approaching. If someone had told me two years ago that the uber-competitive Andreescu would go all this time without winning a single match of significance, that one I would have argued against and lost … Who wins a major first: Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Aliassime? … Former NFL star Martavis Bryant has yet to show up at Argos camp. They’re calling it passport issues. With a straight face … New York’s Larry Brooks said this better than I could: “Reading the venom, vitriol and hatred sent Pierre McGuire’s way, one would think he’s a mass murderer and not a hockey person who did television and is now moving into (Ottawa’s) front office.” My bet, a lot of that vitriol has come from those who wouldn’t know one-tenth of what the encyclopedic McGuire knows about hockey, the NHL or player development.

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AND ANOTHER THING

For reasons not completely explained, the Leafs have virtually ignored drafting and developing goaltenders in the Brendan Shanahan era. They have selected Zachary Bouthillier, Ian Scott and Joseph Woll in recent years. The team hasn’t picked an NHL goalie of any substance since James Reimer in 2006. The only goalie chosen by the Leafs who turned out to be upper-echelon the past 20 years: A guy named Tuukka Rask … The final four goaltenders in the NHL — Andrei Vasilevskiy, Carey Price, Semyon Varlamov and Marc-Andre Fleury — all were first-round picks … Tampa Bay won back-to-back Stanley Cups aided by some terrific drafting after the first round. They wound up with Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Ross Colton all picked after Round 1. When Chicago won Stanley Cups in the previous decade, they had Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford, Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Saad, Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell, among others, picked after Round 1. The Leafs current picks after Round 1: Travis Dermott, Adam Brooks and Pierre Engvall … Happy birthday to Bryan Trottier (65), Heiskanen (22), OG Anunoby (24), Adam Lind (38), Scott Norwood (61), Carlos Colon (73), Ryan Miller (38), Don Kessinger (79), Bernard Williams (49), Joe Torre (81), Jamie Benn (32) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (30) … And hey, whatever became of Andrew Luck?

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BROADCASTER KIDS MAKING THEIR OWN NAMES

We’ve all taken our kids to practice of some kind. We’ve all watched them play games. We’ve all sat on the sidelines and chatted and wondered — does my guy or my girl have that special kind of talent?

It is so very rare.

Rod Black and Matt Devlin make their living broadcasting sports. They happen to be very good at it. Black does CFL games and Raptors halftime panels and major figure skating events and just about anything else you can name. He’s a pro’s pro.

Devlin is the television voice of the Raptors. He’s an American who has made Canada his home. Occasionally, he’s called upon to do NBA playoff games on national television. Most summers, he fills in on Blue Jays broadcasts. Another pro’s pro.

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But this isn’t about them as much as it’s about their children. Tyler Black, Rod’s oldest son, formerly coached by Joe Bowen (imagine how loud that would be), was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers last Sunday in the first round of the MLB draft. That is incredible.

Devlin’s son, Luke, who never skated before moving with his family to Canada, was recently named to Team USA for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup Tournament, one of the most prestigious Under-18 hockey tournaments in the world. Luke will be heading to Cornell University in the future to play.

Sometimes good things happen to good people and good families. The fruit from these broadcast trees is paying sporting dividends.

HYMAN ABOUT TO CASH IN, FOR BETTER OR WORSE

I worry about Zach Hyman.

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Because, in a way, he feels like family. I’ve known his dad for more than 15 years. I watched him play in the GTHL and in the Ontario Provincial League. I’ve known his mother-in-law for almost half a century.

And you want to protect your family.

I worry that free agency is going to put him in a position, economically and hockey-wise, that stretches beyond his many talents. Hyman has spent his entire professional hockey career proving people wrong and exceeding expectations. He’s played more and played better and scored more and been more important for the Maple Leafs than anyone — even Mike Babcock — saw coming.

And he has delivered, in the hardest ways, from the most challenging places. He has scored 31 goals in his past 82 regular-season games with the Leafs. That’s a remarkable number. And now he’s about to cash in on those statistics.

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Cash in rather large, it seems. At least $5 million a year. With years of term. Maybe more money than that. So excuse me if I worry about him putting himself in a position where his play and his game don’t necessarily equal his salary. That has, over the years, been known to eat up the occasional player.

Hyman is such a great kid, such a great competitor, you really hope this won’t happen to him.

VLADDY’S LANGUAGE SHOULDN’T MATTER

Based on my e-mail, a lot of people seem bothered by the fact Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is doing his regular news conferences through an interpreter.

They shouldn’t be.

Guerrero speaks more than a little bit of English. He understands the language and can communicate with it.

But that’s not the issue here. Guerrero’s reluctance to speak without his interpreter is reminiscent of Edwin Encarnacion’s time with the Blue Jays. You could speak to Encarnacion privately and his English was fine, his understanding was fine. But as soon as a group gathered around his locker, or he was asked to do a post-game scrum, he wanted his interpreter there.

His own kind of protection. Just in case.

Roberto Duran, the boxer, wasn’t that much different. You could talk to Duran privately and he understood what you were saying but he didn’t trust his English enough to want to publicly communicate that way. For years, he used the same interpreter and that worked for him.

In the case of Guerrero Jr., it shouldn’t really matter what language he is speaking. He speaks the language of baseball with his actions and the game has become his personal stage.

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