Fresh off the 2015 post-season run that ended in defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, the Toronto Blue Jays are primed to start spring training camp in Florida on Feb. 26.
Two pillars of the Jays' team, outfielder Kevin Pillar and first baseman Chris Colabello, were in Saskatoon Friday to speak at the annual Kinsmen Celebrity Sports Dinner. Prior to the evening event, the two Jays took some time to speak with media about the past season that was and looking ahead to 2016.
Kevin Pillar on playing for Canada's team
"It's a unique situation we have, playing for a Canadian team and getting the opportunity to travel to a bunch of different places ... probably places that me and my wife aren't flying to on vacation, but places I could put a thumb tack on my map at home and say 'I've been,'" he said.
Pillar noted that last year's postseason run has him anxious to get started for spring training and ready for this year.
To be able to travel the country and see how the Blue Jays are to them, and there's fans everywhere, it's pretty special. - Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar
"Next weekend is the official start, but we've been down in Florida for a while," he said. "[Saskatoon] is kind of our last little getaway ... We're kind of already in spring training mode now."
He said that coming to Saskatoon, along with seeing Calgary, Banff, Fort McMurray and Ottawa in 2014 is a unique opportunity. "You've got an entire country that follows one team. And to be able to travel the country and see how the Blue Jays are to them, and there's fans everywhere, it's pretty special."
Chris Colabello on sticking with baseball and self-belief
When asked how things have changed for him and the team since the 2015 post-season run, Colabello said "I'm still the same guy, which I think is a good thing, but it's definitely been a little different off-season.
"To see the outreach that we've had as a team, and the passion and support that I felt through this country, as far west as Vancouver, as far east as New Brunswick, and north to Fort Mac. It's been incredible, and obviously to explore and get to see different parts of Canada, it's really cool," he said.
The first baseman said he's been looking forward to 2016 since the Kansas City Royals handed the Jays a post-season exit last October. "I'm a baseball guy through and through. As soon as we got done, I was ready to play again.
"I think [the playoff push] was something we all expected as a group. We felt really strongly about who we were as a team, and how we gelled."
Looking to 2016, Colabello expects his team to "have a target on our back this year."
"I heard [manager John Gibbons] say — this a few days ago — 'if you look at the team opening day last year versus what it is now, I think the team's better now.' So it's a lot more established guys that have been around," he said.
Colabello was particularly candid when asked about making it to the big leagues, and what that journey was like for him.
'When you're in search of something, looking for somebody's approval so bad, and it never comes. And then when you stop caring, it shows up at your door step.' - Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello
"I love baseball. It didn't matter where I was playing. People asked me all the time, 'what kept you going?' I love the game, love the element of competition; it's my favourite thing the world."
In terms of how he navigated his path to the majors, he said "I was honest with myself. I trusted my eyeballs.
"I said 'I'm good enough to play with those guys,' and I felt it. I was around guys that made me believe it enough," he said. "I'm a big believer of keep going about your business the right way; keep doing things the right way every day, and the opportunities will present themselves and things will go the direction you need them to."
He said there was a point where "I didn't need anyone telling me I could play in the big leagues; I knew I could."
The example he used is "when you're in search of something, looking for somebody's approval so bad, and it never comes. And then when you stop caring, it shows up at your door step."