Blue Jays boss says he aims to make fans happy

It's opening day for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Mark Shapiro, the team's president and CEO, spoke with CBC Metro Morning host Matt Galloway. Shapiro talks about expectations, the fans, the stadium.

Mark Shapiro talks about the team's slow start, the fans, and the future of the Rogers Centre

Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, says he aims to make fans happy. In an interview on CBC's Metro Morning before the home opener, he says the Blue Jays is the only team in Major League Baseball that has fans thousands of kilometres away. (CBC)

Batter up! The Blue Jays are back in action in Toronto on Tuesday night. 

Mark Shapiro, Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO, spoke with CBC Metro Morning host Matt Galloway, before the team plays the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:07 p.m. ET.

It's Shapiro's second season with the Jays. He became president in November 2015, after spending 24 seasons with Cleveland. 

You've been in baseball a long time. Do you still get excited about the home opener?

Absolutely. Yeah. Baseball, I think, when you think about opening day, you reflect back even on opening days you went to as a kid. For me, it's always that little bit of renewal. It reminds me of the bonds I had with my family around the game. It reminds me of going to opening days in Baltimore as a little kid, and being pulled out of school, which was never a bad thing when you're a kid. You see the families in the stands, and recognize that there are a lot of rituals around baseball. Opening day is one of those rituals.

It's going to be 22 C today. Are they going to open the roof? Do you have any say in that? Do you have a giant switch in your office?

No, I don't have the button in my office, but I think the threat of rain would be the bigger issue. Yeah, it's certainly going to warm enough to open it. if we feel comfortable that there is no rain coming.

Do you have a panic button in your office? The team has started off on a poor note.

I think 25 years provides you with the backdrop to maybe have a little more perspective. It doesn't make you any less competitive, it doesn't make you any less unhappy, but you also recognize that the first week of the season exacerbates and kind of exaggerates the impact of a bad start. You get back to what your process was, and who these players are...and how much I believe in them as people, as competitors.

But you also look at the standings. I know it's a handful of games in but when they're in the cellar, you have to question it.

I honestly don't look at the standings. I do look at the losses and say, hey, this is not how we want to start the season. But I'm not looking at the standings yet. I really do hold back, until about the quarter pole, and 40 games in, and I say, drawing any conclusions prior to that time is way premature. We are going to believe in what led us to believe in these players in the first place, their track records, their careers, who they are as people, their character, their toughness. I think these guys will put themselves in the thick of things throughout the season.

For Aaron Sanchez, any time the word 'opening' comes into play in baseball, it's special, so he's excited about Tuesday's home opener against Milwaukee. "We just try to go out there and compete for those guys [fans] and just have fun," he says. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The welcome was interesting when you arrived. You replaced a fan favourite. And people wondered, who is this guy? Do you feel a bit more welcome now?

It's interesting, I never took any of that personally. You got to have a thick skin. You got to be able separate your self-esteem and who you are as a person—father, husband, friend, son, brother—from who you are professionally. The goal of the job has always been to make fans happy. We want to provide a team that not only wins, but makes fans across this whole country proud, not just in this city.

When I came back from spring training this year, it wasn't coming back to an apartment downtown. I was coming back to a home with a family and kids. I felt like I was coming home. In year two, this is my home, and in year two, I feel more at peace here.

How do you match your expectations with the expectations of fans? People have different timelines. You're in it for the long haul.

I would say, If my expectations aren't greater than fans, then we're in real trouble. You have to have one eye on today and one eye on the future and what you are building.

When they get engrossed in a sports team, they just want to root and they just to win. And anything other than that is a disappointment. The ultimate goal is always to provide a sustainable championship team, a team that can compete year after year. Getting from here to there, hopefully, we'll have no hiccups, and no bumps in the road. You have to do two jobs, one is building that infrastructure, the other is winning, now.

What do you think of our fans? A piece in the Globe and Mail yesterday reminded us of comments by recently retired MLB player Nick Swisher, who said Jays fans are the worst in all of baseball.

I kind of take that as a badge of honour. It's an interesting characterization because the reality is, the fans aren't just here. There's no other team in all of Major League Baseball that has fans thousands of miles away, that show up to watch them play on the road and fill up a stadium in Seattle, when we play the Mariners, that fill up a stadium in Detroit, that fill up Cleveland with Blue Jays fans. I think it's hard to narrow it down to just who's in the Roger Centre when you recognize the number of people watching us across the entire country.

Can I ask about the Rogers Centre? It's one of the oldest stadiums in baseball. If you look five years down the road, where will the Jays be playing?

It will still be in Rogers Centre, but it will have undergone what I would hope would be a revisioning. It would be taking a multi-purpose stadium, designed in a different era with a very different set of alternatives, and it would be a ball park. It would have character. It would provide a different experience for different types of fans that come for different types of reasons within that ball park.

We will have undergone what I hope in five years will be a revisioning that provides people with: number one, a winning team, and number two, an experience that provides memories that connects generations of fans. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.