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Blue Jays rate an A in early PR grades in Buffalo

Alex Anthopoulos (right) and John Gibbons were all smiles in Toronto Tuesday morning and then made the quick trip to Coca-Cola Field. (AP)

I've been to dozens of press conferences at Coca-Cola Field since it opened in 1988. The day the Mets came in 2008 was particularly memorable for all the politicos in the house, all the way up to former Gov. David Paterson (it was mostly downhill from there, of course).

But in their two trips downtown since becoming the Bisons' new parent, the Toronto Blue Jays are blowing the Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and, yes, even the Cleveland Indians completely out of the water on the PR end. And the Indians were darn good in that area too.

Now, the Blue Jays have to put a winning team on the field come April to keep the good feelings going. But there's no question they're already far more invested in the Bisons than the Mets ever were.

On the day the teams' new affiliation was announced, Toronto president/CEO Paul Beeston was on hand along with general manager Alex Anthopoulos and minor-league officials. But they also brought ambassadors and franchise legends Roberto Alomar, Pat Hentgen and Cito Gaston. Impressive show.

Then came Tuesday. Marty Brown is back as manager, just as the Bisons hoped from day one. St. Francis product Jim Negrych has been signed to a minor-league deal but has an invite to major-league spring training. So he gets a chance to make the big club or plays Triple-A for his hometown team. The minor-league officials were again here.

But Anthopoulos and new manager John Gibbons show up unannounced -- after stopping for lunch at Chef's -- a scant three hours after their presser in Toronto to disclose Gibbons' return. Yes, a short drive but it was a big effort with plenty of symbolism.

"This is an important affiliation to us, very important," Anthopoulos told Inside Pitch. "I'm not saying any of the others aren't but we want to stay for a long time. We wanted them and this is one of the model franchises at this level. If we lose this affiliation, it's on us because these guys have been the best operators in the minor leagues. They've already established themselves as the best. It's on us to keep it going."

For this trip, the Blue Jays made sure assistant GM Andrew Tinnish was in the house (he was not here in September). Tinnish is signing minor-league free agents for the Bisons and made the first contact with Negrych.

"I wanted him to come up and see this," Anthopoulos said. "I told him, 'See this? We've got to win, we've got to win.' I probably put the heat on him a little too much but I reminded him. I wanted him to see the magnitude of it for himself, the ballpark, the scope of attention, focus, the interest level of this team and the impact he can have on it. I wanted him to feel it to see how this affiliation is."

ContractCharlie Wilson, the director of minor-league operations, echoed those comments after co-signing Negrych's contract for all to see inside Pettibones Grille (left).

"Buffalo and their front office here and all their people are a part of this. We can't do what we want to do without them," Wilson said. "They're a big part of what we want to do here. I am huge on the relationship and so is everybody else in our organization. [Anthopoulos and Gibbons] want to be here today and want to be here for a long time to come.

"Our first trip, we were so excited that it was almost like the people who were back in the office in Toronto felt left out they didn't come. It's a sincere feeling we have, heartfelt. We believe in this relationship and want to make it work."

There are more minor-league free agents to sign, although the Jays have already worked hard on pitching. Another trade or two could shake up the Herd's roster more. But there's no other way to say it: The Blue Jays are off to a great start.

---Mike Harrington
Twitter: @BNHarrington 
(Wilson and Negrych photo: Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

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