Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue Jays look great... on paper

Lots of buzz at camp, but lots of 'buts' too

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" blared from the press box Monday as Jose Bautista cracked balls from the batting cage at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

The morning sun beat down on this sleepy slice of Florida while Bautista swung to Billy Corgan singing "Believe, believe in me, believe. That life can change, that you're not stuck in vain. We're not the same, we're different tonight. Tonight, so bright."

Pitchers and catchers don't report until today but hopes are already sky high around the big-spending Blue Jays (73-89 last season, fourth in the AL East) in the wake of acquiring R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio.

"We were, I think, hopefully optimistic last year. But I think this year we expect to win, that's the difference," said Brandon Morrow.

"If everybody plays to their abilities, to their expectations, I think we're going to have a great year," he added.

"This team is built to win and that's all I've ever wanted. Just to get a chance to win," added fellow pitcher Ricky Romero.

But then he sounded what could be a familiar note of caution this spring training,

"On paper, we're a great team ... (but) it doesn't matter what kind of team you have on paper, you've still got to go out there and play. If anything, the target's grown a little bit on us. Obviously teams are going to want to beat us and they're going to see what we're all about. We've got to come with it and prove that we belong in that elite company.

"But as of now we really haven't done anything, other than make the moves, yeah. But other than that, we've still got to go out there and play."

Manager John Gibbons, in his second stint at the Jays' helm, looked to balance optimism and realism.

"I'm new coming back so there's excitement there for myself. But the talent Alex (GM Alex Anthopoulos) has assembled speaks for itself. Now we've got to go out and play good baseball. You've still got to win a lot of ball games.

"But there's times you come in and you think 'Well if everything goes right, we've got a shot at this.' But legitimately maybe you don't. But now we feel we've got one of the better teams in baseball. But until you go out and do something on the field, that only takes you so far. But it does create that buzz and that atmosphere and the expectations. But that's what you want in this business."

Seven buts, for those counting.

Still the manager was clearly enjoying the moment Monday, renewing acquaintances or shaking hands with new friends.

"This place was a special place to me in my first go-round," said Gibbons, who was in charge from 2004 to 2008. "So to be coming back makes it a little easier to settle in. I'm enjoying it."

Looking for Gibbons was like playing Whac-a-Mole. He was popping up everywhere, always with a smile.

Bautista was all business, yelling "Hey we haven't even officially started yet. Jeez. Tomorrow," as he passed a media scrum around pitcher Drew Hutchison on his way to the field.

The Jays slugger bypassed the media on his way back to the clubhouse, saying he had to complete his workout.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 C6

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