Greatest hitters in Blue Jays history feted

Greatest hitters in Blue Jays history feted

TORONTO -- It was a day of reflection and celebration at the ballpark on Sunday, as Blue Jays greats from every era were on hand to celebrate 40 years of franchise history.

Sunday's contest against the Red Sox marked the first of three home games commemorating different moments in Blue Jays lore, with an aim at bringing together a collection of members from the team's inception, the back-to-back World Series victories and those who recently etched their name in team history.

On hand for the event were 10 of the greatest hitters in the team's 40-year run such as Roberto Alomar, Jesse Barfield, Jose Cruz Jr., Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez, Shawn Green, John Mayberry, Lloyd Moseby, Vernon Wells and Ernie Whitt.

"It's always great coming to Toronto," said Whitt, who was a part of Toronto's inaugural season in 1977 and its first division title in '85. "I'm always excited to see the team doing well and they've got such a tremendous offensive game, and they bring a lot of excitement to the city. That's the good part about it."

Fans that came early were given wristbands to an autograph session and received a bobblehead featuring Wells, Delgado and current outfielder Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays also held an on-field ceremony and aired a video montage in front of a sold-out Rogers Centre crowd to recognize the contributions of Toronto's alumni and its teams throughout the franchise's history.

Many of the former players have played a role with the organization in some capacity, whether it be as a guest coach in Spring Training, through various different Jays Care events or at alumni initiatives.

"It's always nice to stay in touch," said Delgado, the Blue Jays' all-time leader in home runs. "I get the opportunity to travel to the Minor Leagues to work with the guys. We talk and I try to help them out. It's different, because for the longest time, you're always thinking as a player. Now you're on the other side, but having the opportunity to stick around. I'm very grateful to Toronto."

Having experienced 21 years without a taste of the playoffs after consecutive World Series victories in the 1990s, it was a special moment for many of the players to feel connected with the growth of the organization and being a part of the process which has led to the team's current success.

"There's been a lot of history," said Wells, who spent 12 of his 15 Major League seasons with the Blue Jays. "A lot of ups and a lot of downs. Carlos and I were together for some of those downs even though we were doing everything that we could to get to the point where this team is now. But I think organizations go through those periods."

"This is my second home for a long time, and it still feels like it's a part of me. There's a couple guys still here that I played with, and understanding how big last year was for this organization and following that, it was a blast."

With the team's current core now having experienced postseason success with its run to the American League Championship Series in 2015 and interest back at an all-time high, Toronto's baseball greats were optimistic that the current edition of the Blue Jays will continue to provide excitement throughout the summer and into the fall.

"This is the way it should be," said Jesse Barfield, a two-time Gold Glove outfielder (1986-87) and a Silver Slugger (1986) recipient with the Blue Jays. "Toronto is a city of champions. You walk out here on a sunny day game, we're used to seeing the electricity in the crowd the way it is now and I hope they can build on it."

The Blue Jays will continue their 40-year commemoration on July 10, celebrating the greatest moments in franchise history, and on Aug. 14 by commemorating the greatest pitcher's in team history.

Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.