Keeping An Eye On Those Keeping An Eye On The Blue Jays

By John Iaboni, Sports Media Canada special correspondent


DUNEDIN – Since 1977 the ritual has been the same: They descend on this coastal city of some 36,000 residents, north-west of Clearwater some time around mid-February. They’re starters, relievers, award winners, veterans, rookies. They’re talented at their craft and they’re always striving to hit a home run or strike the side out with their repertoire of tricks.

If you think we’re talking about the Blue Jays here, well, while, that’s their goal, too, for the purposes of this blog I’m talking about the media representing Toronto and in some cases the rest of Canada.

Top row, left to right, Joel Gallant (Sportsnet), Sheri Forde (TSN), Barry Davis (Sportsnet), Ken Fidlin (Toronto Sun), Gregor Chisholm ( and Shi Davidi (Sportsnet); kneeling, front row, left to right, Marc Malette (TSN) and Mark Zwolinski (Toronto Star)

The media covering the Blue Jays comes in waves; some stay for days, some weeks. It’s all a function of keeping fans of Canada’s only Major League Baseball team up to speed on all things Blue Jays. They’re newspaper reporters, columnists and photographers; television play-by-play, news reporters and videographers; and on-line service providers. More often than not, these media types have expanded their horizons to dish out nuggets on social media, too, as what was once a simpler, one-dimensional task has become round-the-clock, multi-outlet news services. They Twitter, they blog, they chat, some even shoot their own photos and video.

Many players arrived at the Blue Jays’ training facilities well before the 2012 reporting dates. And, guess what, some Toronto media came in early, too.

When pitchers and catchers officially reported on February 22, the media contingent was equally impressive. Here’s my scorecard on who was here this week (with apologies to anyone I missed):

Sportsnet – Buck Martinez, Shi Davidi, Barry Davis and Joel Gallant; TSN – Sheri Forde and Marc Malette; Toronto Star – Richard Griffin, Mark Zwolinski, David Cooper and Rene Johnston; Toronto Sun – Ken Fidlin; Globe and Mail – Robert MacLeod; National Post – John Lott; – Gregor Chisholm; Reuters – Mike Cassese and The Canadian Press – Frank Gunn, who happens to be a Sports Media Canada Awards recipient for Outstanding Sports Photography in 2005.

On February 24, position players also reported to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium where second-year manager John Farrell now has his full complement of more than 60 players in camp. In the coming days and weeks, more media will arrive, especially once the Grapefruit League games commence on March 2. Some, of course, will leave, heading back north to other assignments. It’s quite the process, really.

Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos in scrum session with, from left to right, Mark Zwolinski (Toronto Star), Robert MacLeod (Globe and Mail), Shi Davidi (Sportsnet), Gregor Chisholm ( and Ken Fidlin (Toronto Sun)

The operation here is under the excellent supervision of Blue Jays Vice President, Communications Jay Stenhouse and Coordinator, Communications Sue Mallabon. Before Spring Training is over, Manager, Baseball Information Mal Romanin and Coordinator, Baseball Information Erik Grosman will make their way here, too and do their thing in order to service the media demands.

It’s a well-run program that encompasses two facilities at the outset: The players dress at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and are bused over to the nearby Bobby Mattick Complex for workouts. The routine continues until the games begin.

Why you might wonder? Well, with so many players the locker room facilities at the Mattick Complex are rather confining.

“The media has voiced no concern over it,” Stenhouse says. “The biggest thing is what happens if a guy works out and one place and goes home from the other park and we don’t have access? But the club has been very good making sure that players are not allowed to do that; everyone comes back here after workouts so the access for the media to do their jobs has been great.

“It’s a bit of an inconvenience for the media to hop in their cars and head to the complex to watch the workouts and then come back. But I think they understand the reason we do it: It’s easier for them to do their jobs in the clubhouse after because they’re not as cramped, they’re not in the way and as a result they have a better interviewing experience the player likely will give better answers and be more engaged in the interview.”

Spring Training is a dream for media access and a wonderful media working experience.

“I think the media love being here,” Stenhouse says. “It’s a new year for them and I think they get excited each year at Spring Training, they’re ready for baseball after a winter without it.”

Stenhouse chuckles when he adds: “They’ll admit being baseball fans but they’re smart enough not to admit being fans of the team.”

Shooting a bullpen session are (kneeling) Mike Cassese (Reuters) and Frank Gunn (The Canadian Press)

I’m here for my eighth Spring Training and one thing I can say about my ‘BoniBlogs from here over the years is that my media colleagues get rather uncomfortable when the spotlight is put on them. I did round up an “unofficial” team photo of some of the group with some other shots to show the media at work.

I consider myself fortunate to be here again this year. It’s a media rite of spring I hope I’m lucky enough to do for many years to come!