On a night when the Toronto Blue Jays were honouring manager Cito Gaston, thanking him for everything he’s done, he was the one with all of the gratitude.
Gaston didn’t know what to expect when fans, players and others from the baseball world paid tribute to him, but he was undoubtedly happy by the heartfelt responses.
“I certainly didn’t wake up this [Wednesday] morning thinking it was going to turn out like this, but I was hoping it would be a night like tonight,” Gaston said after the festivities.
Wednesday evening’s ceremony began with a video for the manager, filled with messages from players, managers and friends from his past and present.
Speeches were then given by Joe Carter, Vernon Wells, Paul Beeston, and finally, the skipper himself.
Carter made the first acknowledgement of the level of achievement Gaston reached.
“They measure success in baseball by wins and world championships,” Carter said. “909 wins, two world championships. We can see he’s had success.
“It was a privilege for me to play seven years here in Toronto. Playing seven years for Cito Gaston, it was an honour.”
Carter and Beeston both compared Gaston to Jackie Robinson, and made reference to the impact that he had not only winning two World Series, but also carrying them out in succession, and becoming the first African-American to do so.
“It’s very difficult to win one World Series,” Beeston said. “When you can win them back-to-back, that means somebody has to take the credit. There’s one leader, and that leader is in the clubhouse.
“And that leader is the manager.”
Cito made reference to his leadership within the club, but also reflected on the members of his teams, and the moments that brought him to greatness.
“The greatest moment is to go back and visualize that ball from Dave Winfield hit down the third baseline and Robbie Alomar scored from first base, and we won the World Series first,” Gaston said. “And then the second one, of course, was Joe Carter’s home run.
“The fact that we were getting on a bus again, to go and be a part of a parade. That just seemed like it was a dream, because the year before we did the same thing.”
Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, sent a message to the two-time champion as a part of the video homage.
“Congratulations on your planned retirement from the dugout,” Selig said. “I know for more than 20 years, through coaching and managing, and a couple of World Series championships, you’ve been a tremendous asset.
“Not only to the Blue Jays, but to the development of baseball in your adopted home country of Canada.”
Gaston had much to say about the love affair he developed with the city of Toronto, as well as the country he spent so much of his time in.
“I love this country like it’s my country.”
Beeston thought the Jays skipper epitomized Canada well.
“You won pennants, you won World Series, and more importantly you won a lot of individual honours,” Beeston said to Gaston during his speech. “But more importantly, you represented ownership. You represented the team. You represented a country.
“And you did it with what is commonly known as class.”
Showing off his elegance throughout the night, Gaston always came back to the fans, thanking all of those who came to pay tribute to him.
“I want them to know how much I appreciate them, and also appreciate the memories,” Gaston said to the 33,143 on hand Wednesday night. “When I used to walk the street here, a lot of people used to come up to me and say, ‘Thanks for the memories Cito.’
“Well, I’d like to thank the fans for the memories.”
Not only did the manager have success in his early years with the club, but his current players made sure to attribute their recent achievements to the man behind the team.
The major league home run leader, Jose Bautista, gives credit to Gaston for the year that he’s been having, and the player he’s become during their time together.
“He’s really helped me out with my confidence, and he’s helped me with my swing,” Bautista said. “He’s given me a lot of hitting tips, and they’ve been working out pretty good.
“Thank you. I came to the team, you welcomed me, and you gave me an opportunity to play. You helped me to become a pretty good baseball player, and I have a lot to thank to you.”
Catcher John Buck also felt incredibly influenced by the manager in only one year with the team, and sent his message in the video tribute.
“My career has been transformed, just being here, and the main reason is Cito,” Buck said. “I can say without any doubt that he definitely changed me and made me a better player. And ultimately, probably because of him, I got to go to my first All-Star Game.”
Emotions ran high during the entire tribute, but one of the most impactful moments of the night came at the end of the video homage to the skipper. It ended with the words of the late Tom Cheek, the former voice of the Blue Jays.
“He was more than a coach, he was a true friend. Cito Gaston set a very high standard. He did it with an air of professionalism, a love for his players, and a love for the game.”
Thank you, Cito.