Hey, it's still hockey season
There's no mistaking Matt Stairs as a true Canadian-born major league baseball player.
He's turning 40 on Feb. 27 and when you place him beside one of his more statuesque Blue Jays teammates you might not guess they play on the same team. But Stairs, a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, certainly brings all the flavour of Canada's greatest sports passion when he arrives in spring training here as he did this morning.
Stairs' hockey team – he's an assistant coach with John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Maine, during the off-season – advanced to the playoffs after finishing with a 14-5-1 record. It’s the school's first time in the final four.
Baseball is obviously in the air here, but Stairs – like most Canadians these days – can't help but think of his favourite hockey team.
"It's going to be hard to focus on baseball … I'm here to get going, but I'm thinking of my team too," Stairs said.
Jays bench coach Brian Butterfield, another Maine native, made it over to Bangor this winter to attend one of John Bapst's games with Stairs behind the bench.
“That was pretty cool,” Stairs said. “I'm an assistant coach; I take care of the offence. We’re going to the playoffs and it’s pretty important. You work out 90 minutes a day on top of going to school, and it’s a nice thing for our players, a real accomplishment.”
Stairs' love of hockey and his commitment to his team has him thinking – hoping – to steal away from spring training for a day and get back behind the bench when his team opens the playoffs March 9.
“You never know,” he said.
By no means is Stairs shrugging off the start of what many observers feel will be a promising season for the Blue Jays. Coming off a solid season statistically, he signed a two year, $3.25 million deal.
In fact, he seems almost embarassed by references to his new contract, something that might be construed as characteristically Canadian.
“The key is to stay healthy, but I did sign a two-year deal and you want to go out and show that last year wasn’t a fluke,” Stairs said.
In the meantime, new shortstp David Eckstein also showed up for day one of spring training today. Every player is accounted for now other than utility infielder Marco Scutaro.
The first full roster workout goes tomorrow.