For­mer Jays slug­ger En­car­na­cion makes his re­turn to Rogers Cen­tre

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY GRE­GORY STRONG

It was like old times for slug­ger Edwin En­car­na­cion on Mon­day af­ter­noon at Rogers Cen­tre.

He shot the breeze with Blue Jays man­ager John Gib­bons by the bat­ting cage be­fore the game, play­fully slung his arm around good friend Jose Bautista, and signed au­to­graphs for fans.

The only dif­fer­ence was this time he was wear­ing a dif­fer­ent shade of blue as a mem­ber of the Cleve­land In­di­ans.

“Ed­die did a lot for this town and this fran­chise, pe­riod,” Gib­bons said. “And he’s one of the good guys too.”

En­car­na­cion spent parts of eight sea­sons in Toronto and ex­pressed an in­ter­est in re-sign­ing with the team as a free agent. How­ever, the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal in the off-sea­son and En­car­na­cion even­tu­ally inked a US$60-mil­lion, three­year con­tract with the In­di­ans.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited to be here,” En­car­na­cion said be­fore Mon­day night’s game against his for­mer team. “This is a city that opened its doors to me and gave me the op­por­tu­nity to have the ca­reer that I’ve had.”

En­car­na­cion re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion be­fore his first at-bat. He reached base on an in­field sin­gle.

A video mon­tage of some of

his top mo­ments with the Blue Jays was played be­fore the game. En­car­na­cion, who was warm­ing up in the out­field, tipped his cap and tapped his ch­est with his hand.

En­car­na­cion made his bigleague de­but with Cincin­nati and spent four-plus sea­sons with the Reds be­fore be­ing dealt to Toronto in 2009. He had a break­out year in 2012 with 42 homers and 110 RBIs and has been one of the sport’s top slug­gers ever since.

“I have a lot of re­ally good mem­o­ries,” En­car­na­cion said via a trans­la­tor. “But what I re­mem­ber

the most is be­ing in the play­offs and our fi­nal play­off run.”

The 34-year-old na­tive of La Ro­mana, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, helped kick­start Toronto’s 2016 post-sea­son run with a walkoff homer in a win over the Bal­ti­more Orioles in the Amer­i­can League wild-card game.

The Blue Jays made it to the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries for the sec­ond straight year be­fore fall­ing to the In­di­ans.

En­car­na­cion belted 42 homers last sea­son and had 39 the year be­fore, with his fa­mil­iar ‘Ed-Wing’ home run trot — as if a par­rot were on his arm — al­ways a crowd favourite.

His de­par­ture from Toronto was not the one many base­ball ob­servers pre­dicted.

The fu­tures of En­car­na­cion and Bautista were talk­ing points as soon as the Blue Jays were elim­i­nated last fall. Both ex­pected to hit it big as free agents while keep­ing op­tions open for a po­ten­tial re­turn.

En­car­na­cion called Toronto his first choice but de­clined a four-year deal worth $80 mil­lion. The Blue Jays quickly turned to free agent Kendrys Mo­rales in­stead, sign­ing him to a three-year con­tract worth $33 mil­lion.

The mar­ket ended up be­ing sur­pris­ingly cool for veteran slug­gers and the ex­pected megadeals were not there.

Bautista would come back to Toronto on an $18.5-mil­lion, one-year deal that in­cluded op­tions. The In­di­ans, mean­while, signed En­car­na­cion to the rich­est guar­an­teed con­tract for a free agent in club his­tory.

“This is a business,” En­car­na­cion said. “The (Blue Jays) did what they needed to do and I did my part and I went to where the door was open to me.”

En­car­na­cion’s con­tract also in­cludes an op­tion for the 2020 sea­son. He ad­mit­ted it took him a few weeks to un­der­stand what hap­pened af­ter the Blue Jays turned to other op­tions in the off-sea­son.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/NATHAN DENETTE

Cleve­land In­di­ans des­ig­nated hit­ter Edwin En­car­na­cion (10) laughs with for­mer team­mate, Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) at bat­ting prac­tice be­fore the Blue Jays take on the In­di­ans in AL base­ball ac­tion in Toronto on Mon­day.

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