Gibbons makes maiden return to Toronto
Now Royals' bench coach, former skipper full of Jays praise
TORONTO -- As the Royals visited Toronto for a weekend series against the Blue Jays, it seemed as though Kansas City bench coach John Gibbons couldn't go anywhere without running into an old friend. Throughout the weekend, he greeted Toronto's players, reporters and broadcasters alike with a smile, a handshake and a pat on the back.
Gibbons, who managed the Blue Jays from 2004-08, made his first visit to Toronto as a member of the visiting team this weekend after being hired by the Royals in October. Gibbons was relieved of his duties June 20 of last season while the Jays were in Pittsburgh, and he found it strange but satisfying to have a chance to come back.
"It's definitely weird," Gibbons said, "but it's been a great thrill to come back here, because after I got [relieved] last year, I was on the road, so I went home from there. To get a chance to see a lot of old faces and friends and say goodbye, it's been a thrill."
The Jays were 35-39 and in last place in the American League East when Gibbons was replaced by current manager Cito Gaston. Gibbons joined the Blue Jays in 2002 as a bullpen catcher, and he worked his way up through the organization, taking over the manager's role in '04. He compiled a 305-305 record over four-plus seasons.
"I was here for seven years -- since 2002 -- so I've really missed this place," Gibbons said. "I've got a new team now and I've really enjoyed that, but I've got a lot of special memories in this place.
The Royals came into Toronto on a seven-game losing skid and extended the slide to a season-high eight games with the Jays' 9-3 win Friday. Gibbons was relieved to bring that to an end Saturday with a 6-2 victory in a ballpark that has brought him good fortune in the past.
"We came in yesterday and snuck out a win, which we desperately needed," Gibbons said before Sunday's tilt. "Hopefully, we can get another one today."
"I was here for so long, and we were actually a very good home team. Our record at home was always really good. We had a lot of wins when I was here in this place. That really sticks out. It was a good home-field advantage here."
Gibbons said he spent Saturday evening walking around downtown Toronto, getting himself reacquainted with his old home. He had nothing but kind words about the Jays' players, his old coaching staff and even the man who took over his job.
"They've got a good ballclub," Gibbons said. "The big question coming into the season for them I think ... was how was the pitching going to hold up because they had so many injuries. They've got some young guys that have stepped in and done a really good job. The pitching coach over there, Brad Arnsberg, he's as good as it gets.
"Cito's done a great job with them. His leadership, he'll help them through it, and he's been through the wars before."
Gibbons had particularly effusive praise for Jays second baseman Aaron Hill, who entered Sunday's game hitting .309 and enjoying the best season of his young career so far.
"Hilly's off to a great start," Gibbons said. "You started seeing it two years ago -- how great a player he was going to be. Last year, he had the concussion and ended up missing most of the year and that's scary. It's good to see him bounce back like he has.
"That's great to see because he's one of the classiest young guys in the league, and he's a true professional. He's one of my favorites."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.