Visiting Wells feels at home in Toronto
TORONTO -- Vernon Wells' latest return to Rogers Centre wasn't nearly as emotional as his first visit, but it still hit close to home for the 15-year veteran.
Wells spent the first 12 years of his career with the Blue Jays before being dealt to the Angels in January 2011. His return later that year was a roller-coaster ride that included a mixture of cheers and jeers from the hometown crowd.
The reaction has been mixed in the past, but that hasn't changed the fact that Wells, now a Yankee, still looks forward to making the trip to where so many familiar faces remain.
"It's fun coming back here -- I pretty much grew up in this city," Wells said after homering and driving in two runs during the Yankees' 9-4 win on Friday night. "This was home for me for a long time. There are some good memories and some bad ones. It's kind of like a family when you come back here -- there are some family members that like you and some that really don't. You have fun with it and enjoy the moment."
The Blue Jays team that Wells returned to face bears little resemblance to the one he left a couple of years ago. Some big names remain -- including Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Friday night's starter, Brandon Morrow -- but there's also a drastically different look following an offseason makeover.
Wells experienced a similar situation prior to the 2006 season, when the Blue Jays essentially went all in by signing free agents A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan and then pulling off major trades for third baseman Troy Glaus and first baseman Lyle Overbay.
Toronto failed to live up to the hype that year by finishing with an 87-75 record, which was only good enough for second place in the American League East. It's too early in the season to know how the latest edition of the Blue Jays will do, but Wells knows all too well about the impact increased pressure can have on a ballclub.
"I think once you kind of get caught up in the expectations of things, you start getting away just from the day-to-day job that you have to do," Wells said. "The thing is, you can play some really good baseball in this division and be really successful and still find yourself third.
"That's the nature of the East, and to be able to find your way to the top it takes a lot more than just great players. It takes some luck at different times, and it takes some great timing in those cases."
Wells' tenure with the Angels lasted just two years before he was dealt to New York during Spring Training. At the time of the trade, Wells didn't exactly do himself any favors in Toronto by stating he had always dreamed of being a Yankee.
The comments likely had as much to do with winning favor with the fans and media in his new city than anything else, but they have probably played at least a small role in the reception he receives when he returns to Rogers Centre.
Wells somewhat clarified those previous statements on Friday but clearly is relishing the fact that he is playing for a team with such a tradition of winning.
"I've always had great respect for this organization," said Wells, who entered the game hitting .271 with three homers and five RBIs. "When [George] Steinbrenner was around, he would do anything and everything for this organization to win a championship.
"I've always had great respect for any owner that is willing to do that and make that leap of faith. To now have this uniform on is somewhat surreal, but I've enjoyed it since Day 1."