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The 126-Million-Dollar Man: Vernon Wells and the Toronto Blue Jays

Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays finished second only to the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball’s ultra-competitive American League East division. The strong showing persuaded veteran slugger Frank Thomas to join the Jays’ already formidable offensive attack—and has Toronto fans buzzing about the possibilities for great success in the season ahead.

Much of the attention will be focused on Vernon Wells, the team’s all-star centre-fielder, who made headlines in December by signing a seven-year, $126-million contract extension. Last year, the 28-year-old led the Jays with 106 RBI and won his third straight Gold Glove award for defensive excellence. Wells’s new contract is the sixth richest in league history. It comes into effect after the 2007 season, ensuring the team will retain its marquee player through the prime of his career.

Recently, Wells took a time-out from the Blue Jays’ packed spring training schedule to tell us about the team’s prospects, and what he loves about spending time in Toronto.

WHERE: Aside from the obvious financial benefits, what convinced you to re-sign with the Blue Jays for the long term?
VERNON WELLS: The chance to win and play in October was a big factor for me. We have continued to improve and get better each season. As well, my family and I like the city of Toronto and its people. We’re comfortable here.

WHERE: The Blue Jays added a few lesser-known players in the off-season and now have a strong core of talent in place. What can fans expect from the team this season?
VW: Well, I think that Frank Thomas is anything but a lesser known. He has done almost everything in this game—he’s having a hall-of-fame career. Let’s hope that he gives Toronto fans a treat and hits his 500th career home run at the Rogers Centre. If people don’t know of pitchers John Thomson, Tomo Ohka and Carlos Zambrano, who we added for this season, then I hope they will be pleasantly surprised.

WHERE: What will the Blue Jays have to do to remain competitive against rivals like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox?
VW: The big thing for us will be to stay healthy. We have lots of talent to compete with anyone. Our offense can stack up with any team in baseball, but it usually comes down to pitching and we have some great pitchers in Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan.WHERE: What would you recommend visitors do to get the most out of attending a Blue Jays game?
VW: Since I’m a family man, I would recommend going to a Saturday game. The club runs a Junior Jays program that day for kids, with everything from pre-game entertainment and activities to running the bases after the game. I often take my kids out to run the bases on Saturdays.

WHERE: Where would you take visitors to Toronto to show them a good time?
VW: Other than the Rogers Centre? Most of my entertaining is done with another family so we may head to Canada’s Wonderland to take advantage of both the rides and the water park. We also like Ontario Place, as well as the Toronto Zoo—it’s a great zoo! If it’s with one of my friends, then Toronto’s nightlife has everything you could ask for.

WHERE: Where have you had your best meal in Toronto?
VW: That is such a tough question. To be honest I have had so many great meals in Toronto I can’t pick just one.

WHERE: What’s your favourite place to shop in the city?
VW: Probably Harry Rosen.

WHERE: When you first came to Toronto, what stood out or surprised you the most about the city?
VW: What surprised me the most was the cleanliness, the politeness of the people and what a multicultural city it is.

TIP! The Sightlines Club at the Rogers Centre offers open-air dining and a panoramic view of the ballgame. Call 416-341-2424.

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Grab a pitcher—the other kind—and watch the game at these 10 Sports Bars.—Craig Moy

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