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We were in the Blue Jays private box, between the radio booth and press row, awaiting the start of a ball game, the rubber match of the Mariners series. J.P. Ricciardi had promised Batter's Box a sit-down to answer some of the questions posed by our contributors and readers. With his wife and two young sons in town, and busy with many other responsibilities, he had run out of time for the second straight day, but J.P. is a man who honours commitments. I joked about him "ducking the hard-hitting interview" and assumed we would reschedule again, so the last-minute invitation to join him was completely unexpected. It was a dream come true for this fan to watch the first nine outs of a 7-2 Toronto win while chatting with the architect of my favourite team.

Most Batter's Box regulars already know his bio: born September 26, 1959 in Worchester, Mass., played baseball and basketball in high school, college ball in Florida. After two seasons in the minors, Ricciardi became a coach at age 23 in the Yankees system, before joining the Oakland organization in 1986 as a minor-league instructor and New England area scout. At 32, he was promoted to East Coast Scouting Supervisor; two years later he became National Crosschecker. In 1996, he became Special Assistant to then-GM Sandy Alderson. Under Billy Beane, his title was changed to Director of Player Personnel. J.P. was hired by the Blue Jays on November 14, 2001 and has four years remaining on the contract extension he signed after rejecting overtures from the Red Sox. He's already improved the talent on the big-league club and throughout the farm system while simultaneously trimming millions of dollars from the payroll. There's no doubt that he's one of the brightest front-office minds in the game, with an energetic, charismatic personality.
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We're thrilled to lead off our major league player interviews with the Blue Jays' new leadoff hitter. Reed Johnson came almost literally out of nowhere this year. Beginning spring training in the minor league camp at 26, and unproven above AA ball, he was an unlikely candidate to have any impact in Toronto. Things have changed.

By the final week of the Grapefruit League campaign, none of the non-roster invitees signed as minor-league free agents had seized their opportunities to go north as the fourth outfielder. When Jayson Werth got hurt, the Jays needed someone to fill in for a couple of exhibition games, and Johnson was rewarded for his hard work. The impression he made that week earned him an early-season emergency callup, and he's never looked back since returning in May. When Shannon Stewart went on the DL, the hustling "dirtbag" rookie became a regular and again made the most of his chances, hitting .327 in June, with five home runs. Two of those came one memorable Sunday afternoon against the Cubs, when he became just the fourth player in history to lead off and end a game with a homer. In addition to his exploits at the plate, he's made spectacular defensive plays in left and right field, and is exciting to watch on the basepaths. We caught up with Reed in the dugout after a recent batting practice.
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Regular contributor Mike Moffatt steps into The Box today with an exclusive interview with one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects, Syracuse right-hander Jason Arnold. It's a landmark article for Batter's Box: our very first interview with a player! Thanks, Mike -- the floor is yours!


Inspired by Kent's interviews with four Blue Jays coaches, I thought I would try to speak with a few AAA players, as I live in Rochester, NY, home of the Twins' affiliate Red Wings. This involved getting media credentials, which proved a little more tricky than I imagined, due to a non-cooperating scanner and a broken fax machine. Less than four hours before a Rochester Red Wings–Syracuse SkyChiefs game, I was able to get a fax to Chuck Hinkel, the media director for the Red Wings. He kindly left me a one-game press pass and gave me a piece of advice: “Next time, try not to leave it to the last minute.” I was very thankful that Mr. Hinkel was kind enough to deal with my rookie errors.
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It's too bad there's no MVC award for coaches. What kind of year is Blue Jays hitting coach Mike Barnett having? Nearing the halfway point of the 2003 season, his club leads the major leagues in batting average, hits, runs, RBI, on-base percentage, total bases and slugging percentage. Carlos Delgado's amazing season has helped, but everyone in the lineup is contributing.

The common denominator is "Barney," who refuses to take any credit for the results of his diligent efforts. "You can't do what we're doing without good players," he explained in a recent dugout conversation, after guiding his charges through batting practice. "We've got guys who are very talented, very intelligent, and they all have a fantastic work ethic."
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Blue Jays fans, at least those who read Batter's Box, think a lot about their favourite team's pitching. We are very interested in the minor-league prospects, waiting for the day Jason Arnold, Dustin McGowan or one of the other kids arrives to make a difference in the big leagues. That kind of anticipation brings back memories for Toronto pitching coach Gil Patterson, who wasn't just a prospect, he was a full-fledged "phenom" -- at age 21, the Philadelphia-born righty was in the New York Yankees rotation, where he was expected to stay for many years. Gil had amazing stuff and enough confidence to guarantee George Steinbrenner 300 wins, but it was not to be.

Patterson's career was short, but brilliant. At 19, in his pro debut after attending Miami Dade South Junior College, he threw six complete games in 13 starts for Oneonta in the New York-Penn League. As a 20-year-old, he dominated both the Eastern and International Leagues, spinning another 12 complete games -- one a no-hitter -- with a combined record of 18-4, including 2-0 in the playoffs. Promoted to the majors in 1977, the rookie made a strong early impression on Carl Yastrzemski, who called him the best young pitcher he'd seen in the AL for a long time. Already in pain and far from his best, Gil made only six big-league starts. Eight operations and a quarter-century later, he looks back on his abbreviated playing career with mixed feelings.
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On many clubs, the first-base coach is a former player who remains popular with the fans. It's almost an honourary position, with limited responsibilities. Not so with the Blue Jays, who want every coach to be an experienced teacher. John Gibbons, who has manned the post in Toronto since last summer, has paid his professional dues, and then some. Don't let the laid-back country-boy exterior fool you; a shrewd baseball mind lurks beneath.

As a minor-league manager in the Mets' system, Gibbons won championships in the Appalachian League and Florida State League, then guided AAA Norfolk to a division title in 2001. The 41-year old is also unbeaten as a bench boss in the majors -- when Carlos Tosca attended his daughter's graduation in early May, "Gibby" stepped in as interim skipper for two straight wins. After watching him hit ground balls during batting practice prior to a recent game, Batter's Box caught up with #58 in the Jays' dugout.
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Game day. Players, coaches and reporters milled about the floor of the closed SkyDome, scattered here and there in conversation, observation and instruction. Men leaned on the batting cage, watched line drives sail to the outfield and chatted about the game. It was the afternoon of the Jays’ first interleague match against Pittsburgh, and the daily machinations of a major-league team -- which most fans rarely see -- were proceeding at their usual pace.

Third baseman Eric Hinske, rehabbing from wrist surgery, had his glove ready and was eager to take infield practice. But he was going to have to wait a little longer, because his defensive instructor, third-base coach Brian Butterfield, was taking the time to grant Batter’s Box the first of four exclusive interviews with the Blue Jays coaching staff.
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Last Friday, Blue Jays Consultant (Baseball Operations) Keith Law graciously took two hours from his schedule to grant an exclusive interview to Batter’s Box. The wide-ranging e-mail conversation, conducted by your Coach and GM, touched on everything from the 2003 draft to minor-league sleepers to the team’s amazing May run to the inner workings of the Jays front office. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation. Our thanks once again to Keith for making this possible.
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