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(This is the final installment of our conversation with the Jays reporter at MLB.com. Part One appeared Monday, Part Two yesterday.)
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(Second in a three-part series, concluding tomorrow. Part One appeared yesterday.)
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In a market with three daily newspapers, three cable sports channels and many other TV and radio stations, one of the best sources of Blue Jays news is www.bluejays.com, where Spencer Fordin covers the team. Especially during spring training, when most of the mainstream media slip baseball stories in between wall-to-wall hockey coverage, there’s no place to get as much solid information about our favourite team as the MLB Official Site.

Today, for example, in addition to the article linked above on Cy guys Halladay and Hentgen, there's Fordin's latest notes about Jason Arnold's beefier physique, Joe Breeden's work with the catchers, Ted Lilly's sore wrist ("not an injury that will sideline him for an extended amount of time") and Gil Patterson's enthusiastic early assessment of his staff.

We're delighted that Spencer agreed to step into Da Box. First, let's get to know him a bit better. Tomorrow, we’ll find if there really are differences between print reporting and working on the Internet. On Wednesday, he shares some thoughts about the Jays, the AL East, and the state of the game.
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No division in baseball has improved more than the AL East this winter. Most observers already considered it the best in the game, and with Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro among the newest stars on display, it's not getting any easier for the budget-minded Blue Jays. Can they compete with the big spenders?

Batter’s Box caught up with J.P. Ricciardi last week in his last scheduled visit to Toronto before April. During a whirlwind day, between morning TV interviews and an evening with more than 400 season’s ticket holders, the Blue Jays GM found time to talk to us about the club’s offseason moves and take a look ahead to Dunedin and the 2004 season.
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Part of the beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. We need only look as far as the last two World Series winners to demonstrate that. Baseball interviews can be unpredictable, too.

John Sickels had agreed to conduct the interview through e-mail, and he and I had started exchanging some basic information when John threw me a curve. John had visited Da Box, read all of your questions, and decided to answer a number of them himself. I was out of a job! Later that day, John delivered a set of answers, and we then concluded with a discussion about some Blue Jay prospects and his latest books.

So without further ado, here is an interview with the person many consider perhaps the premier minor-league expert of his time. The part of John Sickels is played by himself. The part of BB (the interviewer) is played by many of you -- you know who you are.
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Josh Boyd has, very simply, a great job. He writes about minor-league baseball for a living, and as a National Writer with Baseball America, he does it for the Bible of the minor-league baseball world. He’s young (31), recently married (to Michelle, last fall), and filled with tremendous enthusiasm for the game of baseball. How can you beat that?

So when we went looking for an expert to comment on the Blue Jays’ farm system, we didn’t have to look very far. And when Josh responded to our cold-call e-mail asking for his time and insight, he didn’t hesitate in agreeing. Pleasant in conversation, deeply knowledgeable about his subject matter and unafraid to offer strong opinions, Josh was great to correspond with, and we’re delighted that he agreed to become the latest person to sit down for a Batter’s Box Interview.
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“The draft is what we work for,” says Jon Lalonde, Blue Jays Scouting Director. “We spend 364 days a year getting ready for it.”

Major-league baseball’s First-Year Player Draft, held every June, is unique among the major sports drafts. It’s the only one not televised (though there’s been some talk of it lately), and it’s the only one to go an exhausting 50 rounds. Every so often, an Orlando Hudson or Chris Woodward (43rd and 54th round, respectively) will make it to the bigs, though rarely (especially as a double-play combination).

A good draft replenishes your farm system and provides future stars; a bad one can send shock waves throughout your organization for years. The stakes are incredibly high. The first five rounds are where you often find your future stars, but Jon thinks the real make-or-break decisions come after that.
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Rumours are remarkable things. No one’s entirely sure where they came from (or at least, no one wants to take responsibility for starting them), and once they’ve been around long enough, they become entrenched as urban myths and eventually as generally accepted facts. If you forward that e-mail from Bill Gates, you’re sure to get a free copy of Windows XP.

It’s no different in the sports world, of course. A rumour floated around this past summer that JP Ricciardi had told a scout that if the scout chose to go to a high school game, JP wouldn’t pay his way. It was a graphic illustration of the lengths to which Ricciardi was prepared to go to enforce his strict all-college, no-high-school players rule. Very illuminating -- and completely false. It didn't happen.

Like all successful rumours, this one played off people’s expectations (and more than a few people’s political agendas) to the effect that the Blue Jays had shut down their scouting operations everywhere but collegiate America. But as Jon Lalonde, the Blue Jays’ Director of Scouting, told Batter’s Box in a recent interview, the organization still ranges widely to find the best prospects; they just do it more intelligently, is all.
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On the Blue Jays’ official MLB Website, there’s a complete list of the club’s entire front-office personnel, with Paul Godfrey and JP Ricciardi at the top and scores of names below, more than 200 in all. The list covers such diverse areas as corporate marketing, IT, player development and merchandising. A major-league ballclub’s corporate roster is surprisingly deep and multi-faceted.

Few of these divisions, however, are more important than the Scouting Department, whose 29 listed and many more uncredited members are spread throughout the world, from Canada down throughout the U.S. and into the Caribbean, down as far as Venezuela and across an ocean to Australia. The scouting team includes names like former big-leaguer Sal Butera and Canadian Amateur Baseball Ambassador Jim Fanning.

And standing on top of this list of names is the Blue Jays’ Director of Scouting: 27-year-old Jon Lalonde of Wyevale, Ontario. The story of how he got there, and how he’s contributing to the Blue Jays’ renaissance, is the raw material from which young Canadian baseball fans’ wildest dreams are woven.
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Part 1 of the Mike Wilner Interview
Part 2 of the Mike Wilner Interview

Mike Wilner, one of the voices of the Blue Jays on the cross-Canada Fan Radio Network, was kind enough to sit down with Batter's Box a few short weeks ago to share his insights into the broadcasts and the ballclub.
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Part 1 of the Mike Wilner Interview

Most Batter's Box denizens will be familiar with the work of Mike Wilner. Studio host of the Blue Jays radio broadcasts on the FAN radio network, Mike's work goes out across the country before and after every Jays game. He was kind enough to sit down a few weeks ago to answer some questions from Batter's Box. In Part One, we learned about the path to becoming a broadcaster, and a bit about the job. Today, Mike gives us a closer look at this current Blue Jays organization, from the GM to the bullpen coach.
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When Mike Wilner first rose from the primeval swamp that is Bathurst and Steeles in Toronto 33 years ago, it was far from a foregone conclusion that he would become a fixture in the daily lives of so many Blue Jays fans – including many Bauxites. But now, Mike is a familiar voice to many of us, as the studio host of the Blue Jays broadcasts on the FAN radio network, including the FAN 590 in Toronto.
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This article was originally published Sept. 5, 2003 -- in advance of publication of the series recapping the interview(s) with Griffin and Baker. It was revised and republished as an archive for the series after all 10 parts had been published. Contact the author.

Richard Griffin. Geoff Baker. These are names nearly as familiar to Toronto baseball fans as those of Tony Fernandez and Joe Carter -- the specific comparisons will become evident later.

The work of these erstwhile Toronto Star regulars has been the subject of debate -- and let's be honest, sometimes derision -- here on Da Box. In reality, these are just a couple of Concordia guys who made it to the Star by way of Montreal. They both would pay to see Barry Bonds and Ichiro -- and if you think they’re just "paid to watch baseball," you need to think again.

In the Fall of 2003, we visited in-depth with Griffin and Baker, as they stepped resolutely into Da Box to face Coach and the ZLC. Who played the role of Carter, and who was Mitch Williams? Or does the fact that we all share an understanding of just what that question means prove that it doesn't matter?

Here's what we learned in the course of a spirited 10-part series:
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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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