DUNEDIN, Fla. – Vernon Wells says he’s finally prepared to assume the mantle of leadership for the youth-laden Toronto Blue Jays.
“I remember being here and Carlos (Delgado) and those guys being here, and I was a young guy trying to make the ballclub,” said Wells, “and now it’s completely changed.”
The 12-year veteran already had completed his third season as the Blue Jays full-time centre fielder in 2004 when Delgado, a first baseman and the position players unquestioned clubhouse leader, departed via free agency after a dozen years with Toronto.
“I was ready (to lead) then,” Wells said Wednesday, his first day in training camp. “It’s that feeling that ‘This is my team’ wasn’t there. I felt it was partly my team, with (pitcher) Roy Halladay the other part.”
Halladay was traded in December to Philadelphia.
When the 31-year-old Wells, the longest tenured player on the team, looks around the clubhouse and sees a lot of young players, he feels he’s ready to lead.
“It’s a fun role to be in,” he said. “Guys look at you to do the right things and how to be successful at this level. It’s a role I’m looking forward to. For me, it’s pretty easy. You expect guys to go out and play hard. That’s my point to everybody. There’s one thing you can control in this game and that’s going out and playing the game the right way and respecting the game. Things will work out after that.”
Manager Cito Gaston said Wells and second baseman/designated hitter Aaron Hill, starting his sixth season, “are probably going to be two guys who step up and do it. You’ve always got to remember you lead by example.
“You’re going to have bad nights and you’re going to have to handle them the right way. You’re going to have good nights and you’re going to have to handle them the right way,” Gaston said. “Leadership is tough to do. Some people are leaders, some are not.”
One thing Wells has going for him this spring is a pain-free left wrist. He fractured it making a sliding catch in Cleveland on May 10, 2008, underwent surgery and missed 26 games, and 25 more because of hamstring problems.
Last year he needed two cortisone shots to deal with the pain in his wrist, took an anti-inflammatory during the season, and three weeks after it he had a second surgery to remove debris and repair fraying in the wrist.
It forced Wells to do less strenuous workouts over the winter, to work primarily on regaining the strength in his wrist and forearm, “and gave my body a chance to recover over the off-season,” he said.
“Now it’s just a matter of gearing up for April. I think over the last couple of offseasons I was gearing up for February and (later in the season) kind of wearing down.”