Vernon Wells bids farewell to T.O.

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:46 PM ET

TORONTO - It is one of those curious twists of fate that the public perception of Vernon Wells has been all about the money, whereas Wells, the man and the ballplayer, has never been about the money.

Even his departure last Friday, traded to the Anaheim Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, was all about the money. He can never hide from that seven-year, $126-million US contract that was both curse and blessing but, in his own mind he can never give in to it, either.

“Good or bad, I’ve always played the game as hard as I could,” Wells said Tuesday during a farewell conference call with reporters. “As long as I knew that, I could sleep well at night.”

Changed relationship

He acknowledged that the contract, signed before the 2008 season, changed his relationship with the fans but he was always determined to maintain his love of the game itself.

“Expectations change when you sign a deal like that,” he said. “Usually expectations can lead only to negative things. You can never really exceed anybody’s expectations. That’s life and I understood that.

“After my ’09 season, as bad as it was, I learned a lot from it. I learned that, no matter what I do, good or bad, that contract is always going to be there.

“I’ve got to continue to play the game and do it the best I can. The money is not going to change that. I’m still going to be the same player I was when I was 23 years old. Now I’m 32 and making a lot of money, but I still love this game. I still have the same passion for it. That’s all I can control.”

He leaves with only admiration for GM Alex Anthopoulos and what he’s trying to build in Toronto. The two men became quite close during the last couple of years. Anthopoulos is the kind of GM who is always bouncing ideas off key players and Wells savoured that relationship.

“Alex is special,” said Wells, “always honest and open with me. The trust is there. For him it was a difficult situation. He presented me with a great opportunity to start a new chapter in my life and it allows him to free up some flexibility to do what (the Jays) want to do.”

Perhaps typical of who Wells is as a person is the fact his greatest Blue Jay memories revolve around the exploits of others.

“I don’t have any personal moments, other than maybe my first game when I was called up. The memories for me are (Carlos) Delgado’s four home run game, Brandon Morrow punching out 17 and almost throwing a no-hitter last year. My most emotional moment was Johnny Mac coming back last year after his dad passed away and hitting that home run. That was probably the best moment of my time there.”

And the contract? Well, with the bulk of it still to be earned, it will continue to hang like a big cloud, but it will never colour his feeling for Toronto.

As the call came to an end, Wells said a tearful good bye to the fans.

“I can’t say thank you enough for my time there. It’s been a blast. It’s been a family first and foremost,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “I’ve been able to grow up and learn so many different things from so many different people in Toronto. I can only say thank you to the fans.”


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