‘Awesome’ players-only meeting helped Travis pick up his game

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (Peter Power/CP)

TORONTO – A well-wisher wanted to know how John Gibbons was holding up before Saturday’s game.

“I’m good, I never panic,” the Toronto Blue Jays manager said. “Timing’s bad, but we’ll bounce back. These guys always do.”

He’s been around here for so long now – won a bit, lost more – that it’s easy to forget that this is the first time Gibbons has managed a team defending a division title. Last year, they were the guys chasing the brass ring and people were talking about the virtues of experience.

This season? The same experience that made Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki going concerns has become something else: It’s become age.

Gibbons was asked after Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox – one of the few breaths of fresh air in what has been an oppressive week both in terms of the weather and the standings – whether the players-only meeting his team held might have had something to do with the outcome. He was asked what they’re like. There are times when it pays to remember that this is a hockey city, that there are people out there who actually believe these things make you “try” harder. Gibbons shrugged? He’s never been in a players-only meeting at the Major League level.

It was a first for Devon Travis. He found it “pretty awesome.”


“I got chills throughout that meeting,” said Travis, who due to injury was a spectator during the 2015 September drive. “Guys in that room I grew up watching and idolizing … to have them in the room spreading advice and pumping guys up was just so incredible for me. It’s something I will never forget and it’s something hopefully I can pass along when I’m older.”

Crisis? What crisis? The Blue Jays players were told about the meeting in a text from travelling secretary Mike Shaw. It was a reaction to Friday’s sloppy, error-filled loss and with it being a day game after a night game the temptation for Gibbons had to be to maybe sit Melvin Upton Jr.

But no, Gibbons decided blowing up the lineup after a players’ meeting would give ammunition to those who believe 30 guys keeping the door closed to the media before a game is a sign of panic. Besides, with the Red Sox sending out a left-handed starter, Upton’s bat was going to be important – same with Travis, who had been beset by all sorts of defensive gremlins in the past two weeks.

Upton, of course, had a clutch two-run home run Saturday. Travis extended his hitting streak to seven games, collecting half of his team’s six hits including his 22nd double in 82 games.

Gibbons could have kept Upton out, maybe put Dalton Pompey in and maybe even Ryan Goins in at second for his glove and to give Travis a rest. Travis handled four plays with aplomb, spinning for a throw on a neat force out of the lead runner, Hanley Ramirez, on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Brock Holt after Ramirez opened the ninth with a lead-off walk. Vote of confidence rewarded.

“He’s a young kid, so you have to show confidence in him or you could lose him,” Gibbons said of Travis. “I’ll be the one to wear it until we heat up.”

Think about this: The central figures in a skid-stopping win when it all seemed to be coming apart was a guy who was almost booed off the field Friday night and a kid who had played one month of Major League Baseball – albeit a very good month – before this season … and J.A. Happ (J.A. Freaking Happ!), the same guy who when he was with the Blue Jays two years ago exhibited some of the worst body language you’ve ever seen. A tall, gangly guy capable of a fluid, easy 93 miles per hour who seemed to shrink in front of your eyes in a dicey situation. No more.

Funny game, this. Experience becomes old age when it all starts to break down. Low-key, unemotional, monotony becomes unflappability when you need it the way the Blue Jays needed it Saturday. It becomes a tonic. What once was, isn’t and what once wasn’t, is.

“In this game, you need the shortest memory possible,” said Travis. “Yeah … I need to pick it up a little bit. I play this game with a lot of energy and sometimes that can be a bit of a problem. You have to slow this game down sometimes, because it’s fast enough and hard enough as it is.”

Sometimes, just getting out of the way helps, too.

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