TORONTO — The Cavaliers are the NBA champions and the Indians are the hottest team in baseball.
It’s a good time to be in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro is quietly celebrating from afar.
"I’m excited for them, for the city, for the fans and for the success of the Cavs and for the way the Indians are playing," said Shapiro, who spent 24 seasons as an executive with the Indians. "I’m not surprised how the Indians are playing, but make no mistake, when they come in here, I want to beat them."
The Blue Jays open a four-game series against Cleveland on Thursday at Rogers Centre. The Indians (46-30) entered Wednesday’s play on an 11-game winning streak and lead the American League Central Division by six games.
But Shapiro maintains that he doesn’t have mixed emotions about facing his former team.
"I think if you probably talked to people that competed against their closest friends or compete against their relatives, if anything, they’ve got motivation, even a little added incentive to do well," Shapiro said in a phone interview.
Shapiro came to the Blue Jays in the off-season to replace Paul Beeston as team president. He earned the Sporting News Executive of the Year honours as the Indians’ general manger in both 2005 and 2007.
It will also be a reunion this weekend for Toronto GM Ross Atkins, who spent 15 years working under Shapiro in Cleveland. Atkins was hired in December to replace Alex Anthopoulos.
Shapiro isn’t surprised by his former team’s success.
"I think when you have players who are high-calibre players that are also talented, when you have a front office that operates as effectively as that front office does, and when you have an on-field manager that’s a difference-maker and works very well with the front office there, you’ve got the conditions necessary to be successful," Shapiro said.
"This year they’re realizing the upside of their potential."
Shapiro still feels a sense of accomplishment in seeing Cleveland succeed.
"I’m deeply invested in them and their performance and I’m pulling for them," he said. "The only time I’m not pulling for them are the seven or eight times we play them. I’ll absolutely be pulling against them in those games. I’d sign up right now to play them in the playoffs and beat them in the playoffs that’d be fine with me because they’re a group I believe in and care about."
The Blue Jays are starting a stretch of 11 straight home games Thursday that sees them play last year’s American League Championship Series opponent in the Kansas City Royals as well as the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland.
Shapiro feels that in order to slow down the red-hot Indians and reach the post-season for a second straight year, Toronto needs to play their best baseball.
"I think that this team is as talented as any team in Major League Baseball and if we play to our ability and at our best, and a lot of that revolves around our offence because that’s how we were designed, that we can beat anyone," he said.