TORONTO — A two-month break from the grind of the baseball off-season has been good for former Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
It has given him a chance to introduce some balance in his life and spend more time with friends and family. He’s also mulling over potential work options and expects to return to the sport he loves next month.
Anthopoulos, looking relaxed and content during an interview with The Canadian Press at a mid-town cafe, has enjoyed his time at home since turning down a contract offer to stay with the Blue Jays.
"I get to give my wife a break," he said. "I’d say I’m learning what it’s like to live a normal life again, which is kind of nice. You kind of forget what you miss — and I’m not complaining by any stretch. But you know, going into a Halloween party and not having to have my phone glued to my hand. I can leave it there.
"I went out to a Halloween party on a Saturday afternoon. Normally I’d be going to the office. You feel like, ‘Hey if you’re not working, you’re getting beat.’ So just little things like that."
Anthopoulos stunned fans and baseball observers by turning down a long-term deal a few days after his team was eliminated by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. He was eventually replaced by Ross Atkins, a former Cleveland Indians executive who had worked with new Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro.
The decision ended Anthopoulos’s 12-year run with the team. He first joined the club as a scouting co-ordinator in 2003 and had served as GM since 2009.
The Blue Jays were consistently mediocre during his tenure until last season, when a series of trade-deadline moves helped send the team on a second-half surge. Toronto won the East Division title and returned to the post-season for the first time in 22 years.
Anthopoulos went out with his stock at a high. He was named Major League Baseball executive of the year by the Sporting News on the same day he announced that he wouldn’t be returning.
Don’t expect him to be out of work for much longer.
"I’m getting there and come next month, come January, I’ll work again," Anthopoulos said. "Most likely for a team but it’s not 100 per cent. There were some media opportunities that came up that were interesting just from a quality of life standpoint. I think I might enjoy that and I had some really interesting discussions with some people just to educate myself. I think it would be challenging and I think it would be fun. Also the ability to have that kind of balance and be around my five-year-old and my three-year-old and be more of a Dad. I didn’t think I would even consider (a media job) but I kind of did.
"But then the more I thought about it, it’s most likely I’ll stay in baseball. Just because I’ve done it so long and I’m still young in my baseball career. I don’t think I’m prepared to walk away."
At 38, his resume is loaded thanks to his GM and assistant GM experience along with a solid scouting background.
"I understand that I may not be a general manager again and I’m OK with that," he said. "Now again, that’s what my perspective is today. And obviously deciding not to sign an extension, I had to be prepared for that. I just think that all of the decisions I’ve made in my life, I never chased the money. You try to do what ultimately you feel is going to satisfy you and fulfil you. As simple as it sounds — and maybe this is naive — but normally success will follow.
"You like what you do, you enjoy it, you’re happy, you’re probably going to put in more hours than you need to because you enjoy it. In turn, you’re going to be really motivated and driven and you’re probably going to do a pretty good job. Then all that other stuff — money, positions — that takes care of itself."
Anthopoulos used his downtime to finally go on a proper family vacation with his wife and two kids. He would try to get away for a day or two in the past, but found it hard to truly relax because there were always baseball things on the go.
"This was probably the first time where we went for five nights and I actually legitimately was able to enjoy it," he said.
The team he helped build is expected to be a contender again in 2016. The team’s offence should be strong and while the pitching staff is not as deep, there is a solid foundation in place.
Anthopoulos will be watching from the outside next season. He has no regrets about turning down a lucrative long-term deal.
"Trust me, I thought about it a lot. I tried to talk myself into it," he said. "Like I talked about at the time, it was more instinctive. Again it was just how I felt, and it wouldn’t be fair to the organization, to ownership, to everybody if I wasn’t totally mentally fulfilled … I know myself. I can’t fake it. At 38 years old I don’t want to just cash a check and just mail it in. I don’t want to just show up to work every day and not be passionate and driven and excited.
"And if I’m not then that’s not fair to Mark, to ownership, to (owner) Rogers (Communications), to the fans, to the community. It’s just not. It’s not what these jobs are — you need to be all in. So if you’re not, I’m not going to take the money and do that job. I just can’t."
For Anthopoulos, the fit and the people will always be big factors when it comes to his employment. He had that in Montreal from 2000-03, but felt Toronto offered more long-term stability.
At the time, it was difficult to leave his friends and family for the Ontario capital.
"I remember those first few months I thought I made a mistake," he said. "Just because I really enjoyed working in Montreal. But it was the same thing. I enjoyed the people I worked with so much. I had such strong relationships there."
He soon developed strong work relationships in Toronto. It made his departure, one day after announcing his decision to leave the team, so tough.
"Saying goodbye to the staff was very emotional for me and very hard for me," he said. "That was really, really hard. But actually getting my stuff from my desk and just going and putting it in my car and leaving the stadium, I don’t know, I didn’t react. There was no sentimentality to it. Again, I didn’t know how I was going to feel. I didn’t have it scripted. Yes it was sudden but it wasn’t that sudden. I think I was prepared.
"Look, it was a decision that I made. So maybe it would be different if all of the sudden you wake up one day and you get let go and it comes out of nowhere. This is a decision that I thought about and thought about and I talked to my wife about and family about. Saying goodbye to your friends and the staff that you worked (with) day in and day out. (Those relationships) are what these jobs are about."
No matter where he ends up, Anthopoulos will always have a soft spot for Toronto.
"It was a difficult choice because of how much I cared about the place and how much I enjoyed it," he said. "And again, that won’t change. I mean my son still wears his Blue Jays cap to school. That’s not going to change. I mean if I’m with a new team, I guess it might. My daughter still has a Blue Jays tag on her backpack. And again, it’s still the only team in Canada and that’s not going to change.
"So I will always — to the degree I can — be a fan of this team and be pulling for them … I’m always going to be hoping the team does well."