Farrell embraces criticism in return to Toronto

Former Blue Jays skipper understands animosity after leaving to take Boston job

Farrell embraces criticism in return to Toronto

TORONTO -- John Farrell knows by now that there's a large contingent of Toronto fans and media members who will never support his willingness to leave the Blue Jays after just two seasons so he could take his self-proclaimed dream job of managing the Boston Red Sox.

But that doesn't mean Farrell tried to be a hermit in his return to Toronto. In fact, he took a 45-minute walk from the team hotel to Rogers Centre, where the Red Sox opened a three-game game series Friday night with a 6-4 win against the Blue Jays.

And that doesn't mean Farrell shied away from facing the music once he arrived at the ballpark.

Any of his coaches could have presented the lineup card to the umpires before the game, but Farrell took the honors and was roundly booed by the crowd. After what looked to be a pleasant chat with Jays manager John Gibbons, Farrell walked back to Boston's dugout and was jeered even louder.

He good-naturedly tipped his cap to the not-so-adoring public.

"It was just a gesture to the crowd," Farrell said. "Their gestures were very obvious, and I just wanted to thank them for it."

Despite the hostility from the packed house of 45,328, it was a good night for Farrell as his Red Sox took the opener and improved to 3-1 this season.

"It was a great atmosphere and a great game," said Farrell.

The Red Sox enjoyed being able to get their manager a win on a night that had a lot more emotion than your typical April 5 encounter.

"We're starting to be tight-knit. If they're booing any of our guys, we've got your back," said designated hitter Jonny Gomes. "If they're booing our manager, we've got your back."

Farrell can say for sure that these were the most vociferous boos he's ever received in his long career in baseball -- be it as a pitcher, coach or manager.

"That probably goes to another level," Farrell said. "Yeah, things are there that you have no control over. For those who love to compete, I think our players fed off it a little bit. Again, before the game I mentioned, people are going to have their opinions, and I fully respect those. Tonight happened to be this type of situation."

When Farrell emerged from Boston's clubhouse shortly before batting practice, he saw exactly what he expected: a large gathering of Toronto reporters waiting for him.

"It's good to be back," Farrell said. "You know, I fully expected that this would be [a well-covered story], as it's been reported by a number of people leading up to this. It's good to be back here in Toronto, for sure.

"I will say on my walk in from the hotel -- 45-minute walk -- I had a chance to meet up and talk with people on the streets coming in here. You know what? Surprisingly, a lot of people welcomed me back. And to have a couple of casual conversations on the walk in, it was a good way to come to the ballpark."

Predictably, the friendliness didn't last long. There were derisive chants from fans to Farrell about loyalty even during batting practice. And when the public address announcer announced Boston's starting lineup, he named the manager first, and the boos rained down. There were still fans chanting negative things about Farrell between pitches once the game started. With two out in the top of the first, instead of cheering on Jays starter Josh Johnson in his Toronto debut, many fans hollered "Farrell" in a drawn-out taunt.

Rather than being defensive about the perception of his departure, Farrell seemed more willing to disarm local fans with kindness.

"This is a great city, and unfortunately, some things over the past couple of years didn't play out on the field as we had hoped or planned or intended," Farrell said, asked what type of message he had for Blue Jays fans.

It was interesting the way things played out after Farrell left Toronto with a 154-170 record. The Blue Jays made several blockbuster moves, and on paper, are perceived to be the favorites in the American League East this season.

Farrell continues to stand by two things: the loyalty he had for the Blue Jays for the entire time he worked there, and his decision to pursue this opportunity with the Red Sox.

"I think if you were to ask anybody who's got an ambition to manage in the big leagues, they'd probably give you the same response, how honored and fortunate you are to have one of these positions, and to work toward achieving that goal, a professional goal," said Farrell. "This is a rare opportunity and a unique set of circumstances."

Blue Jays players seem fine with Farrell's decision, and they certainly like Gibbons, who is in his second stint as Toronto's manager.

"We have different points of view as players," said Jose Bautista. "We respect John and his decision to pursue his dream job, or that's what he called it, and we'd rather have them over there than be over here and wishing he was there. We have a manager that wants to be here leading our team. Hopefully [Gibbons] does a great job and we play well in front of him. We make him look good, as well, and that's all we need."

Adam Lind was the most critical Toronto player after Farrell's departure, but the left-handed hitter, who was not in Friday's lineup, didn't want to rekindle any animosity.

"That was over the winter," Lind said. "We're in the season now, and the most important thing is the game, not who's managing against who, who's playing against who. The most important thing is who wins."

Though Farrell doesn't have much experience as a villain, he understands why his return got the public reception it did.

" I fully respect and can understand the sentiment, the questions, and maybe what might transpire here tonight," Farrell said. "That, to me, shows that there's a lot of passion here for baseball, and I fully respect all the changes that have gone on this offseason with the Blue Jays. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here. And to work with [general maanger Alex Anthopoulos], to work with [president and CEO] Paul Beeston, it was a great opportunity."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.