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Final home game special for Gaston, fans

Final home game special for Gaston, fans

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TORONTO -- As the crowd inside Rogers Centre roared on Wednesday, offering a long standing ovation for the man who represents the glory years of the Blue Jays, a single tear could be seen running down Cito Gaston's right cheek.

Gaston is known for being cool and collected, but this moment proved too overwhelming for the longtime Blue Jays manager. With his wife, Lynda, standing at his side, Gaston moved to the podium on the field and lifted his hat into the air, offering his appreciation for the fans' warm response.

"I should probably stand here and enjoy that a little longer," Gaston told the crowd. "But we do have a baseball game to play."

The game in question was the last at home for Gaston as manager of the Blue Jays. After two stints and more than a decade spent at the helm, the 66-year-old has decided the time has come to head into semi-retirement, shifting into an advisory role within the organization.

Prior to Wednesday's 8-4 victory against the Yankees, the Blue Jays held an on-field tribute to celebrate Gaston's career as a coach and manager for the franchise. A group of players from Toronto's 1992-93 World Series championship teams attended the festivities and the Jays honored Gaston with a pair of video tributes.

Gaston stood and watched the large video board that looms over center field, hearing players, coaches, managers and others wish him well as he prepares for life after managing. Never one to show much emotion, Gaston could not help but get choked up.

Those who know Gaston best knew that side of him would probably surface.

"We know a little bit more about him," said former Blue Jays outfielder Devon White. "We were with him day in and day out. You will definitely see tears. I guarantee it."

Besides White, former Jays at Rogers Centre to pay tribute to Gaston were George Bell, Joe Carter and Pat Hentgen. In recent days, Roberto Alomar and Tony Fernandez have also been in town to visit with their one-time manager. As for the current players, Vernon Wells represented the group and stood on the field during the ceremony.

On behalf of the players, Wells presented Gaston with a green box. Inside was a Rolex watch, one that Wells joked was "better than anything I've ever had." After thanking Gaston for all he has done and meant for the Blue Jays, Wells also had a little fun with the manager.

"On a personal note," Wells said, "he rocks the mustache better than anyone I've ever seen."

Gaston laughed along with the crowd, having a bit of fun during a special moment.

Shortly before the game -- after lining up on the field and, one by one, giving Gaston a hug -- a few of Toronto's players and coaches put on fake mustaches to honor the manager.

The Jays also presented Gaston with a portrait, painted by Vernon Wells' father. Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston also informed Gaston that he will also be given two first-class tickets to "anywhere in the world" for a two-week golf vacation.

The first video tribute took a look at Gaston's career progression from player to manager and included a handful of special guests. Former Jays players who offered thanks were Jack Morris, Dave Winfield, Jesse Barfield and Paul Molitor, among others. Other who offered kind words included Reds manager Dusty Baker, Braves manager Bobby Cox and Commissioner Bud Selig.

As did Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who once roomed with Gaston during their days with the Braves.

"Don't forget old friends," Aaron said in the video.

This night was also meant for the fans. It was a chance for the Blue Jays faithful to offer thanks to the manager responsible for the banners hanging inside Rogers Centre. The second video gave a few fans a chance to personally say thank you to Gaston, who returned the favor when his time came to respond.

"I want to thank you fans for the memories," said Gaston. "Without you, there would be no memories."

Gaston also had an open letter to the fans published in Wednesday's Toronto Star.

"Very sad to see him go," said Blue Jays fan Gayle Macaulay, who was in attendance for Wednesday's ceremony. "Really going to miss him."

Inside the doors to Gate 7 at Rogers Centre, 17-year-old Sage Finestone said the programs for the "Thank you, Cito" game were selling fast -- 35 were sold in his first 15 minutes at his post.

"I was born in '93, the year they won and Cito was the manager," Finestone said. "I wasn't really around for that, but I do remember all the memories of hearing about it. Working here for my four years and being here for two years when Cito was the manager, you could see that people really appreciated Cito."

The same can be said for the people within the Blue Jays' clubhouse.

"If you couldn't play for this guy, I don't know who you could play for," Hentgen said. "Cito basically had two rules: be on time and you play hard. If you can't go by those rules, you have issues."

A little more than two hours before the game, after Gaston held a half-hour sit-down with the media, Yankees manager Joe Girardi walked across the field and shook the Blue Jays manager's hand. The two spoke briefly before parting ways to prepare for Wednesday's game.

"[It was] just to congratulate him on a great career," Girardi said. "He was someone I looked up to, someone that's done it right for a long time."

Gaston first joined the Blue Jays as a coach in 1982 and eventually worked his way into the manager's chair by '89. He led Toronto to American League East crowns in 1989 and 1991-93, captured two World Series titles, piled up more than 900 wins, and was elevated to the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence in 1999.

The Blue Jays brought Gaston back midway through the 2008 season, following an 11-year absence from managing. During his first stint with Toronto, Gaston was dismissed as manager in 1997. He is thrilled to be stepping down as manager on his own terms this time around.

"It's not too often you get a chance to go out this way," Gaston said. "Certainly, this organization has always been a part of my heart."

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

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