Emotional Wells says goodbye to Toronto

Emotional Wells says goodbye to Toronto

Emotional Wells says goodbye to Toronto
TORONTO -- The normally stoic Vernon Wells was overcome with emotion Tuesday as he said his official goodbyes to the city of Toronto.

Life is set to change in a big way for the 32-year-old center fielder following Friday's trade to the Angels. The city he has lived in for the past 12 years is no longer his second home. The only organization he has known is moving in a new direction.

When Spring Training opens next month, Wells will be wearing a uniform other than the Blue Jays for the first time in his professional career. Even though he has had several days to come to terms with the news, Wells said it still hasn't really sunk in yet.

"The hardest part is just saying goodbye," Wells told Toronto reporters during a conference call on Tuesday. "The relationships that I've been able to have there, to know that this has been my only home since I was 18 years old, it's difficult.

"It's hard to keep my emotions in check. Talking to the guys, it's saying goodbye to a family. I look back and cherish every moment that I had -- good and bad. And it's kind of made me the man I am today."

Wells first heard about the trade while he was attending a Dallas Mavericks basketball game on Wednesday night. He received a call from general manager Alex Anthopoulos, and although Wells always knew a trade was a possibility, it was never something he put much stock into until that very moment.

After a long discussion with Toronto's general manager, Wells decided to waive his no-trade clause and OK the deal. But this wasn't a case of an athlete looking for a way out of town. Wells said that while he welcomes the new challenge, he was always committed to spending the rest of his career in Toronto, even though the club is in the middle of a rebuilding process.

"I was fully ready to continue on the path we were going on," Wells said. "[The team] is getting younger, but it's getting more talented.

"I'm kind of the old guy that's been there forever. [Anthopoulos is] doing his thing now. He's bringing in some young talent that he wants to build this team around. For me, it's a great opportunity to start a new chapter in my life, even though this wasn't part of the plan."

Wells got his first taste of Toronto in 1999, when he broke into the Major Leagues as a 21-year-old. Within three years, Wells became an everyday player and began to establish himself as one of the elite players in the game.

From 2002-05, Wells hit .285 while averaging 27 home runs and 95 RBIs a season. Along the way, he made an All-Star team, won an American League Silver Slugger Award and picked up two AL Gold Glove Awards for his masterful work in center field.

His best year arguably came in 2006, when he hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBIs while appearing in his second All-Star Game and winning yet another Gold Glove. Following the season, Wells was rewarded with a seven-year, $126 million extension -- the largest contract in Blue Jays history.

The new deal brought heightened expectations, and Wells struggled to live up to the hype. From 2007-09, Wells hit just .265 while averaging 17 home runs and 75 RBIs. He went from fan favorite to the perennial whipping boy of a frustrated fan base.

Despite the rough treatment he sometimes received from the fan base, Wells doesn't harbor any ill will towards his former city.

"I think expectations change when you sign a deal like that," Wells said. "Usually, expectations can only lead to negative things. You can never really exceed anybody's expectations -- that's just life. I understood that.

"After my '09 season, as bad as it was, I learned a lot from it. I learned that no matter what I do, good or bad, that contract is always going to be there. Whether people choose to point to that all the time or not, I have to move on, continue to play the game and do the best that I can."

Wells managed to do just that in 2010. He made the AL All-Star team for the third time in his career and finished the year with a .273 average, 31 home runs and 88 RBIs.

He departs Toronto with his name firmly cemented among the franchise leaders in virtually every major offensive category. He ranks second all-time in hits (1,529), doubles (339), home runs (223), RBIs (813) and total bases (2,597).

As Wells looks back on his time with the Blue Jays, he said that his fondest memories are of Carlos Delgado's four-homer game in 2003 and Brandon Morrow's 17-strikeout performance in '10. The most emotional moment came last season when infielder John McDonald returned to the lineup following the death of his father and hit a pinch-hit home run.

That Wells picked his teammates' accomplishments over his own personal achievements speaks to the type of leadership he brought to the Blue Jays' clubhouse. He has been the unofficial leader of the team since Delgado left as a free agent in 2004, and he will now pass the torch to the next generation of Toronto ballplayers.

The Texas native said that he thinks the Blue Jays have several guys capable of taking over his role, but the person that sticks out the most is slugger Jose Bautista.

"Jose, even before he did what he did last year, was one of those guys that takes responsibilities for his actions and what goes on around him," Wells said. "He holds himself accountable for everything, he's willing to approach anyone and everyone about any situation. He was one of those guys that I could bounce things off of, and he did the same. I think he's going to be one of those guys."

Wells now moves on to the next stage of his baseball career. His goal is to get Los Angeles back on track after the club won just 80 games in 2010 and finished a distant third in the AL West.

The goals will be set higher this season for a club that boasts a payroll of nearly $150 million. It will be the first time in Wells' career that playoffs aren't just a goal, but an expectation.

That type of move has to be exciting for a player who has never experienced postseason play. But all of that talk will have to wait until Wednesday, when Wells flies to Anaheim for a news conference with his new team. On Tuesday, his attention was still with the Blue Jays, and when asked if he had any final words for the Toronto fans, the only pause Wells had was to regain his composure.

"I can't say thank you enough for my time there," an emotional Wells said. "It has been a blast, it's been a fun ride, it's been a family, first and foremost.

"I've been able to grow up and learn so many different things from so many different people in the city of Toronto. It's hard to put it in words, and obviously it's hard to keep my emotions out of it when you're saying goodbye."

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