Gregg Zaun was a big Baltimore fan! Who knew?
What, you think I'm talking about the Baltimore Orioles, the team he spent parts of three seasons with? No, not them.
Nor am I talking about the Ravens, Colts, Blast, Bullets or Burn. I'm talking about the ill-fated Baltimore Stallions of the CFL, the only American team to ever hoist the Grey Cup.
To fill you in on exactly how I found that out, allow me backtrack for one moment. I reached out to the former Jays catcher last week with the intent of finding out what it's like to be a free agent in this current marketplace with so many teams seemingly intent on shedding payroll. He readily agreed to answer any questions I would send his way, but cautioned he might be slow in responding to some because he would be travelling for the weekend. Naturally, I was curious as to his destination, thinking it could be a sign as to where he ultimately might be signing. Instead he caught me totally off guard by telling me his trip had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with football....Canadian football. He was flying to Calgary for the 97th Grey Cup!
What follows then is a transcribed version of questions and answers from emails, text messages and phone calls exchanged dating back to last week.
Before Grey Cup Weekend
W: So you're heading to Calgary for the Great Canadian Drunk - the Grey Cup? Canada must have certainly rubbed off on you while you were here. But here's the true litmus test - do you know what a "rouge" is?
G: It's kinda like giving a little kid a trophy for just participating -- the single point awarded for missing a kick. It can also be done by simply taking a knee. It also means red in french. Other than that, I absolutely love the Canadian game. It's quick and fast paced. I used to go to games in Baltimore in the nineties when they had a CFL team. I got to watch Tracy Ham when he was there.
W: Wow! I had no idea. So, Riders or Als? Who wins the big game?
G: Let's go Riders!
W: Ignoring football for a moment, let's turn our attention to baseball and free agency. In many other seasons, players couldn't wait to be eligible for free agency because with revenues going up, up and away they knew they would be getting PAID (and yes, I deliberately used upper case letters there). But it seems different this year and last. Last year, a number of players had to take pay cuts and others had early retirement forced upon them. What was your outlook heading into this offseason as a free agent? And has it changed at all since full free agency opened?
G: I felt pretty good going in, but I never anticipated being offered deals the very first day. It's amazing how much of a difference a year can make. A year ago my agent was talking people into liking me for their team. This year they came to us right away. I had a pretty good year in '09 and figured I might be lucky enough to get a chance at 16th year but the interest level has been higher than I am used to. I have to admit, I am having a good time with it. I look at this way -- I made my ten years of Major League service and I'm entitled to a full pension -- every day after that has been an absolute blessing. I used to drive myself crazy wondering what, where and when -- now, I am able to relax. My experience has taught me to pause, and know that what will be, will be. I have a certain skill set in this game. I have specific things to offer a club. The team that needs me will step up, or they won't.
During Grey Cup Weekend
W: So now you're in Calgary -- have you had to dodge any horses running through the hotel lobby? That's actually happened at past Grey Cups. I guess what I'm asking is as a first-time Grey Cup visitor, what's your weekend been like so far?
G: I have been totally impressed with the passion. We saw Elisha Cuthbert at the parade today. Nice Up Do. I do have one complaint, however. I had to come all the way across Canada to be put in my place. The Spirit of Edmonton party denied my buddy and I entrance for quite a while. We are staying in the hotel and they still didn't seem to care. They're keeping it real, I guess. Here's the thing -- I have been to several Super Bowls and never once been denied entrance to a party. All I have to do there is show my MLB player card and I am in right away. But here in Calgary, at The Spirit of Edmonton party, they made us wait like everyone else. I love it!
W: Back to baseball. This past week Toronto signed both Johnny McDonald and Alex Gonzalez to look after their young pitchers -- Marcum, Romero, Cecil and Rzepczynski. Having caught these guys in Toronto and faced them this last year in Baltimore and Tampa, how would you assess a post-Doc pitching staff, if Toronto does indeed trade Halladay?
G: I assess a post-Halladay staff as unfortunate. Roy is the best pitcher in baseball and I can't imagine the Blue Jays without him. Those poor kids are going to have to try to step up and be collectively as good as the game's best. Not Fair. They are talented, but no one in Toronto should heap those expectations on them.
W: While waiting for your response, I "googled" the Baltimore CFL team and had one of those "Oh-my-I-totally-forgot-that" moments. Your Baltimore Stallions up and moved to, wait for it, Montreal to become the Alouettes team you'll be watching tomorrow. Is that why you're picking the Riders -- you can't bear to cheer for the team that deserted you?
G: I did know that. But no. I think it's rightfully so that a team in the Canadian Football League should actually be set up in Canada. 90% of people here are cheering for the Riders, so I'm just falling in line with all of them.
After Grey Cup Weekend
W: So on a scale of one to ten...one being the football equivalent of "I flew all the way across the country for this???" and ten being. "That was the BEST GAME EVER!!!" -- where do you rank the 97th Grey Cup, which I shall forever heretofore refer to as the 1st Gregg Cup?
G: I think it will be known forever as the 13th Man Game. And that's not about the Rider fans. I would say this one hit a good 9.5 on the Richter Scale. My buddy told me the Grey Cup is know for churning out great games and this absolutely proves it. Looking back, I have to say it's the greatest party I have ever been to. It even beats Super Bowls. And I've hosted Super Bowl parties. The people everywhere in Calgary were a delight. I didn't see one fight, or even an argument. It was just a special weekend. Everyone just wanted to have a great time together around their game. You know what did it for me. A band came along and started playing when we were waiting to get in the Spirit of Edmonton. How totally on board does everyone have to be to have travelling entertainers come up to play to keep people standing in line happy? I'll never miss another Grey Cup again, if I have the power to do something about it.
W: Baseball's MVPs, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols, were recently announced. If you could take only one of them as a Fantasy GM to start constructing a team for a championship, which one would it be and why? Same question for the two Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum.
G: I have to say Mauer because he's younger and a focal point for a team. You always have to look after your defence up the middle. And then there's his offence. He can have a bigger impact than a first baseman on any game he plays in. As for the pitchers, I'm going to pick Lincecum because he's already done it twice at such a young age. I love his deceptiveness. He's won the award twice in his first 3 or 4 seasons. And he'll probably rack up a bunch more, if he stays over in the National League.
W: And finally when can we expect to hear news of your signing?
G: It'll be done before the end of this week, before the Winter Meetings. All I can say right now is there is more than one club involved and not all of them are in the American League.
W: Gregg, thanks so much for this. Enjoy a safe and happy offseason as you get ready for your own personal version of a Sweet 16 Party, a remarkable sixteenth season in the big leagues.
G: Thx, Thriller!