TORONTO — As the Toronto Blue Jays prepared for a three-game interleague series in New York against the Mets this weekend their starting rotation did some additional research: looking for the best restaurants.
Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, Alek Manoah and José Berríos make a point of going out for meals together as often as they can, whether it’s in the cafeteria at Rogers Centre or at well-reviewed restaurants on the road. Although they never play at the same time, it’s a kind of cohesiveness that they all value.
“You get to know guys a little bit better and get to know their personalities and how they are in the real world,” said Gausman by his locker at Rogers Centre. “We all like food so we usually go to good restaurants and that’s a plus too.”
Bassitt, who sits next to Gausman in the Blue Jays clubhouse, immediately warmed to the topic when he heard his teammate talking about the rotation’s meals together.
“We have a great group of starters here that are going to be here for a while. I think we all just genuinely like each other and want to spend time with each other,” said Bassitt. “That’s kind of basically it, we’re bonding because we want to hang out with each other rather than order room service in your room by yourself.
“It’s a lot more fun to go out and hang with Manoah, Berrios, Kikuchi, and all those guys. I’d rather spend time with them than spend time by myself.”
That fondness is evident around the ballpark.
All five starters sit in a row in the home clubhouse at Rogers Centre. They watch each other’s bullpen sessions. After the starter warms up, the pitchers on their off day walk with him from Toronto’s bullpen to the dugout.
But eating together is a different feeling, at least according to Gausman.
“You really get to know each other away from the field, because we’re all different when we’re here,” said Gausman, gesturing around the clubhouse. “Whether we’re more laid back at home or at a restaurant it’s definitely a different setting than obviously here, where we’re working.”
Gausman and Kikuchi both consider themselves foodies, but Bassitt and Gausman agree that Kikuchi is the most adventurous of the group.
“Yeah, I always like to try new things,” said Kikuchi through translator Yusuke Oshima. “I’m just trying to learn more about the Canadian culture and American culture.
“They told me to try frogs, so I even tried frogs. I’m pretty adventurous. You can say that.”
The one MLB city where the group hasn’t gotten to explore the culinary scene is, ironically, Toronto. Because most of them have their families with them in Toronto, they have responsibilities when they’re not at the ballpark.
Gausman said that when he was on the Baltimore Orioles he always loved going to Toronto’s steak houses like Barbarien’s or Jacobs & Co. Kikuchi said that Tim Hortons has quickly become a favourite for him.
But two restaurants on the road stick out to the group.
Kikuchi said a dinner that they had before the season opener in St. Louis was his favourite meal they’ve had together, less because of what they ate but the camaraderie around the table.
“We don’t usually get all five of us out together because usually the starter that has to pitch the next day can’t join,” said Kikuchi. “All five of us were able to go together, so that was the best one so far.
“Everyone has different characteristics and joke around. Everybody’s funny.”
The other one that sticks out was The Pearl, a restaurant in Tampa, Fla., that Bassitt and Manoah discovered.
“Good breakfast/brunch place,” said Gausman. “And we won that day so we went back the next day.”
“We didn’t win the next day though,” laughed Bassitt.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press