by Nathan Penn, originally published by Korn Ferry in Briefings Magazine
As his team arrived in Florida for spring training a year ago last February, Ross Atkins, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, had every reason to be hopeful. He had just signed several prize free-agent players, adding to a team that had gone to the playoffs in 2020. But before spring training even ended, injuries brought down two of his most heralded new stars. That included, as luck would have it, the outfielder who had signed the richest contract in team history.
And then came the real curveball. As in the previous year, pandemic border restrictions meant the Blue Jays would have to play many of their “home” games in a minor-league stadium—in Buffalo. Reasonable people can disagree about the attractions of Buffalo (the New York Times says it’s a city on the rise!); the team never got to find out either way. The city was locked down. “There was no complaining,” says Atkins. “Everybody was focused on one another and the game—on the controllables.” Remarkably, the team stayed in contention throughout the summer, just missing the playoffs after a furious closing burst of wins.