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Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders honoured to play for Blue Jays

12/04/2014 04:24 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST
Michael Saunders used to daydream about playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

It won't be long before he gets to do it in real life.

A day after Toronto acquired the Canadian outfielder in a deal with the Seattle Mariners, Saunders spoke about getting the opportunity to ply his trade on home soil.

"I think it was more of a storybook ending for me if you would, like 'One day it would be really cool if I was able to wear a Blue Jays uniform,'" Saunders said on a conference call Thursday. "There's 30 teams and the chances are slim that that would actually happen.

"I'm honoured to be able to wear a Blue Jay uniform and I'm very proud of that."

The Victoria native, who spent 10 years with the Seattle organization, played for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and said he understands the burden that comes with playing north of the border.

"I'm a proud Canadian," said the 28-year-old, who cheered for the Blue Jays and Mariners growing up. "If I was to get traded to a team I couldn't pick a better one than Toronto.

"I'm extremely excited to play for the Blue Jays, but it's not just about representing the Blue Jays, it's about representing my country."

Saunders, who was acquired for left-hander J.A. Happ, said he was at his daughter's swimming lesson when he found out about the trade from Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik.

"I was sitting there watching my daughter swim when I got the call," said Saunders. "Last night was kind of a blur for me. There were so many mixed emotions. This is my first time going through a situation like this."

It's expected Saunders will take over in left field for Melky Cabrera, who declined the Blue Jays' US$15.3-million qualifying offer last month and is a free agent.

An 11th round pick of Seattle back in 2004, Saunders said he spoke with both Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons soon after the deal was struck.

"I definitely got the feeling that I was wanted," said Saunders. "They're just going to go out and let me play. I know that there's some talented outfielders in the organization and that's not to say Alex is finished making moves.

"But I'm going to do everything I can to hold down the everyday left field job."

Saunders hit .273 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 78 games last season while battling joint inflammation in his right shoulder and a strained left oblique.

"If you play the game hard sometimes you put yourself at risk to injure yourself by trying to make the play," he said. "You do that for the team. You're playing for the team at that point, and the fans."

While he's happy to be joining Toronto, Saunders doesn't leave Seattle on the best terms after Zduriencik criticized his ability to stay healthy for 162 games following the 2014 campaign.

"The comments came as a surprise. I'm not going to lie to you," said Saunders. "I'm very confident in what I do in the off-season to prepare my body. I think the comments might have come out of frustration more than anything due to the fact we were one game away from going to the playoffs.

"Jack and I have had numerous conversations since then and there have been no hard feelings, but as far as calling my conditioning into question, (it's) something I think is uncalled for. I work just as hard as anybody."

In parts of six seasons, Saunders has a .231 average with 51 home runs, 182 RBIs and 54 stolen bases in 553 games, only becoming an everyday player at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field in 2012.

"I really think you learn more from failure than you do from success," he said. "I know what I bring to the table and I try to continually get better at that. I just try to bring an all around game and do whatever I can to help the team win."

Saunders has played well at Rogers Centre — a stadium known for its home runs — but he said joining Toronto's potent lineup that includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and newly acquired Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin is what excites him the most.

"You have multiple all-stars, you have MVP finalists and guys that really know how to hit," he said. "There's certain people in the game that strike fear in you when you're on the opposing team, and there's a couple different guys in that lineup that do that.

"I think the first thing you see when you think of the Blue Jays is the power that's there. There's no question there's a ton of power in the lineup, but not only that, there's professional hitters from 1 to 9."

Saunders said he would always check the schedule to see when Seattle was coming to Toronto and added that his wife, Jessica, is also pleased about the move.

"I love the city, my wife loves the city. It was funny, when we first met we were discussing where to raise the kids and she said 'Absolutely not in Canada. We're raising them in the U.S.,'" said Saunders. "Then she came to visit me when we were on the road and she said 'OK, I'll let you raise the kids in one spot in Canada and that's Toronto.'"

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