TORONTO — In 1992, Mark Shapiro and younger brother David packed a U-Haul and drove by the future site of Jacobs Field. During Shapiro's first week with the Cleveland Indians, the final building was demolished to make room for the new stadium as the team began a new era.
Soon, Shapiro will arrive in Toronto to start a new era at the helm of the Blue Jays. As the team's next president and CEO, Shapiro has plenty of challenges ahead of him, on the field and in the front office, the board room and Rogers Centre itself.
"This opportunity for me is the right challenge at the right time," Shapiro said at a news conference in Cleveland. "This is one that fits my skillset. It fits what provides fulfillment for me on a daily basis."
Shapiro will take over for the retiring Paul Beeston at the end of this season after working the past 24 years in various front-office capacities with the Indians, the past five as club president. The 48-year-old said the "compelling and unique" nature of the Blue Jays' position made it too attractive to pass up.
Shapiro will soon take over a franchise that's on the way to its first playoff appearance since 1993 and one that has plans to renovate Rogers Centre in the coming years. The stadium, which opened in 1989, is expected to have an all-grass field by 2018, and could get a facelift elsewhere.
He was part of renovations to Cleveland's stadium, now named Progressive Field, that made it a more fan-friendly ballpark.
"Mark is a seasoned baseball veteran, whose leadership, drive for excellence, and commitment to all aspects of the game is impressive," Blue Jays chairman Edward Rogers said in a statement. "We have confidence that he is the right person to lead the Toronto Blue Jays into the future and build upon the franchise's legacy."
On the baseball side, Shapiro's first order of business is a decision on the future of general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose off-season and trade-deadline moves shaped Toronto into a contender. Anthopoulos traded for MVP candidate Josh Donaldson and signed catcher Russell Martin in the off-season, then acquired ace David Price, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and others late last month, moves that helped the Blue Jays surge into first place in the American League East.
Like Beeston, Anthopoulos's contract is up Oct. 31. According to multiple reports, Shapiro is likely to retain the Montreal native, who could be an executive of the year candidate.
In an interview on the Fan 590 in Toronto, Beeston called Shapiro a "terrific choice." He said the top challenges facing the next president include updating Rogers Centre for the 21st century, handling the struggling Canadian dollar, continuing to field a competitive team and improving the Blue Jays' spring training facility.
"I can guarantee you: Whatever he wraps his arms around, he'll make it better," said Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who joined the Indians to work for Shapiro. "Anybody that he comes in contact with he's going to make better."
Rogers, which owns the Blue Jays, said in a statement that Shapiro would not be commenting about his new role until he takes over. In the same statement, Shapiro said he was "honoured to be following in the footsteps of one of baseball's greatest leaders, as I look to build on the franchise's strong foundation and legacy in Canadian sport."
Beeston was hired in 1976, the year before the team began playing. He served as president from 1989-97, and again since 2008. He was the president and COO of Major League Baseball from 1997-2002.
The Blue Jays announced in January that the 69-year-old would retire after this season.
"I have known Mark for many years. He is an exemplary executive and his passion for baseball and winning is remarkable,'' Beeston said in a statement. "I am happy to pass him the baton - but not just yet; Alex, the team and I have a little more work to do and we're focused on putting more Ws in the win column."
Indians owner Paul Dolan confirmed the Blue Jays are not sending any compensation to Cleveland for hiring Shapiro. Dolan told reporters in Cleveland that Shapiro was free to leave for another opportunity when he was ready.
That opportunity is in Toronto, where Cheri Bradish, the Loretta Rogers Research Chair in Sport Marketing at Ryerson University, believes he can thrive.
"From what's good for the baseball side, he's young, he's got a great reputation," Bradish said by phone Monday. "From a business mind, (he's) kind of open to new business models, which is so important in baseball today."
— With files from the Associated Press