Brandon Belt

Belt ‘happy' with Blue Jays, how free agency played out

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TORONTO -- When Brandon Belt returned to the visiting dugout at Citi Field earlier this month after hitting a go-ahead homer in the seventh, his Toronto Blue Jays teammates showered him with an MVP chant. Three weeks later, a member of the team's staff laughed as he recalled that moment.

"I'm pretty sure Belt started it," he said.

That would surprise no one who watched Belt's 12 seasons in San Francisco, where he morphed from the gangly baby giraffe into the self-proclaimed team captain. Belt hoped the on-field production and off-field leadership would lead to him retiring in orange and black, but this offseason, he was reminded that the game is a business.

The Giants wanted to get younger at first base, and they certainly have no regrets about opting for LaMonte Wade Jr., who has done a pretty strong Belt impersonation by playing above-average defense and consistently having the best plate appearances on the team. In the winter, Belt hoped to then end up back in Texas, but the best fit proved to be in Toronto, and he quickly has made it his home.

"It was definitely a weird offseason, to say the least, but I'm happy with the way things turned out," he said on Monday. "It's baseball. I've played with a lot of guys that have moved on. I've had a lot of my friends go to other teams, so you always know that there's a chance -- in fact, it's likely -- that you won't be with the same team your whole career. It's strange, but I've had a lot of fun over here.

"I was fortunate enough to get with a really good team with a bunch of really good guys. That's made the transition a lot easier."

Belt is hitting third for a team that's 44-37 and currently in the third Wild Card spot in the American League, providing a crucial left-handed bat in the middle of a string of four dangerous right-handed hitters. Against his old teammates, he has hit right between Bo Bichette, the AL leader in hits, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is two seasons removed from being the runner-up for MVP.

It's a core that didn't necessarily need a captain. But old habits die hard.

When Belt walked into the dugout Tuesday, a security guard saluted and quipped, "My captain!" as Belt smiled. He might not be riding in on a boat anytime soon, but Kevin Gausman, Belt's teammate for two years in San Francisco, said not much about his personality has changed. That led to some confused looks in spring training.

"He was over there for 12 years so those guys knew his personality, but I think early in the spring -- it's a very dry sense of humor and he'll say stuff with a totally straight face -- and I think a lot of people didn't know if he was joking or not," Gausman said. "He'll say some stuff that -- if you didn't know him -- you'd think is really cocky or arrogant, but that's just him being funny and playing the whole captain thing. He doesn't take anything too seriously."

It took years for Belt to grow into a leadership role in San Francisco. In Toronto, he just wants to fill gaps when necessary. If the team needs comedic relief, Belt will always be there. If mentorship is needed for young players, he can do that, too. And if the Blue Jays make a run in October, they'll likely lean heavily on a player who has two rings and picked his new team in part because it could help him win a third.

"I wanted to be able to come in here and help any way I could because, just like them, I want to win a World Series again," Belt said. "I think I try to be a leader in the clubhouse and out on the field, but for the most part you let this core group take care of this team the way they want to take care of it and I'll share my experience any way I can to help the team."

Right now, what the Blue Jays need most is his left-handed bat. Belt got off to a horrible start in blue, batting .161 and striking out in nearly half of his at-bats through his first 18 games. But as the Giants were reminded just about every year, he's one of the streakier hitters in the big leagues, and his OPS is up to .795 after a strong May and an equally productive start to June.

That stretch helped him win over a second fan base, but Belt didn't need to get hot to feel comfortable in his new home. He said this week that he loves the city and loves living in Canada, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

The Texas native who hosts fishing tournaments in his spare time has found that Ontario is a nice summer spot for his wife and two young boys. He's having plenty of fun out here, too.

"I actually went fishing yesterday," he said. "Caught all the bass in the lake. Set records. I'm banned from Lake Simcoe now because I didn't leave any for anybody else."

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