In May, 2009, A.J. Burnett came back to Toronto to face the Blue Jays for the first time after opting out of his contract to sign with the New York Yankees. It was a Tuesday night, sunny and mild, and the surprising Jays were on top of the AL East with a 22-12 record. Streets outside the stadium surged with fans and the dome swelled with noise as a crowd of 43,737 cheered winning pitcher Roy Halladay and barraged the traitorous Burnett with ceaseless boos, delighting in every hit against him.

Will the scene be the same when John Farrell returns to Toronto Friday night in his new role as manager of the Boston Red Sox? Given that he's already been jeered before, during and after an exhibition game by a crowd of senior citizens sunning themselves in Florida this spring, you'd have to figure he's about to feel the full fury of the local fan base.

It's not hard to understand the root of the hatred, although one might struggle to comprehend its depth. Farrell certainly had at least one eye on his former team the whole time he was here, and was clearly eager to escape at every opportunity. But he was mostly meh as a manager, and isn't likely to be missed.

Of course, things did finish on a particularly sour note when his second season, already derailed by a inconceivable spate of injuries, spiraled out of control in the final weeks after Yunel Escobar took the field with a slur on his eye black and retiring veteran Omar Vizquel called Farrell out for a lack of accountability. The end was nigh after that, and when the comical collapse of Bobby Valentine provided an opening in Boston for the second time in as many years, Farrell's long-running love affair was finally consummated.

To be fair, it's easy to see how stewardship of the Red Sox, one of baseball's most fabled teams, could be seen to be someone's "dream job," as Farrell infamously explained to Jays GM Alex Anthopoulous shortly before the rare managerial trade that saw him swapped for infielder Mike Aviles.

Not that he was necessarily the dream choice of everyone in Red Sox Nation, mind you. A Boston Globe poll after the move asking if Farrell was the right choice to run the team saw a Quebec referendum-like razor thin majority of 50.5 percent approve, with the other 49.5 percent saying they "don't have a good feeling about this."

Having worked there before, Farrell is under no illusions about the intensity of baseball fandom in New England. He's acutely aware that every game, every decision, every roster move, is debated day and night, every day of the year, on barstools and radio call-in shows, by the millions of would-be managers agonizing over the fortunes of their favourite team. Sit on the hot seat in the midst of that never-ending inquisition for any length of time, and you're bound to feel the burning heat.

Maybe that's why Farrell always seemed so guarded and cautious, so polished and political in his speech and manner, as if he's running for office. Typically so conscious and careful about his public persona, he's as intent on managing the message as he is his baseball team, deflecting questions about his Toronto departure this spring by reminding everyone he'd been traded, as if it was all out of his hands.

No matter how loud, Farrell likely won't be affected by the chorus of catcalls he hears in Toronto this weekend. He's in greater danger of being ground down by the powerful pressure cooker that is the reality of his Boston dream job, the same way it did to Valentine and Grady Little before him, even his old pal, two-time World Series winner Terry Francona. For Blue Jays fans who wish him ill, watching that happen will be the best revenge of all.

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