The first day of a new school year brings the return of sophomores and seniors as well as the arrival of the freshmen. Excitement and hope fill the halls. For some, it signifies a fresh start. For others, it’s a new beginning.
Today, as you walk through the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse, it has become almost unrecognizable from what it was just a year ago. Mixed in with the few remaining veterans are a large group of fresh faces: Players promoted from Triple A or acquired over the last couple of months as the Blue Jays begin their rebuild in earnest. Players, coaches, and media almost need an attendance sheet to account for all the new arrivals, from Rowdy Tellez to Jonathan Davis to David Paulino, who was acquired in the Roberto Osuna trade. Each new player is trying to find their place, make their mark, and prove to management that they should be considered part of the future direction of the ball club. New relationships develop, and old ones are relied on, as players make the transition to the big leagues.
Some, such as Sean Reid-Foley and Danny Jansen, have success and high achievement in their past. Both won multiple player awards for their performances with Blue Jays’ Triple A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons.
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“It is a blessing. Buffalo has been an awesome place to play. The fans have been awesome and you get a lot of Blue Jay fan,” Jansen said, when discussing the awards he received. “It was a really great thing, super humble and looking to build off that and keep going.”
Similar to students graduating from one school to another, it is personal growth beyond the achievements that help move players from one level to another.
Bisons manager Bobby Meachum said that he “likes that men grow and get better at what they do, not only on the field but with their character. Dig deep and think about some things in the middle of the season and the middle of their lives. When things are going good or bad they keep digging and keep working hard.”
Each new player will get the opportunity to experience their firsts and create lasting memories, from catcher Jansen getting his first home run in Kansas City, to pitcher Reid-Foley winning his first major league game against the Miami Marlins.
“It was a high heater, 1-2 count,” Jansen recalled with a smile. “It was one of those where you don’t feel anything. But obviously you are like ‘go go go’. But in the back of my mind I knew I got it pretty good.”
Bringing the lessons and wisdom received at the previous level is imperative to future success with the new team. In the case of Reid-Foley, it was going back to Triple A and regrouping after a couple of starts that made the difference. Working with the pitching coach there helped get him back to the basics that got him to the big leagues.
“Went back to the basics, throwing more over the plate. I got away from that in the one start,” Reid-Foley said. “My side down there right before I came back the pitching coach was like, ‘hey man, just throw the ball over the plate and let your stuff work’. Obviously it kind of helps and kind of works.”
There will also be moments of realization — small things that make you truly feel that you’re finally a member of the “big team.” These can come in the form of connecting with your new teammates in the clubhouse, or on the plane travelling to away games.
“Being around the guys you grew up watching,” Reid-Foley said of his experiences with his new teammates, “playing with on video games – like Russ and Clippard and all of them — it is pretty cool and surreal, and now I am a teammate of them. I am in the brotherhood with them. That is the coolest thing.”
When asked about his favorite part of being a major leaguer, Jansen also highlighted the plane rides. Besides not having to ride the bus, it also means spending time with his teammates: “The plane rides, the whole team is on it. I was talking to Curtis Granderson, sitting next to him when we went to New York. He was telling me all about it and what to do and the cool things around there. The plane rides are crazy.”
New players will also inevitably have moments of heightened excitement and anxiety. One of these is often going to Yankee Stadium for the first time — seeing and being part of the history and tradition, and playing in front of a stadium full of some of baseball’s most raucous fans.
For Jansen, the first inning behind the plate at New York was an anxiety-filled one. “Yankee Stadium is different than Kansas City. There were like 45,000 fans there, so it was different,” he said of playing in the Bronx. “But then you realize it is the same game, you take a deep breath, playing baseball like you were five years old.”
Reid-Foley was also initially intimidated by the scale of Yankee Stadium: “Top of the first, you got them doing the roll call, you look up four tiers to the stadium — you are like, ‘Wow, this is a big stadium.’”
Reid-Foley admitted he gets a little nervous before every one of his starts in the majors — it’s only human. But once the game is on, his attention is on the action: “If you start worrying about something around you, you start losing sight of what you need to do pitch to pitch.”
Inevitably, there will be some encounters with players from opposing teams that will remind young players that they have truly reached the Show. For Reid-Foley and Jansen, it was facing Giancarlo Stanton in New York.
“When Stanton got in the box — he is huge. Feels like he is over 7 feet tall!” Jansen said.
For Reid-Foley, the impression Stanton made went beyond just his staggering size. “I was watching him in Double A in Jacksonville, whenever Leiper was manager,” Reid-Foley shared. “I grew up going to those games. I actually saw him on his last game before he got called up to the big leagues. Now, to be on the same field with him competing against him — that is awesome.”
So as some students begin their new journey this week, there are also many Toronto Blue Jay prospects going through the same process. Their feelings will range from excitement and happiness to anxiety and nervousness. The key is to take the time to breathe, fully enjoy moments, and appreciate the experiences ahead.
Lead Photo © Kevin Sousa – USA Today Sports