By Isaac Boloten
We have made it. It is finally September, and just in case it hasn’t quite hit you yet, the Toronto Blue Jays are still in first place. Excitement is at a height that I have personally never seen before; the Blue Jays have an MVP candidate, an ace, and a knuckle-baller who appears to have regained his Cy Young form, fans are filling up the dome, and the TV viewership is reaching numbers that are normally reserved for hit network shows.
Yet even with all of these wonderful things happening at once, perhaps the most intriguing storyline is coming from a player whose contributions to the 2015 Blue Jays started just last week.
As we all know, since March Marcus Stroman has been rehabbing from a devastating torn ACL that he suffered in Spring Training. Losing Stroman, the team’s best pitcher from a year ago, was a punishing blow to this team right out of the gate. In fact, I wrote about just how crushing the freak-injury was. But that piece wasn’t just about the effects of Stroman’s on-field absence, it was about how the injury affects the organization, as a whole, off the field. To quote:
- Marcus Stroman is for the fan who enjoys the players who interact most with fans.
- Marcus Stroman is for the stat-inclined fan, the one who salivates over articles written at Fangraphs or Baseball Prospectus that rave about Stroman’s potential.
- Marcus Stroman is for the fan who likes to see a guy work his ass off every day. To quote his Twitter bio: “Doing everything they said I couldn’t. With a smile and chip on my shoulder!”
- Marcus Stroman is for the fan that loves players who are into a cool scene, as Stroman is immersed in hip-hop and sneaker culture, and appears to be one of the coolest guys around.
- Marcus Stroman is for the fan that values clubhouse chemistry, as Marcus appears to be well respected in the clubhouse already having formed relationships with the likes of Mark Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez. The latter of which was quoted saying “we wanted to do it side-by-side,” with regards to their rise to the major leagues.
- Marcus Stroman is for the sentimental fan who likes to see a guy with a great story behind him. If being successful as a 5’9” pitcher isn’t enough, you can read about how he honours his grandmother every single day.
- Marcus Stroman is for the young fan who has their own major league aspirations, with his #HDMH campaign being an inspiration for undersized athletes everywhere.
- Marcus Stroman is for the fan that cares about a player’s character, something that is brought to the surface in this video of Marcus paying off his mother’s mortgage.
Those points work to combine everything that made Marcus Stroman so likeable, up to March 11, 2015. In the understatement of the century, I think that it’s safe to say he has added to the list since then. Let’s recap…
We can’t begin without looking at how he reacted to the injury. Naturally, Stroman’s initial reaction was devastation. Who wouldn’t feel that way? But, of course, in typical Marcus Stroman fashion, it took him but a few days to get back to a strong mindset, and that positive outlook never stopped. Stroman kept sending out uplifting tweets, pictures, and videos. He also started a Snapchat account so he could update fans, visually and honestly, on how his rehab was going. This was all coming at a time when it would seem impossible to remain positive about the future.
Then, in June, Stroman told us something we hadn’t dared to dream.
There’s something admirable about letting a whole fanbase know that your goal is to do the improbable. And then there’s something else entirely about letting them know that your goal is do the improbable, and then actually deliver. By coming back in September, Stroman has gone beyond admirable. He is exceptional.
And it wasn’t only Stroman’s attitude towards the process that was endearing. His decision to go back to school at Duke University while recovering also struck a chord with the fanbase. His commitment to the end-goal, while also putting things in perspective, and finishing a degree at one of the best schools in the USA made for a captivating story. It was a lot to juggle, but somehow, the degree was complete, and he was even able to recover from the injury well before schedule, with help from some special medical techniques.
That juggling act must have taken an incredible amount of determination, and although Stroman consistently talked about how hard he was working, at the end of the day, he still gave all of the credit to his rehab team at Duke.
It would have been easy to boast about his hard work, and no one would have batted an eye. Instead, Stroman took the time out to thank the people who devoted their time and effort towards helping him reach his goals.
Stroman rejoined the team a few weeks ago, and made two rehab starts. One went tremendously, and one went rather poorly. Based on Stroman’s reactions to the two starts, you wouldn’t know which one was which.
Stroman understands the process, and how rehab starts work. These games obviously do not matter, and according to him, his leg felt great in both starts, which is really all you could ask for. Rehab is not a results-based endeavor. No one is concerned about your ERA in Buffalo, and I think it’s important that he understands that, and have some perspective. I can tell you, if that was me, and I was unable to get AAA batters out, I would feel like everything I worked for was for naught. Stroman’s understanding of the process, as a player, is rare, and it’s impressive.
Now, finally, we arrive here. Marcus Stroman has made three starts. He has won each of them, allowing only 4 runs in the process. He has looked incredible. If I told you that would happen in April, what would you have said? I probably would have told you to get yourself checked out, as there’s obviously something wrong with your train of thought. But who am I to doubt Marcus Stroman? I closed my article in March by saying: “A year is a long damn time.” I suppose Stroman also couldn’t stomach the year’s wait. He has officially done it. I am not sure if we are realizing the magnitude of what this story can turn in to. Forget David Price. Forget Josh Donaldson’s MVP season. If Marcus Stroman can help this team win down the stretch, which he is doing so far, just six months removed from tearing his ACL, combining all of the things he has done to contribute to his likeability, there will be no bigger storyline.
An earlier version of this article was published at BlueJaysPlus.com.