A chip off the old Doc (Dr. Ron Taylor): Drew Taylor
By April Whitzman
While Drew Taylor’s stint with the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization ended in 2007, his career aspirations have not stopped. In fact, after successful seasons with Pulaski Blue Jays and the Auburn DoubleDays, in the past few years, the 29-year-old has graduated from college, met the love of his life, Elena Semikina, has excelled as a starting pitcher with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty League and has initiated and supported many charities. It’s hard to believe Taylor had time to participate in an interview with JaysProspects, but fortunately, he welcomed the opportunity and shared many amazing experiences he’s enjoyed thus far in his career.
Growing up in Toronto, Ont., Taylor admitted without hesitation that he grew up a Blue Jays’ fan. “I was very lucky to be able to watch the Jays win back-to-back World Series Championships,” he stated. “There were so many great players and personalities on those teams; Pat Hentgen, Al Leiter, Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez, John Olerud and Kelly Gruber were all favorites, but I would have to say I watched David Wells the closest. Being left-handed I learned a great deal about pitching from watching him throw. He was a bulldog on the mound, I loved his approach. He went right after hitters no matter who they were and rarely fell behind in the count.”
Taylor was fortunate to also get a chance to learn from one of his childhood heroes, “When I was in high school Wells was back playing for the Jays and I got the chance to throw an impromptu bullpen down in spring training,” he said. “Wells gave me his glove to use and stuck around after I threw to give me some great advice about setting hitters up and how to use a curveball effectively. Watching how he interacted with fans was also great to see. I can’t think of a more generous player.”
While Taylor further highlighted how kind and genuine Wells was, he also indicated that he presently admires the game play and attitude of JP Arencibia and Brett Cecil. “I played with both in Auburn and they have subsequently made the jump to the big-leagues. They were always great guys on and off the field, but it is great to see players like them continue to make the time for fans after they have made it to the Majors.”
Taylor, however, not only admires their play on the field, but also off the field as he also highly respects how they are spending their free time: “It’s a delight to see that Arencibia and Cecil have also taken the initiative to visit children at SickKids Hospital in Toronto and see that they are active in the Jays charity, JaysCare, spearheaded by Amoryn Engel.”
What should also be acknowledged, however, is that Taylor is involved with a variety of charity groups as well. While he has always been very passionate about helping, his determination to help others has since increased thanks to the passion from his girlfriend, Elena Semikina, Miss Universe Canada 2010.“Elena has done some great work through Miss Universe with SOS Children’s Villages. Together, we have also worked with Justin Van Dette and McDonalds McHappy Day supporting patient care at East York General Hospital. Elena has recently participated in the Rally for Kids supporting SickKids and The Human Race supporting North York General Hospital.”
Taylor and Semikina have also gotten the opportunity to be involved in a variety of sports-related charities in Toronto and across Canada. For instance, the couple recently participated in Strike Out Cancer in support of Mount Sinai Hospital which raised over $1.4 million for research and treatment of women’s cancers. This year, in the first year of the event, Strike Out Cancer included an all-star list of actors and hall of famers including Kurt Russell, Roberto Alomar, David Justice, Gary Carter, Gary Sheffield, Devon White, among others.
They also participated alongside local athletes, actors, musicians, and personalities in the Bulletproof campaign which sells apparel in support of the Special Olympics.
In addition to these major initiatives, Taylor also shared how they are also involved with a fun group, Jays Days, which gets together when the Jays are on the road to watch the game at Opera Bobs. “We recently participated alongside Gregg Zaun in an event of theirs which raised funds for SickKids Hospital and Horizons for Youth, a 35-bed youth-shelter dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk youth in Toronto. I’m proud to have been a part of the experience.”
Aside from these successes, Taylor has also been victorious on the mound. This enabled him to be signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays. “Being signed by my hometown team was extremely special,” Taylor indicated, “That being said, there were so many things on the go I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down and enjoy the feeling.”
Taylor further explained that when he got the call he had just arrived back in Michigan after attending the NCAA Regionals in Atlanta. Already drained, he was told he had to leave in two days, so he quickly packed up everything in his apartment and hit the road for Toronto. “Kevin Briand and Sean McCann were the scouts that signed me so when I arrived in Toronto, I went down to Blue Jays Way to meet them and sign the contract. With the papers signed, I walked down to field level with Kevin, looked around at the then named SkyDome and it sunk in, this way my shot.”
Taylor earned his shot with the Blue Jays after posting a 43-21 record in four years while attending the University of Michigan, where he was a key component to the Wolverines winning the Big Ten. Taylor stated that his experience in Michigan was fantastic and further explained to JaysProspects that the move to Michigan from Canada didn’t involve a drastic adjustment to living.
Conversely, however, he announced that moving to Pulaski, where he spent his first year in the Blue Jays’ organization, was a little out of his comfort zone:“Pulaski is located on the west side of Virginia and has a population of about 9,000. After growing up in downtown Toronto, this was a little bit of a change. After games we would leave the clubhouse close to midnight and there were only two places still open to eat: McDonalds and Waffle House – one can only take so much secret sauce and corn syrup.”
He also admitted that the options during the day were not much better. “On our days off Jeff Gilmore, Adam Rogers, and I would jump into a car and drive to one of the closest major cities which included Washington and Baltimore – which if you check a map are hardly considered close to Pulaski.”
When not trying to find something to do, however, Taylor was busy working on his delivery and mechanics. His hard work paid off as in 23 games with Pulaski, Taylor posted a 1-3 record with a 3.95 ERA.
His stats enabled him to receive a promotion to the short-season Auburn Doubledays (now the Vancouver Canadians) the following season where he posted a 1-0 record with a 4.55 ERA.
Fortunately¸ as Taylor explains, Auburn was more similar to the environment he was used to, including the fact it was a much larger town and had great fans. What he enjoyed most of all, however, was his teammates. “There was a great group of guys on the team including Brett Cecil, JP Arencibia, Darin Mastroianni, Brad Mills, and Alan Farina who are all currently on the Jays 40-man roster. Together, we ended up winning the New York-Penn League that year.”
As much as Taylor enjoyed his teammates, it soon became evident that the feeling was mutual. In fact, at the end of the 2007 season, the young LHP was voted, ‘Best Teammate’ by the players and coaches on the Doubledays. Discussing this honor, Taylor modestly stated, “The Doubledays was a fantastic team, full of great players but even better people. I had a great time playing there and I think that resulted in being voted best teammate. It is really a reflection of the people around you, and on that team, the award could have gone to anyone. We were a close group of players and everyone wanted to be successful and also see others successful. Our willingness to support each other and take pride in our teammates individual achievements and the victories of the team overall was the reason we won the New York-Penn league that year. I am excited to see more and more of these guys make the Blue Jays, they know how to win.”
With that said, it is also apparent that Taylor also knows how to win. He has recently spent the past three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercountry League where he has become the ace of the team, most recently posting a 2-1 record in 2011 with a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings pitched. While many are familiar with the fact that IBL remains as an independent league solely based in Canada, producing such names including, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Spoljaric, Jesse Orosco, John Axford, Pete Orr, Rich Butler and Rob Butler, Taylor explains a key difference between the league and others he has played. “The IBL has a shorter schedule. We also do not play every day, so it allows players to maintain full-time jobs during the season, which is rather unique.”
This unique opportunity has given Taylor the opportunity to play for the Leafs the past three years and also still be a full-time student at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital. Presently, he is working on his PhD in Biomedical Engineering. However, playing baseball and studying is not abnormal for Taylor, as he managed to finish his Bachelors and Masters degrees while playing college ball at the University of Michigan before he signed with the Blue Jays.
“When I signed with the Blue Jays, I had sent in my application to medical school. I was accepted and had to make a tough decision. I decided that I would have the chance to go to medical school after playing, but only had one opportunity to play professional baseball. Thus, I continued to play ball. I didn’t want to lose any momentum in medicine, so I applied to the University of Toronto and continued graduate school in the off-seasons.”
Focusing on cartilage tissue engineering, Taylor is now in his last year of his PhD in Biomedical Engineering. Because of this, many wonder if he will become the next Dr. Taylor, as his father, a former MLB pitcher and the present doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays took a much similar path. In fact, Drew’s father, Ron, played in 11 season in the Majors, winning two World Series (Cardinals, 1964; Mets, 1969). In fact, in six appearances in Major League post season games, Drew’s father threw over 10 innings without giving up a run, including four innings in the ‘64 World Series without giving up a hit.
“There is no doubt that my father has played the largest role in my development as a player and person. Watching games together at home was some of the best instruction, we would talk about setting up hitters and he would always ask me what pitch I would throw next.” Taylor stated, discussing his father’s impact in his life. “My father taught me how to deal with pressure and maintain confidence and focus – something that will serve me in all aspects of life.”
Drew’s father also provided him with great advice and support whenever he needed it. One momentous time he remembers clearly was when he was released by the Phillies in 2008. “When I came home, my father told me something that will always stick with me. He said if he could only choose one career between baseball and medicine, it would have been medicine as he has been able to help countless more people as a physician than as a pitcher. There’s no better lesson than that!”
Taylor admits that there have been countless times where he has been compared to his father, but he states that it is an honor to be compared to his dad. In one of his favourite moments on the mound, Taylor further admitted that the comparison gave him additional confidence and motivation to find success. “I was pitching for the University of Michigan at a packed Bill Davis Stadium facing our rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes. There is a reason that ESPN listed Michigan-Ohio State as the greatest rivalry in sports – – the fans were relentless. They were having a great year and were the team to beat in the Big Ten. I was 5-1 at that point in the season and had a big bull’s-eye on my back. It was quiet for a brief time as I walked to the mound to deliver my first warm-up pitch. I remember a die-hard old white-bearded fan standing up in the front row and yelling, “Taylor, you will never live up to your father.” He might have been right in the long run, but not on that day. Their fans didn’t let up all game, and I channelled all their energy thrown at me into every pitch. I threw well and ended up holding them off into the 8th inning securing the victory.”
In addition to his father, Taylor further thanks a number of individuals who have been instrumental in helping him find success within his professional career. These individuals include Dan Bliewas, his Ontario Blue Jays’ coach, Rich Maloney, his coach at the Universtiy of Michigan, and his brother, Matthew, who, Taylor states, has been his biggest supporter and his biggest critic. “The lessons that I have learned from these people and through baseball have prepared me for the rest of my life,” he admitted.
While these people have been key to helping him find success, Taylor further states that his mother has always been his biggest supporter. He states that he never would have received the opportunity to play baseball without her drives to each little league game and her thorough support. “She facilitated my passion for baseball and continued watching me play, flying down south to see me pitch in University and when playing professionally.”
Taylor further admitted that his mom has seen his every high and low including one of his most embarrassing moment of his career, which he so kindly shared with JaysProspects: “During a little league game, I hit a no doubt homerun. I swing left-handed and my bat ended up a few feet down the first-base line on my follow-threw. I hadn’t learned baseball’s valuable lesson in humility yet, and while I was watching the ball leave the yard I tripped over the bat and landed face-first in the dirt. Lesson learned, put your head down and run it out…”
Nowadays, however, while Taylor is self-assured, he is also very modest and genuine. “On and off the mound I would have to say that my best skill is my confidence. I may not necessarily have the best stuff every time I am pitching, but I always believe that I can win. Visualizing yourself having success is half the battle. When you start second guessing yourself, you have already lost. It is the same in all aspects of life, whether delivering a pitch, studying for an exam, sitting down for an interview, or simply walking into work that day.”
He concluded his interview with JaysProspects giving great advice to others pursuing a similar career path as his own: “Stay humble. Baseball often has a way of doing this for you anyway. It is difficult to remain confident when things don’t go your way but stay humble and confident at the same time, on and off the field. You will find success.”