Crouse, Marisnick growing up, coming up together
*Lansing OFs Markus Brisker, Jake Marisnick, Michael Crouse (Port Moody, BC) and Marcus Knecht (North York, Ont.) making their way through the system.
By Chris Toman
They were separated at birth by four months, 1,300 miles and a border. One was born in Riverside, Calif.; the other, Port Moody, BC.
Riverside is best known in the baseball world for producing the father-son combination of Bobby and Barry Bonds, while Port Moody has yet to lay claim to a major league player.
The Toronto Blue Jays are responsible for bringing these two together after selecting Michael Crouse in the 16th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, and Jake Marisnick in the third round the following year.
Besides the fact Marisnick’s citizenship reads American and Crouse’s Canadian, these two share a lot of similarities, including a fondness for one another that spreads far beyond the diamond.
“He [Crouse] was one of the first guys I was hanging out with when I first came into camp after signing,” said Marisnick. “I ended up rooming with him a couple of times and got to know him pretty well. It has been good for both of us because we are similar players and we have been able to help each other by pushing each other both in the weight and conditioning and on the field.”
Marisnick and Crouse were 2/3 of an outfield that helped propel the Lansing Lugnuts — a Blue Jays Class-A affiliate — to the Midwest League championship. The third member of the trio was Marcus Knecht, a fellow Canadian who recently won gold with Crouse at the Pan American Games. The threesome all participated in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
“It was a great accomplishment,” Crouse said of the all-star selection. “It shows me that I’ve been working hard. It was an honour to go with my friends and teammates. It was a great experience to see how the other players work and prepare for the game.
“I definitely want to make that a routine and try to get on that team every year.”
Maybe so, but he knows he will have his work cut out for him.
“Every year it gets that much harder,” explained Crouse. “It’s not a different style of baseball, you just need to make adjustments. You need to put your work in every day and make the adjustments to be ahead.”
It worked for them last season.
Crouse and Marisnick combined for 28 home runs, 132 runs batted in, and 75 stolen bases, while Knecht added 16 homer and 86 RBIs. They all have pop, while Marisnick and Crouse both possess the rare combination of power and speed. Crouse finished with 38 steals on the year, Marisnick had 37, and each hit 14 homers. It would be no surprise if Marisnick looked to one-up him next year.
“I’d say there is,” Marisnick said, when asked if there is a friendly competition between the two. “And it has helped us push each other and play hard.”
The competition helps the both of them deal with the rigors of minor league baseball.
“You play 142 games in a six-month, period with a lot of travel on the bus,” said Crouse, who will turn 21 later this November. “You sleep for a few hours at the hotel, get up, and do it all over again. It’s a constant grind, but at the same time it’s fun. Every time I look back on my season, I realize I had so many memories and good times. It’s definitely a grind, but if you live in the moment and just enjoy it, you are going to come out with a lot of fun memories.”
For Marisnick, 20, the grueling schedule and little downtime is all worth it, because in the end, he’s doing what he wants to do and doing it with people he enjoys.
“The best part is just playing baseball and being around good friends and teammates,” said Marisnick.
They love baseball, which is a big reason why they are exceeding at it with bright futures ahead of them. And both recognize what they need to do in order to compete at the next levels.
Marisnick, who finished second in the Midwest League with a .320 average, says it’s important to keep his speed and quickness and says he’s been doing a lot of different things in the weight room to help ensure that. Crouse is also focusing in on what made him a threat on the base paths by incorporating a lot of running into his off-season workouts, but added he also needs to become a more disciplined hitter next season.
“The biggest part of my game I need to improve on is being more patient at the plate and not hit the pitcher’s pitches; try to get my pitch and put a good swing on it,” said Crouse. “I feel like once I do that everything will start coming together better.”
It’s a slow process, considering where they are in the organizational depth chart, but Marisnick has the patience that is needed to get over the hump.
“I try to take everything in stride and keep working to make myself a better player.”
He’s focused on moving up the ladder in an organization that boasts plenty of quality prospects and one that has transformed itself into one of the game’s best under the watch of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
It’s an organization Crouse is proud to represent.
“The Blue Jays are headed in the right direction,” said Crouse. “The talent in the organization is great. Alex Anthopoulos has done a great job picking guys, and making trades.”
As much as he’s enjoying his time in Toronto’s minor league system, he wants more. He wants to wear Toronto across his chest someday. They both do. They talk about it quite a bit.
“It comes up all the time,” said Crouse. “Every time before a game, when we’re standing there for the national anthem, we say: imagine doing this at the Rogers Centre and we get a little giggle going. It’s good times.”
Their support system is in place. Both have two siblings and proud parents who have been there since day one. And now they have each other, united through a game they learned miles apart from one another. They are two teammates — two friends — looking to achieve the same goal in the same organization.
“We’ll try to keep that relationship going throughout the years and hopefully we can take it all the way to the majors,” said Crouse.
In a perfect world, they will do it together.