Jeter Bids Farewell To Toronto
TORONTO — Earlier this year, Marcus Stroman lived out a dream by pitching at Yankee Stadium.
The next day, he lived out another one.
Less than 24 hours after going 3 2/3 innings in his first start in the Bronx — where he grew up watching games as a kid — the Long Island, N.Y., native got to chat with longtime Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as he fielded ground balls on the diamond before the teams' game that night.
Though the conversation amounted to "just small talk," Stroman says he walked away from it with a newfound appreciation for the 40-year-old Jeter, who he has idolized for years.
[Marcus-Stroman2] "He's just the most down to earth guy, really willing to talk to us young guys, and he's the most unselfish person there is," Stroman said after catching fly balls during batting practice at Rogers Centre on Friday afternoon. "Just to have someone like him to look up to, it's pretty surreal."
This weekend, Jeter, who will retire following the 2014 season, played his final games at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
Before Friday night's contest, 'The Captain' told a large assembled media contingent how much he appreciated the Canadian city.
"I love Toronto," Jeter said while surrounded by microphones and digital recorders in the visiting dugout. "I love the city of Toronto. This team has given us fits throughout the years, especially here. ... but I've always enjoyed coming to Toronto to play."
With a .304 career batting average at Rogers Centre heading into the weekend series, why wouldn't he?
Jeter's 165 hits in 133 games over 20 seasons at the turfed Canadian stadium is more than any other visiting player.
His 3,445 career hits is good for sixth best on baseball's all-time list, and the most in New York's franchise history.
While Stroman admitted he wasn't necessarily a Yankees fan growing up, he says his admiration for Jeter was always there.
After all, the 23-year-old Blue Jays pitcher was just a toddler when Jeter made his big league debut in 1995. He's never known the Yankees without No. 2 at shortstop.
"It was impossible not to like him," Stroman said. "He was a young guy who came up and stuck with arguably the best franchise in baseball at the time, so (I was) definitely a huge fan of Jeter growing up."
"He's literally the perfect role model," Stroman added. "If you were to create the perfect guy to look up to as far as on and off the field, he's the guy."
Stroman has faced Jeter twice — both during his June start at Yankee Stadium — inducing a fly out in Jeter's first at-bat against him, and giving up a single in his second.
With another four-game stop in the Bronx on the Blue Jays' September schedule, chances are Stroman will get one last shot at lowering Jeter's .500 batting average against him.
For now, though, he's content with the memory of their first head-to-head matchup in New York.
"Seeing (Jeter) stepping into the box and hearing the announcer, having him give you the little head bob when he steps in, I got the chills on the mound," Stroman said with a smile. "You've got to kind of contain yourself because you're trying to get him out, but you have to give respect where respect is due."
Stroman, who is 8-5 with a 3.88 earned-run average so far through his first year in the majors, considers himself fortunate to have gotten the chance to play against Jeter before the 14-time all-star officially hangs up his cleats.
"It's awesome," Stroman said of being part of Jeter's farewell tour. "I'm glad I was able to make it to the big leagues for his last year. ...
"It's pretty surreal to be here and experience it."
BLUE JAYS NEWS & NOTES
Right-handed pitcher Brandon Morrow threw an inning of scoreless relief in a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo on Saturday.
And while the Blue Jays expect Morrow to be back with the big league team at some point in September (as a reliever due to his inability to stretch out his pitch count before the end of the year), manager John Gibbons suggested that a bullpen role might also be more suitable for the oft-injured starter in the future.
[brandon-morrow-130528] "You look at his stuff, that might be an ideal role for him," Gibbons said before Friday's game against the Yankees. "He gets banged up each year, maybe that's the route to go. Who knows?
"He's got overpowering stuff. Good fastball, great slider. Maybe you maximize him that way."
Gibbons says he's discussed the possibility of moving Morrow to the bullpen with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, but not at length. Making things more complicated is the US$10 million team option on Morrow for next season, which Gibbons admitted is a hefty price tag for a reliever.
"I don't know what's going to happen," the Jays skipper said pointedly.
"You would hope he can start for you," Gibbons added. "But the last couple years he's been banged up here so maybe his body just can't hold up that way."
The 30-year-old Morrow began his career as a relief pitcher, going 63 1/3 innings with a 4.12 ERA for Seattle in his rookie season in 2007.
Traded to the Blue Jays in 2010, Morrow is 34-30 with a 4.40 ERA and 1.316 WHIP through 93 starts with Toronto.
He landed on the 60-day disabled list on May 3 with a torn tendon in his right index finger.
CANADIANS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES
— Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin leads all Canadian hitters this week with a .389 batting average over his last six games. Martin is 7-for-18 with two doubles, three walks, a runs scored and a stolen base over that span.
— Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported Thursday that the Brewers put a waiver claim on Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) but Milwaukee was unable to come to terms on a deal with Colorado. Morneau is having his best season statistically since 2010, batting .311 with a .354 on-base percentage through 114 games. [Jim+Henderson]
— If the post-season started today, only two Canadians would be playing in it. Jim Henderson (Calgary), pictured, and the Brewers lead the NL Central by 1 1/2 games over Oscar Taveras (born in the Dominican Republic but has a Canadian passport) and the St. Louis Cardinals, who currently hold the second National League wild card spot.
CANADIANS IN THE MINOR LEAGUES
— Blue Jays outfield prospect Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) is heading to the Arizona Fall League once the Buffalo Bisons conclude their season. Pompey, 21, worked his way up from single-A Dunedin to triple-A this season.
— Houston Astros RHP prospect Brock Dykxhoorn (Goderich, Ont.) is the Canadian Baseball Network minor league player of the week. Dykxhoorn picked up his third win of the season on Monday, striking out 10 rookie-league Bluefield Blue Jays batters over five innings and giving up one run (unearned) for the Greenville Astros.
-- Follow Melissa Couto on Twitter @throwinsmoke