By: Alexis Brudnicki
BUFFALO, NY – When Detroit Tigers sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were both sidelined after off-season surgeries, everyone knew about it.
Heading into spring training, the two-time MVP was trying to make a comeback from an October procedure to remove bone spurs in his right ankle and repair a stress fracture in his foot. Martinez had surgery in February after injuring the meniscus in his left knee. Rumours were rampant that the Tigers might be in the market for a lefty-hitting infielder with power potential.
It makes sense that many immediately thought of the guy who had been waiting in the wings with the Toledo Mud Hens for two years – Jordan Lennerton. Though he had some struggles the previous season, his career hitting numbers were solid and he was a back-to-back Gold Glove Award winner, one of just nine minor leaguers chosen each season.
Like many others, Lennerton got a little bit caught up in the hype and excitement surrounding the idea of his potential opportunity. A free agent this off-season, the injuries were a part of the reason the 29-year-old first baseman signed another minor-league contract with Detroit, hopeful for his chance.
“Obviously I got excited when I heard it,” he said. “And that was one of the deciding factors why I came back to the Tigers. I mean, I watch ESPN just like everybody else. I got pretty excited about it and felt like I had a chance, and I went in and had a pretty good spring I thought, and did whatever I felt like I could to influence the decision.
“Now, when a guy like Miguel Cabrera comes back from an injury they’re going to want him – he’s the best hitter in the game – so I wasn’t mad. I was maybe a little bit disappointed that I didn’t do a little bit more and showcase myself a little bit more, but I did what I could and I feel like I showed off in a positive way.”
Cabrera and Martinez both made it back to the active roster in time for Opening Day at Comerica Field, leaving Lennerton to start the season with the Mud Hens at Louisville. Appearing in 39 games since then, the native of Langley, BC, is hitting .222/.312/.333 with one home run, 12 doubles, 14 runs and 14 RBI, and has been perfect in the field.
“It’s not going as everyone would plan a season, obviously,” he said. “I still enjoy coming to the ballpark every day though and I still enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m doing my best to look at the bright side of things and keep going through the day to day and find joy in it, and keep pushing myself to get better.”
Last season, Lennerton got off to a less-than-ideal start in Toledo before turning it completely around after the International League all-star break, though in a shorter sample. To finish the year, he hit .345/.453/.575 with 11 extra-base hits and 19 RBI through 24 games in August. Not in the everyday lineup this season, Lennerton is trying to make the most of each chance he is given.
“I’ve had great starts to seasons, I’ve had slow starts, and it’s just the way things are going right now that it’s another slow start,” he said. “So the sooner that I can right the ship, the better it’s going to be for me and for us as the Mud Hens.
“Giving myself a chance to play every day – I’m not playing every day because I’m not producing – and when I do get my opportunities, I’m going to have to make sure I take advantage.”
When things turned around last year, it was because Lennerton was finally able to relax, a weight lifting off of his shoulders just because of an adjustment in his mentality. He continues to try to do the same thing this season, but it is always a work in progress.
“I just kind of stopped worrying so much,” he said. “I took the pressure off. I’ve tried doing that this year and I have days where I feel great and other days where I have to work a little bit harder to relax, but when you’re struggling all you want to do is hit. You start to put more and more pressure on, and it’s a give-and-take thing, so you want to do less to do more essentially. So I’ve just got to find that happy medium and get myself back on track…
“[What helps is] not worrying so much about the day-to-day; seeing the big picture and being happy with where I am and enjoying the situation that I’m currently in. I try my best not to complain about anything or say, “This was terrible,” or, “This was tough,” and look at the bright side of everything. I feel like it’s easier to get through the tough times that way.”
With Team Canada’s roster to be selected in the upcoming days for the Pan American Games taking place in July on home soil, Lennerton is hoping for a chance to once again suit up in the red-and-white uniforms as a member of the senior national team. While a call up to the big leagues is always a realistic possibility for any player in Triple-A, the former 33rd-rounder has no hesitations about potentially leaving.
“If I’m swinging the bat well, then I’ll continue swinging the bat well during Pan Ams and come back and swing the bat well again,” he said. “It’s a situation that can get a little bit slippery there, but if I’m doing well and there are some grumblings that they might call me up, then maybe at the time we’ll take action. But as of right now, I am fully on board with it…
“I’ll take any opportunity to play for Team Canada. When that time comes, they said that it was going to be signed off my Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball and they’re okay with it, so when they call, you pick up and you do whatever you need to do to be on that team.”
Lennerton is excited at the idea of getting a chance to play in Ajax, Ont., in front of a Canadian crowd, and defend the gold medal that Team Canada won at the last Pan Am Games, in 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it [for] No. 1, the competition, and No. 2, it’s at home and the crowd is going to be on our side. The motivation from the hometown people is going to be incredible. Everybody is getting excited about it and it’s only a few [weeks] away.”
Lennerton’s most recent opportunity with the national team was almost three years ago, at the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensburg, Germany in September 2012, also his fondest memory with Team Canada.
“Regensburg, the whole thing was a highlight,” he said. “I was a bench player but I got to come off the bench a couple times, and I had a pinch-hit home run against Germany. And the camaraderie is incredible. Everybody is there for the same purpose and everybody picks everyone up, and it’s just a good atmosphere being around those guys.”