By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Joe Biagini had committed the worst possible sin a pitcher can commit on a sunny spring afternoon.
The Blue Jays Rule V selection from the San Francisco Giants, had allowed a home run tying the game with two out in the top of the ninth.
And now, the Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox would plod into extra innings.
Major leaguers would rather run sprints carrying backpacks loaded with rocks for half an hour than play extras.
This we learned at this very field in 1985 when Jeff Reardon gave up a game-tying homer to Ron Shephard in the bottom of the ninth.
“Give up the lead give it all up!” Expos ace Steve Rogers yelled from the right field bullpen. After all, the Expos were staring a long bus trip to West Palm Beach in the face and wanted to see Villanova-Georgetown NCAA hoops final.
That Expos-Jays match lasted either 11 or 12 innings. The game on Friday ended in 10 as Jon Berti singled off Chandler Shepherd.
Biagini was well aware of his crime.
“I apologized,” he said, tongue in cheek.
After giving up a Sam Travis homer off the top of the centre field backdrop, Biagini came back with a strike at the knee. He then retired Chris Dominguez on a grounder and headed for the clubhouse which stands in the same right field corner where Rogers had hooted at Reardon.
So, what did this 25-year-old in his first big-league camp trying to make the team do after the homer?
Trash the clubhouse?
Snap at a writer?
Attack a toilet?
Ah, no, Biagini headed back outside to where the fans hung out signing 17 autographs and posing for two pictures.
“Probably there are certain days you don’t feel like (signing),” Biagini said, “I try to keep an even keel. I feel lucky that people even want it. I hope I never loose that approach as years go by.”
Biagini had some giddy-up to his fastball with three 95 mph readings and two 96s showing on the left field scoreboard as he fanned Bryce Brentz and Marco Hernandez on nine pitches to start the inning.
What was Biagini doing last December when the Jays selected him from the Giants double-A Richmond roster?
“Ah ... skiing in the Alps,” he says and after the writer scribbles it into his notebook he ads “just kidding ... I was sleeping. My father heard it. The man at the draft table said ‘Toronto, could you please spell that name again,’ and came in to wake me up.”
His pop, Rob, pitched for the University of Miami Hurricanes and two seasons in the Giants organization. The son pitched at the College of San Mateo, transferred to University of California-Davis, was a 26th rounder in 2011, finished his fourth year in the San Fran system and was sleeping in Santa Clara, Calif. when calls from the Jays and the Giants came.
“Bobby Evans (Giants GM) wished me well, but he said they’d welcome me back too,” said Biagini.
The Jays selected him, paying the Giants $50,000 US. Toronto must either keep him on its major-league roster or offer him to the Giants for $25,000. The Jays can’t send him down unless a deal is worked out.
Barring sore elbows etc., the Jays are set with Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd. So, Biagini is competing with the likes of Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, David Aardsma, Pat Venditte, Randy Choate and Chad Girodo. Not a walk in the park.
Yet, this was an organization built on the Rule V draft. Biagini is asked if he knows how important a role the draft played in the Jays history?
“Buck Martinez told me he was once a Rule V,” said the Rule V pitcher. Indeed the Jays broadcaster was selected by the Houston Astros and a young scout name Pat Gillick from the Philadelphia Phillies roster in 1968.
There were others: George Bell (first MVP award winner in franchise history in 1987), Kelly Gruber (game’s best and highest paid third baseman in 1991), Jim Gott (three years in rotation), Jim Acker (281 games out of the bullpen), Manny Lee (shortstop on 1992 World Series champs) and Willie Upshaw (first baseman for six seasons).
What does this Rule V pick have to do to make this roster?
“Not give up more home runs,” said Biagini, whose father pitched with Chris Colabello’s pop in Italy, grew up in the same town as Troy Tulowitzki and had Jiovanni Mier as a roommate at a Pro Athletes Outreach in Key Biscayne, Fla.
What’s the best thing about big league camp, is it the major-league meal money, the food? we asked.
Biagini thought for a second or two.
“Probably the pants ... they have a lot of options here,” he said, “that and the kindness of the writers.”
Hey how can you not root a little for a longshot reliever with a major-league sense of humor?