By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Florida – The off-season was good to Mike Reeves.
Well, life is pretty great if you ask the 26-year-old catcher.
The native of Peterborough, Ont., may not be living the ultimate dream yet, where he could enjoy a spot in the major leagues with his home country squad, and the same Toronto Blue Jays that selected him in the 21st round of the 2013 draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University, but baseball is still paying at least a portion of the bills, giving him a chance to travel, and allowing him to embrace life to the fullest.
“My attitude’s definitely changed,” Reeves said. “I’m just older now, I’m more mature, and I know more of what to expect. When I came out of college, I really needed to know what was going on and all that stuff, but professional sports aren’t like that at all.
“I could be on a plane somewhere tomorrow and not know that I’ve got to move out. It’s just part of it, and I like it. I’m starting to enjoy that part of it, the not knowing where I’m going to go next, or tomorrow. It’s fun. Wherever I go I just try to enjoy the people I’m around and have fun with it.”
Just over a month ago, Reeves was coming to the end of his fourth spring training with the Blue Jays. After a career .230/.336/.291 slash line in 255 games primarily as a backup backstop, splitting time mostly between Class-A Lansing and Class-A Advanced Dunedin since spending his first professional experience with the short-season Vancouver Canadians, he figured he would either be moving up to Double-A New Hampshire or he would be released this year.
Neither happened, and Reeves returned to the place he spent all of last year, the Dunedin Blue Jays roster. He’s two years older than the eldest of his teammates, a fact not lost on him, and one of three catchers with organizational prospects Max Pentecost and Danny Jansen, but he brings a whole lot more to the table than perhaps even he knows.
“He brings great experience, great leadership, and a great work ethic,” Dunedin manager John Schneider said. “I don’t even know if he knows it but he helps out the other catchers almost as much or more than I do, which is huge with what we’re trying to preach about being teammates, but it takes a lot off my plate.
“Sometimes it means more coming from your teammate than your manager or your coach. So he brings tremendous leadership qualities, especially when he’s catching. He has a very good presence behind the plate and the pitchers really trust him.”
The left-handed hitting Canadian catcher began his latest off-season with a wedding – his own, tying the knot with Hailey Goetz on the first of October – before he and his bride honeymooned in the Dominican while he played some instructional league baseball in order to get ready for the Australian Baseball League, where he played for the Canberra Cavalry for three months.
“For me it was like my honeymoon,” Reeves said. “In Australia, we stayed on every road trip for an extra day and toured around, so we saw the whole country basically. We didn’t get to go to the Great Barrier Reef, but I’m a big baby getting into the ocean because I’m afraid of sharks, so we didn’t do that.
“We did everything else. The only time that they went in the river I didn’t go in because there are snakes, and I don’t like snakes either. But I’m not scared of spiders. There were some big boys in my apartment, but they don’t scare me. Just snakes and sharks.”
Away from the water and on the field in Australia’s capital city, Reeves enjoyed the ABL and its emphasis on winning, with a team-first mentality. After getting into 53 games last year with the Dunedin Blue Jays, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound backstop was down under to get some playing time under his belt – matching his career total with five home runs in 30 games – and spent some time at different corners of the diamond than he’s been used to.
“I went out there just to work on getting some more at-bats and playing a little bit of the infield, so I did that,” he said. “It was fun. Playing third and first has made me a better catcher. There’s a different view of the game. And the little things, like working on my hands over there and taking ground balls, I worked on a lot. I’ve been so drilled to do one thing, so it was improvisation and I was basically teaching myself how to do it. But it’s made my catching game become real tight…
“It was weird because I’ve played baseball my whole life, but never at third base, and then you see it from there and it’s a whole new ballgame. I took a lot of ground balls every day so I got pretty good over there. I did it here last year a little bit. I played three innings at third and three innings at first. I’m trying to make myself more versatile.”
Returning from Australia in time for another wedding, Reeves followed that celebration by quickly getting back out on the field in Florida. While at Blue Jays camp, he was added to Canada’s senior national team roster just before the World Baseball Classic began in Miami when an injury sidelined Yankees farmhand Kellin Deglan. Wearing the red-and-white jersey for the first time in his career, Reeves couldn’t have had a much better introduction to the international game.
“It was just an unbelievable experience,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Well hopefully not, actually. Hopefully I get to go next time too. I hope I get to do that again and get in there. But Team Canada was very tight knit. It’s like a family. Seeing how cool those guys are to one another, and the respect that is shown between each other, and how being on that team has formed a friendship with a lot of guys, that’s nice to see.”
Even though the event was shortlived – Canada leaving without a win in three games and failing to advance out of the first round for the fourth consecutive WBC tournament – the former Ontario Blue Jays catcher feels like he gained a lot from the experience.
“It was short, but it’s a maturity thing,” Reeves said. “Being around guys like [Justin] Morneau and guys who have played in the big leagues, they treated me like one of the guys. So you just pass that on, how to act, and how to be professional and do things like that, so it was a good learning experience…
“And it was so fun. This team [in Dunedin] is really fun because we’ve got five Canucks here [with Andrew Case, Connor Panas, Tom Robson and Jordan Romano], and when you’ve got a whole team of 28 of them, it’s a blast because you know they’re all pretty much you, but you finally get to play together. It’s cool.”
After the tournament came to an end for Canada in Miami, Reeves returned to spring training in Dunedin and got to finish exhibition play at Olympic Stadium in Montreal with the big-league Blue Jays before he learned of his fate for the season and made his temporary home at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Hailey was with him every step of the way, until his season began in Dunedin. She stayed in Peterborough while her husband slept on an air mattress in a living room with Canadian teammates and roommates Romano and Case, but Reeves found a much more suitable living arrangement before she arrived.
“We’re kind of like gypsies,” Reeves said. “We’re everywhere. She’s been posting up with my parents and she’s starting a wedding business up there in Peterborough. We don’t have a house or anything. It’s hard, but it’s not just me who goes through it. She grinds too, so that part’s a little difficult…
“She wouldn’t be my wife right now if she knew what the minor league life was like when we met [at FGCU]. It’s difficult, and everybody calls it a grind, but just this off-season I got to go to the Dominican, I got to go to Australia, I got to go to Miami with Team Canada, and I went to Montreal with the big league team. It has its perks. A couple of mornings ago I woke up and played some golf and then came to the baseball field and worked on my swing. How much of a grind is this really?”