In 2017, students interviewing at NYU’s College of Dentistry went through two interviews over the course of their morning touring the program. My understanding of the process was that the first interview was meant to be more academic and was aimed at testing the prospective candidate’s ability to handle the rigors of dental school, while the second was to be a more laid back experience that confirmed that the candidate was able to carry a conversation. I’d say both are equally important, so when I completely bombed my fist interview, I was convinced that no matter what happened in my second interview, my chances of getting into a program that I considered one of my fallback schools were slim to none.
I entered the second interview room with nerves aplenty, but before I was even able to see the friendly face greeting me from the black office chair behind the desk, I heard the words “You’re the baseball guy, right?” Taken aback, I let out an uncomfortable laugh that doubled as a sigh of relief, as I knew I was about to have a breeze of a conversation, and answered “Yes, I’m the baseball guy”.
I was always quiet as a kid, but anytime somebody wanted to talk baseball with me, all that shyness disappeared and it was like I was a completely different person. It didn’t magically stop as a child, but as I got older I did try to imagine more conversations were about baseball – even if they weren’t – until eventually I became more comfortable talking to people.
The admissions officer conducting my second interview told me that after reading my application, which featured a personal statement heavily influenced by my baseball writing career, a résumé that was centered around my baseball writing, and a letter of recommendation from one of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues, she specifically requested to interview me. Intrigued, I asked her why. “Well, I’m from Medford, New York”, she said, and although she was probably about to add another sentence in, I cut her off excitedly, proclaiming “Marcus Stroman is from Medford!” Laughing, probably that I knew that, but also because I had yet to take a seat, she told me that she in fact went to High School with Stroman and graduated together with him in 2009.
The rest of the conversation continued with a Stroman theme, and we bonded over some mutual feelings about him. Originally she didn’t know how I felt about him, so she hesitantly told me that she wasn’t such a fan, because she felt that in High School he was very cocky and thought he was better than his classmates. I assured her that nothing had changed.
On March 10th 2015, 15 rows or so behind home plate at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, I sat amongst the mass of scouts, front office people, and fans to watch the Blue Jays play some spring ball. The small park and large crowd meant that the atmosphere was lively, everybody enjoying the hot weather and the fresh promise of a new season. Around 2:30 PM, a hush of dead air went over the crowd, and suddenly the only sounds to be heard were those from the game and gasps of despair. Instantly, something had changed. Everybody was shocked as word quickly spread around the stadium that the Blue Jays had announced that Marcus Stroman had torn his ACL and was out for the entirety of the 2015 season. The press conference that followed was one that broke hearts across Canada, but Stroman was determined to come back. Everybody reading this knows the rest of the story. The return was legendary, and Stroman played an integral part of the 2015 Blue Jays October run. It seemed impossible when word first broke of the news on that March day in Dunedin, but Stroman did not care for what the recovery was like for others, only for what the recovery would be like for him.
Throughout his time in Toronto, Stroman hasn’t always had the friendliest relationship with the media, myself included. There have been times, when Stroman’s performance has fallen, that I, amongst others, have written articles critical of his results, and he then retaliated by not answering questions from certain members of the media, as is his right. This attitude rubs some the wrong way, but it all stems from the same two character traits; his determination and cockiness.
As we inch closer to the moment where Marcus Stroman isn’t on the Blue Jays anymore, I find myself looking back at his tenure and can’t help but appreciate the type of player he has been, not because of his on the field performance, but because of how he accomplished it all. A cursory search of google will find a myriad of examples of Marcus Stroman saying things along the lines of “I would give myself the ball in any big-time situation”. Not only has he said that a number of times, but he’s also shown it on the field, becoming visibly upset at being taken out of the ballgame when he feels he is still the best option to get the next out. If the Blue Jays are short on the bench, Stroman always wants to play the field, or pinch run, or pinch hit. He believes he can do it all when needed. This is who he is, and it is why to fans, he is so beloved. He wants to compete at every moment. He goes out there, he believes he is the best on the field, and he wants to be given every opportunity to show it. From the dominant playoff performances to the World Baseball Classic MVP trophy, he has backed it up whenever given the chance.
His cockiness is what makes him great, even if it rubbed his high school classmates the wrong way, and still bothers the media to this day. But to the fans, there is no better player to have on your team. A player who will go all out for the team is a dream come true, and even if the return on the trade is legendary, I’m still going to miss the player who made the legendary return.