Arencibia trying to enjoy minors, return to MLB

J.P. Arencibia (Durham Bulls)

DURHAM, N.C. – It was opening day for the Norfolk Tides, the Baltimore Orioles’ triple-A affiliate, and J.P. Arencibia was in his hotel room getting ready to head down to the ballpark. Then came the knock at the door.

Ron Johnson, Norfolk’s manager, had come to deliver bad news. Arencibia, the former Toronto Blue Jays catcher who spent the spring fighting for a spot on Baltimore’s roster, was being cut.

“I was kind of blindsided by it,” he said. “He said ‘I’m releasing you. I’m embarrassed to be saying it, but this is what it is.’”

Arencibia thought he’d been promised a starting job within the Orioles’ organization. He’d already leased an apartment in Norfolk, shipped his car to the Virginia city, and was getting ready start the season in the minors while waiting for the call-up to Baltimore.

Instead, he was suddenly unemployed. Arencibia – who spent five years with the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, hitting .207/.255/.403 with 74 home runs – packed up a U-Haul and went home to Nashville, worried his career was finished. He thought about going back to school, maybe pursuing broadcasting.

“Sometimes, the business side of baseball beats you up,” he said. “You learn more and more in this game that things can change in a minute. You learn to take it in stride and hope that another door will open.”

A week later, a new door did open. The Tampa Bay Rays called, offering a spot on their triple-A club, the Durham Bulls. Arencibia jumped.

In six weeks with the Bulls, the 29-year-old has been mostly used as a designated hitter and first baseman, while hitting .202/.246/.412. With seven home runs, he’s shown flashes of the power he displayed in Toronto, though those troubling strikeouts haven’t disappeared.

But Arencibia says he’s not sweating the numbers anymore. After his tenure in Toronto ended in bitterness and frustration, he’s said he’s trying to accept wherever the game takes him now.

“You get to a point sometimes where you’ve had enough sleepless nights, you’ve had enough anxiety problems, the pressures of the game, that you just want to enjoy whatever you have in front of you,” he said, sitting in the dugout at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Although he has a lot of good memories of his time in Toronto, there were some dark moments, too.

“No one was there when I was in my apartment, scared to go outside, and ordering food to my place because I was so embarrassed. I was embarrassed by trying to be so great and trying to perform so well, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t want to be seen in public,” he said.

The catcher admits the pressure and spotlight of playing in Toronto at a young age got to him, and made him miserable when his performance slipped. He says he’s more mature now, and reminds himself how lucky he is to still be playing professional baseball.

“I’m trying to enjoy every part of it now, as opposed to driving down Blue Jay Way with anxiety, wanting to make sure I could help the team win,” he said. “I got to a point where it wasn’t worth it to my health to be killing myself over it. That’s a part of the game that people don’t see.”

Arencibia says he still believes in himself, and doesn’t want to end up just another angry player in the minors, wondering what went wrong. He knows baseball is full of guys like that, so he’s trying to be grateful for a new chance to crack a big league roster and to relish each game along the way.

“Triple-A can be a pretty bitter place sometimes, with a lot of angry, older people who feel like the world is against them,” he said. “I try to be an example in the clubhouse here, and not to be that bitter, upset guy who thinks that baseball has done something wrong to them.”

He insists he doesn’t hold a grudge against the Orioles, even though he says manager Buck Showalter personally told him he was a part of the team’s future. Arencibia didn’t help his case by straining his forearm while lifting weights in spring training, an injury that kept him from performing the way he wanted to for Baltimore.

Like so many guys in the minor leagues, Arencibia would love another shot at the big leagues. But he says he’s also finally at peace with where he’s at now, too.

“I’m not the first person this has happened to in baseball, and I won’t be the last,” he said. “I know I still have the ability to help a team at the major-league level, so it’s just a matter of time… But at the end of the day, if this is the worst thing that can happen in baseball, then I’m still doing all right.”