He’s “Out Here.”
He’s not wide-eyed or anxious, visibly nervous, or star struck by the veteran players he pitches against, as some rookies might be; Marcus Stroman is out here as a Major League pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and he belongs.
‘Out here’ is a phrase the 23-year-old adds to his tweets as a hash-tag, which is mention of his warm-up song ‘Out Here’ by friend and fellow former Duke pitcher, Mike Stud; the two carefully selected the song from Stud’s list of hits when Stroman got the call to the Majors.
Since his first start for the Blue Jays on May 31, Stroman’s shown he believes in himself, that there’s no question of confidence; he’s got that ‘it’ factor on and off the field.
Stroman pitched a three-hit complete game shutout in an 8-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 8, recording eight strikeouts, and using just 93 pitches, 66 of which were strikes.
Not only did Stroman collect his 10th win of the season with the victory, becoming the first Blue Jays rookie to get to 10 wins since 2009, but he also joined a single-digit group of players, as just the ninth Toronto rookie to throw a nine-inning complete-game shutout and the first to do so since David Bush on October 1, 2004.
A big part of his game that night was his sinker – a two-seam fastball – that he developed just this season, lying in bed playing around with pitching grips. It wasn’t part of his pitching repertoire for the first 22 years of his life until he threw it in a game July 19 against the Rangers, all because of the confidence his catcher has in his talent.
“There was an at-bat against Shin-Soo Choo, it was a 3-2 count, and [Dioner] Navarro called a sinker in, like front-door sinker. That’s a tough pitch to throw, especially for someone who never throws sinkers. So, I kind of stood there and looked at him for a second on the mound, like ‘you sure?’ and he put it down again. So, I said ‘alright, let’s do it,’” says Stroman. “I threw it perfectly and he took it for strike three.”
Stroman fist pumps, jumps, or let’s out a yell on the mound when he gets excited for a pitch or a call, and on that day, he did just that.
“I was more shocked at myself for throwing that pitch, in that situation, in that count, way more than the punch out. I had just learned the front-door sinker and that was all Navarro having the confidence in me to say ‘throw it, throw it.’ That was kind of a turning point for that pitch,” he says.
Stroman’s ability to develop his sinker, which could ultimately change the kind of pitcher he grows to be in the Majors, is the perfect example of the way he knows himself and trusts his own talents. But, in Stroman’s case, the confidence in him is widespread around the clubhouse.
“We talk about him, me, Pete [Walker], everybody, we try to help the guy, we need the guy,” says Navarro. “He’s a tremendous, talented athlete, and we’re going to need him.”
Manager John Gibbons, a catcher in his playing days, has nothing but good things to say about the rookie, who made his first of five relief appearance for the Jays May 4, before going back down to Triple-A Buffalo, and returning as a starter later that month.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s gained a ton of confidence, and he’s been good, he’s been real good, that’s the bottom line,” says Gibbons. “It’s not like he’s gone out there and struggled a lot, he’s trying to figure things out, but when he’s on, he can be as good as anybody. I’ve said before, we look forward to every time he’s taking the mound.”
While the milestones and accomplishments on the field are special for the 23-year-old, Stroman says he still wakes up every day and takes a moment to realize where he is and exactly what he does for a living.
“I wake up and I’m like ‘I play for the Toronto Blue Jays in the Major Leagues’ you know what I mean? I’ve come a long way. That’s what keeps it fun and that’s what keeps me humble and what keeps me going,” says Stroman.
“This is where I wanted to be from the first 22 years of my life, it’s what I worked for, it’s here. So, why am I not going to enjoy every second? I’m going live my life, I have good family and friends, I have an unbelievable life, so why not enjoy it?”
He’s out here, he’s pitching like he belongs, because he’s proving that he does, but like many other undersized athletes, there have been people throughout Stroman’s playing career that have believe he’s not capable of success at a professional level and every day, he’s proving them wrong.
“I’m five-foot-eight and my whole life I’ve had that, ‘you’re too short.’ I used to go on and read blogs when I was in high school of parents and just people just saying, ‘you’re not going to make it Duke, I don’t know why you got a scholarship to Duke, you’re not going to be able to compete at the NCAA level,’” Stroman recalls.
“I’d go on and read these things, all the time. Now, that’s what motivates me when I’m in the weight room or when I’m training or practicing. I enjoy reading that stuff because that’s what makes me work harder.”
Another phrase often used on social media by the right-handed rookie, is ‘Height Doesn’t Measure Heart’ or ‘HDMH,’ something he hopes will inspire other undersized athletes to follow their dreams, and laugh in the face of naysayers along the way.
“Everyone said that I wasn’t supposed to make it purely based on my size, which is kind of crazy now that I think about it. It’s something you’re going to see pop up all the time, because the second I start to struggle people say ‘oh, it’s because he’s too small.’ No, I’ve done it. I’ve had success and sometimes I might hit a little rough patch. It’s baseball, it happens,” says Stroman, who knows that he’s not the only athlete facing doubt from outsiders because of his height.
“When it comes to any sport and it can be really discouraging when all people are saying is ‘you’re really talented, but you’re not going to make it because you’re undersized’ I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says. “The fact that I’m here, I really hope that encourages the undersized athletes in the world to really just focus and realize that they can make it regardless of height.”
While Stroman hopes his story encourages other undersized athletes, he’s found encouragement from the people closest to him throughout his life, offering unwavering support and love: his family.
He proudly talks about his parents, sister, and closest friends, and has marked their importance to him permanently on his body with various tattoos and he’s put a reminder in plain sight for every wind up, every pitch and every game, with the words ‘family first’ stitched on his signature red and blue Nike glove on the base of the thumb, words he also has tattooed on his back.
“Family is the only reason I’m at the point where I am today; they’re everything to me. Without my parents, my family, my close friends, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, I can truly say that. They’re there for me through it all, they’ve pushed me when they needed to push me, and they’ve been the shoulder when I’ve had tough times,” says Stroman.
“Family first. It’s the motto I live by. It’s people who would die for me, people who have, over the years, driven nine or ten hours to come watch me pitch or stayed up all night driving, or caught a midnight flight just to see me pitch the next day.”
The Medford, New York native also finds daily inspiration in his late Grandmother, whose health declined quickly, and passed away without much warning.
“She kind of put life into perspective. She did everything she wanted and she got the most out of her life in its span and that’s what made me realize life is super short,” he says.
“She passed away really fast. They were saying she was getting better and then the next thing you know, she passed away. After that happened, I decided I was just going to enjoy everything. That’s kind of the one thing that she preached to me, ‘enjoy your life, enjoy the loved ones around you, the family, the friends, regardless of your situation, just make the best out of everything.’ So, that’s kind of how I live.”
Taking his grandmother’s advice, Stroman’s taking every opportunity to spoil those around him now that he’s in a financial position to do so.
The first big purchase he made? His Mom’s house, he paid it off. Then, he bought his dad a Rolex watch with a personalized saying on the back.
“Anyway I can spoil my family, anyway I can do that, I’ll continue to,” says Stroman.
“Why not spoil them when they spoiled me for the first 22 years of my life and paid who’s knows what – flying me here, flying me there for this tournament, paying for this trainer, paying for that – anyway I can spoil them, I’m more than willing to.”
While Stroman continues to pay-it-forward to the family and friends who have helped him arrive to where he is in his career, he spends a lot of time, graciously meeting and speaking to the fans who cheer him on day after day, from the stands, their couches, or a seat at their local bar.
Twitter and social media have become a big part of Stroman’s persona off the field, which also allows him to read what fans have to say to or about him.
Having grown up in an age of social media, where MSN conversations almost all but replaced phone calls, and text messages became the new norm for keeping in touch, his use of social media platforms is one of the things that sets Stroman apart as a younger member of the team.
His handle (@MStrooo7), his bio (Doing everything they said I couldn’t. With a smile and chip on my shoulder! #dreamchasers), and his location (Breaking Stereotypes) are his own doing, because he tries to be himself, unedited, on social media platforms, that way, fans get an opportunity to get to know him, based on the information he’s putting into the online universe.
“The biggest point for me is just trying to just be myself on Twitter and all social networks. That’s me unfiltered, that’s exactly how I’m thinking, and that’s exactly my process,” Stroman says.
“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Dinner with my momma @aya11763, @A_Sanch21, and his family! Back to work mañana! #shortmemory,” he tweeted after his outing Friday, August 22, when he lasted five-plus innings while giving up a season-high 10 hits and five earned runs with three walks.
The response he was greeted with by fans was mixed.
“You definitely get a bunch of people that say ‘don’t go eat with your mom, go practice,’ and I laugh at things like that. That stuff’s never gotten to me. I go through and read it all too, it’s something that I just laugh at, the fact that people take time out of their day to sit there and bash on athletes. I find it funny,” he says.
On August 27, after a win, Stroman tweeted something simple: “W! #bluejays.”
“Twitter is not something you can do only when you’re going well, I’ll never be at the point when I’m only tweeting when I’m pitching well. I’ll usually tweet all the time regardless of if it’s good or bad and it just kind of is what it is,” he says.
“I’ve gotten a few marriage proposals on there. That’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it worth it, when you get certain funny comments like that, but a lot of the fan base is really encouraging,” says Stroman. “You get a handful that are constantly negative, but for the most part it’s pretty encouraging.”
What’s also encouraging is the pitcher Marcus Stroman is growing into as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
He’s got a good head on his shoulders; he’s intelligent, well-spoken, polite, kind, and sometimes, he acts like goof; he’s been seen jumping on the backs of his teammates in the clubhouse, laughing a lot, and finding the humour in every day situations.
He’s a self-proclaimed foodie but for comfort and simplicity likes the grilled chicken sandwich on ciabbatta bread from Fionn McCool’s. He chews six pieces of gum at a time while he’s pitching (he put another piece of green, mint gum in his mouth before an interview for this story) which has become somewhat of a signature look for the rookie, who blows bubbles with the wad of gum in his mouth.
He’s out here. He’s proving to the Blue Jays, his teammates, Toronto, but most importantly to himself, what kind of pitcher he can and will be.
After 18 Major League starts for Stroman in baseball cathedrals around North America, the lights never dull, the crowd’s cheer doesn’t dip to a distant roar, and it never becomes tiresome.
“I wake up every morning with the same smile, the same perspective, and my past bad games are already behind me. It never gets old,” he says.
“It’s been a ride, hopefully I’m here doing this for a long time, and I’m going to wake up with the same enthusiasm every single day.”