Loup remembers July 14, 2012 well — the excitement of being called in to make his debut, the relief he felt after a three-up, three-down inning and his surprise when then-manager John Farrell asked him for three more outs. He remembers those teammates, too, but none of them are with him in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse this spring.
Yes, Aaron Loup is now the longest-tenured Blue Jay, and has been since Bautista hit free agency last fall.
"I’m still trying to wrap my head around it," Loup said. "It’s kind of crazy, but I think it’s pretty special. To be drafted by the Blue Jays, come up through the system and stay here long enough to be the longest-tenured guy is pretty cool."
When the Blue Jays drafted him in 2009, J.P. Ricciardi was still the general manager. The team wore black uniforms and averaged 23,162 fans per home game. At the time, the odds of a ninth-round pick lasting this long would have seemed slim, but Loup has provided the Blue Jays with years of value as a side-arming, ground-ball inducing lefty.
Just nine pitchers have appeared in more games with the Blue Jays. That kind of longevity caught the attention of Loup’s teammates this spring.
"Everyone was discussing it, like, ‘Hey, he’s the longest-tenured guy here.’" said John Axford, a veteran of nine years in big-league bullpens. "We relievers don’t seem to be sticking around… When you see the shelf life and you see the average of how long a player lasts in the big leagues, to be able to have that and go beyond a few years, it’s something special."
As a veteran of 12 big-league seasons, 37-year-old left-hander Craig Breslow’s intimately familiar with the challenge of contributing from the bullpen year after year.
"To remain effective in this game, it takes some luck, quite a bit of health and a willingness to adapt and change over time," Breslow said. "Very few guys get people out as 21, 22, 23-year-old rookies the same way that they do as 37, 38, 39-year old veterans. Some of that is borne out of necessity — probably a lot of that is borne out of necessity."
Over time, pitchers tend to lose some velocity. Hitters, meanwhile, get more and more information on pitcher tendencies, making them harder to fool.
"That’s why the ability to adapt, to change, to develop new weapons, new pitches (matters)," Breslow said. "It doesn’t really matter how successful guys have been, how long guys have been in this game, they’re always picking each other’s brains."
Now 30, Loup’s beginning his 10th season with the Blue Jays. When he looks around, he sees a much different looking organization than the one he joined in 2009.
"My first few years it was like ‘We’re out there, playing games, but you kind of knew we really in the end probably weren’t going to be in it,’" he said. "Then as different guys got here, the culture changed and we started winning games. You can see you how it’s changed. Now we expect to win and we want to win."
The likes of Josh Donaldson, David Price, Jason Grilli, Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins helped changed that culture in Loup’s view. The resulting ALCS appearances in 2015 and 2016 count among his career highlights to date.
"Having all that experience from guys that have done it in the past is huge because they’ve done it and now when they come to the team, they expect it to keep going the same way," Loup said. "You just build off that."
After the season, Loup’s eligible for free agency for the first time in his career. He says he’s not too worried about the future and simply wants to perform well and help the Blue Jays win.
"But it’s definitely in the back of your mind," he acknowledged. "For sure."
His status as longest-tenured Blue Jay is at stake.