TORONTO – Brian Abraham resumed throwing batting practice for the Toronto Blue Jays last week after an emergency appendectomy in Chicago a month ago, and Jose Bautista wasted little time in giving him an all-star assignment.
The advance scouting and video co-ordinator will pitch to the slugger in Monday’s home run derby at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, when Bautista aims to improve on his first-round exit from a year ago.
“It’s an unbelievable honour that he would ask me, he’s one of the best hitters in the game if not the best,” said Abraham. “I’m looking to take in the whole experience, hopefully I throw strikes. It’s about him, so just as long as he’s comfortable with me throwing, I’ll be comfortable.
“Hopefully the second time is a charm.”
Bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, who usually throws batting practice to Bautista’s group, handled the duties last year at Chase Field in Phoenix, as the two-time home run champion went deep on his first two swings but just four times in total.
He passes the baton to Abraham, who has thrown BP to Bautista a handful of times this season while subbing for Andreopoulos and plans to groove him some offerings on the inner half of the plate.
“Throwing BP is a weird thing, it seems like you’re just throwing the ball but it’s more about where the hitter wants it and you hope it goes there,” said Abraham, who played baseball at Holy Cross College in his native Worcester, Mass., and has been with the Blue Jays since 2007.
“Guys are pretty particular about who throws to them, so I’d like to think he likes me throwing to him, I know he loves Drop. But I’ve gotten to throw to him and I watch him every night, so I’d like to think I know where he likes it.”
Just as he was last year, Bautista enters this derby as the favourite, with odds-maker Bodog installing him at 7-2. Giancarlo Stanton is second at 4-1, followed by Prince Fielder at 5-1, defending champion Robinson Cano at 11-2, the same as Carlos Beltran, Matt Kemp and Mark Trumbo at 6-1, and Carlos Gonzalez at 13-2.
The derby experience can be disorienting for hitters, who often find it strange taking their rips without being surrounded by the protective caging. The same goes for those who throw the pitches, something Andreopoulos discovered last year.
“It is different, you’re throwing with no cage, you’re throwing to a catcher, it’s just a whole different look for you,” he explained. “The balls feel a little lighter, especially those golden balls, they feel a little smaller and a little lighter than the regular balls.
“It’s hard to explain unless you do it, but the whole set-up just felt different and it took me five, six throws to adjust. You’ve just got to have fun with it more than anything.”
His advice to Abraham?
“You have to try to keep it as normal as you can because when you get there it’s kind of hectic, crazy, there are hundreds of people on the field and you can get caught up in the emotion of it, and of course you’re going to be nervous,” he said. “But after you throw your first couple, you take a deep breath and relax.”
Abraham figures he’ll need to deal with some butterflies, but is intent on making the most of things.
“I played baseball growing up, I played in college, being able to go to an all-star game, no matter what the reason, is an unbelievable experience,” he said. “People I’ve talked to say it’s something you can’t miss, that ultimately led to my decision, in 10 years, 20 years down the road I can tell my kids or my grandkids it was something I was able to experience, no matter what it was.
“I spend all my time inside (the clubhouse), I go out and throw BP but I’m not playing so I’m not in front of 30,000 or 40,000 people every day, so that’s a little bit different. But I think that’s more of a mental thing you have to overcome.”