Jays’ Fields goes from hat salesman to base thief

Roemon Fields (Shi Davidi/ Sportsnet)

Roemon Fields opens the 2015 minor-league season with the single-A Dunedin Blue Jays, which is pretty remarkable considering two summer ago he was selling hats in a Seattle mall and delivering mail for the post office.

“I thought I was done with baseball,” the breakneck-paced outfielder says in a recent interview.

Through a series of unlikely events, the 24-year-old is suddenly very far from that in the Toronto Blue Jays system, his path into professional baseball a reminder that even with scouting services tracking almost every high school and college player worth knowing, talented kids can still go unnoticed.

For Fields to get his chance, it took a former coach’s invitation to play in a Prince George, B.C., tournament, his brother Anthony to convince him to go, his manager to give him time off work, and a scout who had never before signed a player to win the suspicious speedster’s trust.

The guy is a movie if he ever makes the majors.

A burner on the basepaths, Fields went undrafted out of Rainier Beach High School, played for coach Marcus McKimmy at Yakima Community College in 2011 before transferring to Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

In ’12 he was invited to a pre-draft workout at Kauffman Stadium by the Kansas City Royals but wasn’t selected, and when no one came calling the next year, he returned home figuring his baseball career was at a dead end.

That’s when he started working at Lids and delivering mail, and when McKimmy invited him to play for the American team at the World Baseball Challenge in Prince George, a biennial international event that included Jose Abreu playing for a Cuban entry in 2011.

Fields wasn’t interested until his brother Anthony, whose football aspirations were cut short by three knee injuries, stepped in.

“He kept telling just go, and I kept telling him, ‘I think I’m done with baseball. I gave it a try in college,’” recalls Fields. “I took off my work, I was working at Lids, I said, ‘All right, I’ll give it a try.’

“I hadn’t hit in months, hadn’t thrown, went out there and I guess played pretty good.”

That he did, catching the eye of Matt Bishoff, an amateur scouting co-ordinator based out of the Blue Jays’ offices in Toronto. He had never seen Fields before heading out west to cover the tournament.

“What stood out to me about Roemon was his athleticism, everything he did was quick-twitch and explosive,” Bishoff, now an area scout for north and central Florida, says via email. “He showed excellent speed and plus defence in centre field. … He just glided to balls in the gaps making tough plays look really easy.

“As a hitter, he was a contact bat with a short swing and good bat speed. He put the ball in play and that is all he going to need to do. He’s going to get a lot of leg hits with some sneaky pop mixed in.”

So Bishoff approached Fields and offered him a contract.

“The funny part is he’s like, ‘You want to play for the Blue Jays?’” Fields recalls. “I’m used to getting screwed over so I was like, ‘It’s fine, I don’t know. Ask my brother.’ He’s like, ‘Are you sure? Because I really like what I see.’ I was like, ‘Sure, just call me later.’ I didn’t realize what was happening, because I went up just to see what happens, and I wasn’t expecting that so it threw me off.”

Screwed over?

“Scouts used to call me on draft day and say I was going to get drafted, I’d sit by the phone, and that’s hard on a kid,” says Fields. “It was discouraging and I just got discouraged. I got used to that.”

No raw deal this time, though. A contract was signed Aug. 27, 2013.

“I think he was just a little shocked by my interest, because before playing in that tournament he thought his baseball career was over,” says Bishoff. “He just wanted an opportunity and was confident in his ability if he got a shot.”

Once in the system, Fields’ started to move quickly. He went from the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic that fall, to minor-league camp the next year, to extended spring training and eventually short season-A Vancouver, where he set a Canadians club record with 48 stolen bases in 72 games.

He slashed .269/.338/.350 and walked 27 times against 61 strikeouts in 294 at-bats, putting himself on the radar enough to get some playing time in five spring games.

“I was learning a lot, not to just swing at the first pitch and try to get on base, but actually see some more pitches and try to drain him out, let the other hitters see what he’s got. Try to battle more instead of just going after the first pitch,” Fields says of his year in Vancouver. “I feel like I could have done a few things better, more consistent. Overall, I thought it was fine.”

The promotion to Dunedin will provide a good test for him, and his speed and defence can be real weapons, especially if his bat continues to develop.

Regardless of how far he ends up going, Fields is playing with house money.

“At the end of the day it’s just having fun, being around a bunch of guys that get paid for it, unlike college,” he says. “That’s how I think of it.”

Does he miss Lids?

“I miss the discount,” Fields says with a grin. “That was pretty good.”

Not as good as what he’s doing now.

Here are highlights of the Blue Jays’ other minor-league assignments:

Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

Chad Jenkins is being stretched back out as the Blue Jays try to build more starting depth, joining Canadians Andrew Albers and Jeff Francis, plus Randy Wolf and Scott Copeland. Felix Doubront will head to Buffalo once he builds up a bit more strength in Florida, and so too will Johan Santana if his throwing program gets him far enough along.

The bullpen includes Steve Delabar, Bo Schultz and lefty Rob Rasmussen.

Josh Thole and Sean Ochinko are behind the plate with A.J. Jimenez opening the season on the disabled list with a wrist issue, Ryan Goins and Munenori Kawasaki are in the infield, while Caleb Gindl, who had a strong spring camp, Ezequiel Carrera and Chris Dickerson are in the outfield.

John Stilson (recovering from shoulder surgery), Andy Dirks (recovering from back surgery), Wilton Lopez, Daric Barton and Ramon Santiago are notables on the disabled list.

Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats

Matt Boyd, Taylor Cole and John Anderson are three to watch in the New Hampshire rotation, as each could move their way up the system this year.

Lefty Luis Perez, who was developing into a big part of the Blue Jays bullpen before Tommy John surgery ended his season midway through 2012, opens with the Fisher Cats after drawing some praise for his spring work.

Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., and infielder Jon Berti are the club’s key positional prospects.

Ricky Romero starts the year on the Fisher Cats disabled list.

Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays

Hard-throwing lefty Jairo Labourt and off-season acquisition Jayson Aquino are in the Dunedin rotation, while Alberto Tirado, a power-armed righty, is in the bullpen.

Corner infielders Mitch Nay, who homered in the Blue Jays’ intrasquad game this spring, and Matt Dean plus shortstop Dawel Lugo move up from Lansing.

Low-A Lansing Lugnuts

Outfielder D.J. Davis, the 17th overall selection in 2012, and right-hander Chase DeJong, a second-round pick that year, front a Lansing team stocked with some of the club’s lower level top prospects.

Catcher Dan Jansen, first baseman Rowdy Tellez and shortstop Richard Urena anchor the infield, while Anthony Alford, who is dealing with a minor knee issue expected to sideline him two weeks, is due to join Davis in the outfield.

Adonys Cardona (broken olecranon) and Tom Robson (Tommy John surgery) also begin the season on Lansing’s disabled list.

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