Stroman couldn’t drive himself, or do much at all as he recovered from knee surgery, but he still wanted to see Archer’s first career opening day start, so he picked up the tickets the Rays ace left for him at the box office and took a seat in the stands. Stroman only lasted a few innings before his knee started to throb in pain and he had to get up to walk around and get the blood flowing through it again. But it was still very meaningful to him to be there watching a friend achieve a lifelong goal.
Now, nearly a full year later, Stroman is returning to Tropicana Field for opening day to watch Archer pitch again. The only difference is that when Archer isn’t pitching Stroman will be on the mound, achieving his own goals and earning his own first opening day start for the Toronto Blue Jays.
"It’s crazy how everything comes full circle," Stroman says. "I truly believe everything does happen for a reason. So, I’m just thankful—just thankful that everything played out as it did."
Of course, Stroman was scheduled to start opening day for the Blue Jays in 2015 until a torn ACL derailed his season for more than five months. That outing would have come in the Bronx against the New York Yankees, before dozens of family and friends from nearby Long Island.
Stroman was looking forward to that start more than anything; it still eats at him today that he had to miss it. His outing in Tampa on Sunday obviously won’t replace what that experience would have meant to him. But it will be a fitting bookend on what has been a long, formative 365 days for the 24-year-old Blue Jays ace.
"I would never think I would sit here and say I’m thankful for tearing my ACL—but I’m thankful for tearing my ACL," Stroman says. "It’s the biggest positive I’ve ever had in my life.
"I’ve learned so much about my body, the people around me, I got put in a position where I could go and finish my degree. Everything worked out perfectly," he continues. "I’m in a great place right now. I’m ready to go. My body feels great. And I’m just excited to finally be back and have a full season with my brothers and to go out here and compete every single day."
Stroman spent much of his spring experimenting with different deliveries and tempos on the mound. The idea to add that wrinkle to his game was born from conversations with Blue Jays hitters like Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, who told Stroman it was something that threw them off at the plate.
We’ll find out on Sunday if Stroman will feature his varied tempos during the regular season or not. What’s clear is that from those conversations, and his remarkable performance down the stretch last season, he’s left a strong impression on some of the Blue Jays most well respected veterans.
"He doesn’t care how much pressure there is or what importance the game might have—he just feels confident about his ability every single day to deliver," Bautista says. "He knows his body. He knows how to compete. He knows how good he is. And he has a great repertoire of pitches, so why wouldn’t he feel that way? I wish there were more guys like him. And I feel that same confidence when I’m playing behind him."
"Honestly, I don’t see any situation too big for him. He’s that kind of personality. He wants the ball. He wants to be in the spotlight," adds Donaldson. "I definitely think Marcus is one of those dudes who, every time he goes out on the mound, you expect to win. It’s nice to have that on your team."
"He’s like a kid," says Russell Martin, who will catch Stroman on opening day. "He’s just so happy to go out there. It seems like there’s nobody who enjoys what he does more than Stroman on the baseball field."
For Stroman, Sunday’s start will be about turning the page on his remarkable 2015, and starting the next chapter of his career.
Every interview he does inevitably comes back to what he did last year, and for good reason. But Stroman pines for the day that those conversations revolve more around how well he’s performing on the field, instead of how well he rehabbed off of it.
On opening day, in the same building he was a spectator nearly 365 days prior, Stroman will take his fist step towards changing that conversation. And towards a year that he hopes eclipses the one he’s about to cap.
"Yeah, 2015’s over. I’m ready to move on. I want to put that in the past," Stroman says. "Everyone in this clubhouse is motivated. We’re ready to rock. We know what we’re capable of and we’re focused on 2016 and doing everything we can this year. Obviously, 2015 was unreal. It was an unbelievable year. But hopefully 2016 is better."