Blue Jays Notebook: Stroman’s Duke commencement a long time coming

R.A. Dickey talks with reporters about how much respect he has for Marcus Stroman.

ARLINGTON, Texas – Rather than simply sitting around idly last summer while a torn ACL in his left knee healed, Marcus Stroman used his injury downtime to fulfil a commitment to his parents by finishing his education. The reward for his determination comes Sunday, when the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander takes leave from the team to attend the commencement ceremonies at Duke University.

Awaiting him in Durham, N.C., is the sociology degree he completed last summer by taking the five classes he needed in between the rehab sessions for his knee.

“I can’t wait, it’s a long time coming,” Stroman said this week. “There’s a lot that went into this and the fact that I’ve got my whole family and friends there with me should be pretty special. I can’t wait to get there and walk across that stage.”

Stroman will be surrounded by family and friends during the festivities, and heads off with the blessing of the Blue Jays. He isn’t due to pitch again until Tuesday, so the schedule made it easy to take the leave.

“That kind of stuff really fires me up, a guy like Marcus who’s dedicated himself not only to being an uber competitor, but also a guy who has really worked hard at being an educated human being,” said teammate R.A. Dickey. “He’s taken pride in that, he’s gone to classes in the off-season, and he used that time wisely when he blew out his knee. A lot of respect for a guy that’s willing to do that.”

Stroman was expected to miss the entire 2015 season when he was injured during the spring but he ended up making four September starts plus three more in the post-season. He often praises his time at Duke for helping him reach another level as an athlete.

“I never thought I’d say I’m thankful for tearing my ACL but I am because I grew so much as an individual,” he said. “I was able to get my degree, I got stronger mentally, physically through it all. I’m in a great position now and that has a large part to do with the past summer I had at Duke University.”

His mother, Adlin Aufant, will be among those on hand Sunday.

“This is one thing she wanted, that diploma on the wall,” said Stroman. “To be able to go back to school and give her that is really special to me.”

BAUTISTA BACKS COLABELLO: Jose Bautista addressed local youth baseball players before Friday’s 5-0 win over the Texas Rangers as part of an event hosted by the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which works to educate youth on the dangers of performance-enhancing substances. Later speaking with media, the Blue Jays right-fielder – a charter member of the foundation’s advisory board which features 31 big-league players – backed teammate Chris Colabello, who was suspended 80 games last month after testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, a banned steroid best known for its usage in the former East Germany’s doping programs.

When Colabello’s ban ends, Bautista said he’ll be welcomed back into the clubhouse “because I truly believe him when he says that he didn’t knowingly take any banned substances.”

“If anything,” Bautista continued, “I’m more concerned about the integrity of the program and what can be done to make sure that those systems that are in place are fully transparent and human error is taken into account, and I’m sure that the players’ association is going to be addressing situations like Chris’ and others that might have come up in the last few years.

“At some point you have to believe in your people and especially when they’re the type of people like Chris with integrity and that claim that they 100 per cent haven’t done anything wrong.

“The issue still exists that for some reason that substance was in his body, so that has to be cleared up as well. So I’m not trying to say that just because he’s a nice guy he can get away with just saying that he didn’t do it, but I think that it needs to be looked at in more detail and applied to his individual situation to make sure that everything that was done was fully transparent and that the testing was not compromised in any way.”

In an interview with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell, Colabello’s only public comments on his suspension, the first baseman didn’t deny that metabolites of the drug were found in his system, but said, “I don’t know where it came from. I’m still trying to figure out how it got there.”

At the Taylor Hooton Foundation event, Bautista shared some advice with the kids, something he feels is his responsibility as a way to repay those who helped him on his ascent to the majors. He added he enjoys such gatherings because it’s a way to reach many people all at once.

“I think when they hear it coming from me — I’m still active, I’m still successful and I have taken a pledge to continue to play at this level without the use of prohibitive substances — I think the message will go a long way,” Bautista said. “They’ll go back to all their teams and their high schools and their leagues and they’ll relay those messages and hopefully that way it reaches more kids.”

MILESTONE OUTING: Friday’s night game against the Rangers was Bautista’s 999th with the Blue Jays, leaving him one short of a major milestone. He’ll become the 11th player to reach 1,000 games played with the franchise, with Jesse Barfield (1,032) and Joe Carter (1,039) in sight on the club’s all-time list.

“It’s a fun moment and hopefully not one of the last games that I have to play as a member of the team,” he said. “It speaks a lot about my time here and how long I have been here. It feels like it was only yesterday that I got traded here, and also the success that I can’t help but to focus on every time that I think about this franchise. So I’ve enjoyed my time here and hopefully, like I said, it doesn’t come to an end.”

In his Blue Jays career, Bautista has slashed .262/.383/.534 with 249 homers, 654 RBIs and 662 walks against 705 strikeouts in 4,231 plate appearances.

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