My favourite byline of 2017: Shi Davidi

Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison (5) slides safely back to first base past Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez (1) during Grapefruit League spring training action in Bradenton, Fla., on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Over the holidays we’ll be re-visiting Sportsnet staff writers’ favourite pieces from 2017. Today: Shi Davidi explains why a piece on Toronto Blue Jays prospect Rowdy Tellez and his relationship with scout Dee Brown tops his list.

Ahead of the annual baseball draft in June, I was looking to do a story about amateur scouts and the role they play in building big-league teams, and also minor-league clubs. It’s trite to call them the lifeblood of the game, but they grind and hustle in virtual anonymity and deserve far more credit and recognition than they actually get, so I wanted to put something together to highlight their work.

I remembered that prospect Rowdy Tellez had been coached by Dee Brown, his signing scout with the Toronto Blue Jays, while growing up, and so we decided to put together both a web story along with a TV feature that we could run for the draft. Nice fit, good timing, I thought.

Once I drove to down to Buffalo with producer Stephen Paine and cameraman Alvin Sison to speak with Tellez, it became clear this was a story that ran far deeper. Brown was far more than a coach to Tellez, he was almost a second dad, and that their lives had become intertwined with another.

During a subsequent Blue Jays trip out west, with the help of cameraman Verne Lindquist, we shot an interview with Brown in Oakland and visited with Tellez’s very welcoming parents, Greg and Lori, in Elk Grove, near Sacramento. They filled in the details of a story about how family, sports and business can intersect and demonstrated how having the right people around you can be so impactful.

I really enjoy telling those kinds of human stories and I was pretty happy with how the pieces for web and TV (my first feature of that length) turned out. That’s why this story on Rowdy Tellez and Dee Brown is my favourite byline of 2017.

Excerpt: How a chance encounter led Rowdy Tellez to a mentor & the Blue Jays

“I’ve never cut him any slack, so I said, ‘At the end of the day, you’re a 30th-rounder,’” says Brown. “He looks at me and says, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I said, ‘Man, that means nobody is going to give this to you.’ He was like, ‘I got you. I understand.’ Rowdy, once he starts hitting, he’ll rely on his bat and think it’s going to take him to the promised land. I tell him ‘You’re a 30th-rounder dude, that’s who you are.’ He goes, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’m going to be the best 30th-rounder to ever come out of the Major League Baseball draft.’ He spun it into a positive.’”

Brown’s words and the entire draft process have coloured Tellez’s approach each day since he signed. Knocked for his defence, he’s worked relentlessly to improve with his glove. Knocked for his body, he changed his diet and transformed his physique.

More of Shi’s favourite stories from 2017:

How Smoak’s ascent to unlikely all-star began with a simple question

What Teoscar Hernandez had to forget to regain prospect status

Big Read: Do MLB execs still dig the long ball?

Stars in the city: Complicated history for star players in Toronto

Amateur baseball booming in Canada, but some kids are left behind

Batters deserve better in MLB’s uneven brawling culture

Marcus Stroman determined to do things his way in career-best season

The moments that define Jose Bautista’s Blue Jays’ tenure

Bautista, Blue Jays fans make the most of emotional farewell

What went wrong for Blue Jays in frustrating 2017 season

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