KANSAS CITY – In the hours before Danny Jansen’s major-league debut he had plenty of work to do.
He attended an advance scouting meeting to prepare for the opposing Royals and took batting practice with his new club before heading to the left-field bullpen where he warmed up Sean Reid-Foley, a friend and longtime teammate who was also making his big-league debut Monday.
A busy afternoon, then, and that’s before you consider the media requests and moments reserved for the members of the Jansen family who made it to Kauffman Stadium. But as the day unfolded, Jansen also made sure to ask his new teammates for pointers on how to handle his first big-league game. The best advice he received was simple.
“I’ve been asking a lot of questions because I’m curious,” Jansen said Monday afternoon. “I talked to (Luke) Maile and Russ (Martin) and Devon Travis. I asked them: ‘It’s the same game, right?’ They said it’s the same game. The lights are a little brighter, more fans, more hype, but it’s the same ballgame.”
By the time the game had ended, both Jansen and Reid-Foley had distinguished themselves on the field, justifying the anticipation surrounding their debuts. The promise they showed overshadowed a 3-1 loss to a struggling Royals team that entered play with a .299 winning percentage. Initially, though, there were nerves.
“It really hit when I looked in for my first warmup pitch on the field and Jansen looked very small and there were a lot of fans behind him,” Reid-Foley said. “We definitely weren’t in Buffalo anymore.”
Reid-Foley, the Blue Jays’ second-round pick in 2014, pitched five innings while allowing three runs. The 22-year-old topped out at 95.9 m.p.h. while generating 12 swinging strikes and three strikeouts – all encouraging signs.
“What I was really impressed by was he was ahead of most hitters,” manager John Gibbons said. “He made a few mistakes with two strikes, but every time I looked up it was 1-2 on most of those guys. That’s a good sign. I thought he handled himself like a champ.”
But Reid-Foley also walked three, including one with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. At times he had trouble gripping the ball, and as a result his pitches weren’t as sharp as he hoped.
“I couldn’t really feel my body I was so nervous,” Reid-Foley said. “I felt like my legs weren’t really working. That’s why a lot of my misses were way out of the zone.”
Even as the game progressed and Reid-Foley kept getting outs, the nerves lingered.
“Every pitch I was still nervous,” he said. “Just hoping Jansen was calling the right pitch at the right time and hoping I could throw it for a strike.”
“I thought he pitched pretty damn good,” Gibbons added. “I sure hope he feels that way.”
Jansen, a 16th-round pick in 2013, knows Reid-Foley as well as anyone, having caught him at low-A, high-A, double-A and triple-A over the years. Before the game, Gibbons encouraged both players to enjoy the moment.
“I told them what I tell everyone,” Gibbons said. “I said have fun, there’s only one first. Good, bad or ugly enjoy it. It’s not going to make or break your career either way.”
Jansen contributed on both sides of the ball, collecting two of the Blue Jays’ five hits and preventing an attempted steal by Rosell Herrera to end the sixth inning. Earlier in the evening, that first single through the right side provided Jansen with a lifelong memory.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” he said. “I was coming in all smiles.”
Fortunately for both players, friends and family members were in attendance to witness the debuts. Jansen’s parents and grandmother were there Monday along with his older brother Matthew, who drove in from nearby St. Joseph, Mo., with his wife and two young sons.
“(When) I told him I got called up we both started crying,” Jansen recalled. “It’s just awesome that it’s in his backyard.”
Even if the Blue Jays don’t have a win to show for Monday’s efforts, days like this hint that better results await.
“They ought to feel good,” Gibbons said. “Even though it was a bad result, they’ve got to feel really good.”
As for the advice that Jansen received before the game, he might not need it quite as much anymore. Not only did he pick up two hits, he threw out a runner at the highest level, confirming what he had long hoped was true.
“That was one of those moments where it was like, ‘Maybe I do belong.’”