Phillippe Aumont grinds way back to Blue Jays after four years of unrest

Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Phillippe Aumont throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals. (Alex Brandon/AP)

TORONTO – Midway through the summer of 2015, and fresh off a pivotal role in helping Canada claim a second-straight gold medal at the Pan American Games, Phillippe Aumont signed a minor-league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Days earlier the Philadelphia Phillies had cut ties with the right-hander, the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft and part of the three-team trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners and brought Roy Halladay to Philly from Toronto. Assigned to triple-A Buffalo, Aumont enjoyed a couple of good outings and four tough ones before the Blue Jays put an unhappy 22-day stint to a merciful end.

“That guy back in the day was a mess,” says Aumont. “I was all over the place mentally. Didn’t really know how to take a handle on it. When they released me with a couple of weeks left in the season, I thanked them, like, ‘Thank you for making my misery end.’ I didn’t have fun, baseball was just not in my mind anymore.”

Four years later, the 30-year-old from Gatineau, Que., is back with the Blue Jays, one of a handful of players to sign a minor-league deal with the club this week. In between those two contracts, Aumont has retired, unretired, been knocked around in affiliated ball and resurrected in independent ball, where he found himself again while both pitching and coaching for the Ottawa Champions.

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Along the way, he also found order in his personal life through fiancée Frederique and five-month-old daughter Gabrielle, who inspires him to be the best version of himself.

“I’m a father now, I have to look at things a different way and all these things I’ve got to do so one day I can teach my kid, sometimes you get a bump on the road, but you get back on your feet and finish what you started and have fun with it,” says Aumont. “I grinded. That’s the word – I grinded. I gave up. In ’16 I retired, but it didn’t feel right. The next year I came out of retirement, I went and played indy ball and I had a decent season, it was all right.

“Got a shot with the Tigers (in 2018) but I was still not in a good spot. I was just going out there because I was getting an opportunity, like I might as well take this, go with it, make a little bit of money, but baseball wasn’t that interesting for me,” he continues. “But I grinded it out and it finally paid off, finally got in the right spot, met the right woman, I’ve got my daughter and now life is a gift. I’m trying to do good things so I can set her up for life when she’s older.”

Aumont describes his past year with the Champions of the Can-Am League as the turning point, where the double duty of taking a regular turn on the mound – he posted a 2.65 ERA and 1.112 WHIP with 145 strikeouts in 118.2 innings over 18 starts – and acting as pitching coach forced him to take greater responsibility for himself and his teammates.

There was no time for sulking over a bad outing and even when his day was over on the mound, it wasn’t over as a coach. Getting to know his pitching staff helped him learn to consider other viewpoints while also forcing him to be brutally honest with himself in ways he previously hadn’t.

“You have to be honest with yourself, 100 per cent,” says Aumont. “That’s one of the biggest things and it’s something that was hard for me to do in the past. People told me, ‘You’re always making excuses.’ And I was always, ‘Whatever, whatever.’ Now I realize, stop making excuses. Be honest with yourself. If you got beat, you got beat. You could be sick, it’s hard to pitch when you’re sick, you’re hurting, all that kind of stuff. At the end of the day, you took it upon yourself – you could have gone into the manager’s office and said, ‘I’m sick today, or I’m hurt, I can’t do it, it’s not going to be good for the team.’ At the end of the day, it’s how honest you’re being with yourself and with others.”

At the same time Aumont helped carry the Champions, he also twice represented Canada, fronting the staffs at both the Pan American Games this summer and at Premier12 last month. That helped showcase him to international circles and during the season he began to wonder if he might be able to parlay his performance into a contract with a Japanese or South Korean team.

Instead, he received more interest from big-league clubs seeking depth for their minor-league systems, with the Blue Jays being the most persistent suitor. There are no outs in his deal, but the Blue Jays assured him that they won’t block him from moving to Asia if a team comes knocking.

“The Jays were really upfront and strong on making a deal,” says Aumont. “I thought if they would support me going to Asia if I’m not in their plans or I’m not on their big-league roster – if I’m just there to be there sort of thing – that they would let me go and they were really supportive about it. They said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a good opportunity here, but if it doesn’t work out we’re not going to hold you back from going to Asia.’ That was a great way to go about it.”

And so he signed, determined to fight his way into a spot in the Blue Jays rotation during spring training, or await another shot at the majors or an opportunity in Asia back at Buffalo, where only four years ago he nearly walked away from the game for good.

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