(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - At this point I think we can all get past the fact that former Vancouver Canadians RHP Marcus Stroman isn't your typical pitcher. There is no hiding that the Duke University graduate who stands at just 5-foot, 8-inches probably shouldn't be doing what he's doing, right?
Sports can be a cruel mistress for those of us who are vertically challenged as most sports executives and media types are always on the lookout for the prototypical sports physique. You know, the Tom Brady mold, which is 6-4, 225lbs, with about 4-5 percent body fat. That said, I doubt Stroman has much more than 4-5 percent body fat on his chiseled 180-pound physique despite the fact that he stands a half foot below the average height for a Major League Baseball pitcher.
Stroman will be the first to tell you that Height Doesn't Measure Heart, and if the start to this 2017 season is any indication of that mantra, he's absolutely right.
STROMAN BEFORE BASEBALL
The son of Earl Stroman and Adlin Auffant, who separated when he was in the 5th grade, Marcus was born into a family that put an intense focus on athletics and body building. His father, known as "Big Earl" spent years as a competitive body builder and had Marcus doing parachuted wind sprints and weighted sled pushes when he was just six-years-old. Marcus might not have understood it at the time, but Big Earl had plans for his son and combined his physical efforts with mental tests that challenged Marcus to remain focused even during the most intense of workouts.
Described as a "strained" relationship at times, Marcus would stick with his father's "tough love" and see the benefits begin to develop as he hit the field playing against older and more prototypical athletes.
A native of Medford, New York, about an hour from Manhattan, Marcus spent his high school days playing for the Raiders of Patchogue-Medford High School, a public school with about 3,000 students. Famed students included Kevin Connolly (Eric from HBO's Entourage) and Michael Murphy, the first U.S. Navy Seal to receive the Medal of Honor for his efforts in Afghanistan.
The school's motto was and remains "Pride Matters" which in essence wasn't all that different from Stroman's belief that "height doesn't measure heart." Stroman would dominate at the high school level both on the diamond and in the classroom and a scholarship to the ultra-prestigious Duke University awaited.
Perhaps it was around this time that Marcus came to realize all that his father Big Earl had laid out for him during those intense workouts and mind-numbing skill sessions. A place on the U.S. Junior National Team and pitching for the Blue Devils saw many around Marcus wondering if perhaps his stage wasn't one day going to be at the Major League level. The only person that already knew that was the final destination seemed to be Stroman himself who along with his parents had already mapped out the vision and the game plan to make this unlikely scenario a reality.
At Duke, Stroman would go a collective 15-13 in 48 games for the Blue Devils and set a school record with 290 strikeouts in 222 career innings which had scouts from each of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises intrigued by the short but dominating right-handed pitcher.
Some forget that Stroman was selected 'twice' in the Major League Baseball First-year Player Draft as the Washington Nationals took a flyer on him in the 18th Round knowing that Duke University would likely take precedence which it did giving Marcus a world-class education over the next few years while helping his stock rise like a loaf of bread in a warm oven.
Three years later and it was the Toronto Blue Jays who held the 17th and 22nd picks overall at the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft and took OF D.J. Davis with the first of the two picks before circling back at number twenty-two to grab Stroman. 2012 was the year that the Astros took SS Carlos Correa at #1 and C Mike Zunino went 3rd overall to the Mariners.
For those counting, Davis is currently playing with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League and played briefly with the Canadians in 2012. Taken five picks before Stroman, Davis has never advanced past Dunedin and at 22 years of age, has a career batting average of .239 with 27 home runs and 103 stolen bases since 2012.
MINOR LEAGUES CAN'T CONTAIN THE "STRO-SHOW"
A handful of Major League talent evaluators suggested coming out of the 2012 Draft that of all the players, Stroman from a pitching perspective could have been the most Major League "ready" as his arsenal of pitches was simply better than what most Minor League arms had to offer. In Vancouver, we got to see that assessment and within minutes had to agree.
Stroman blasted through the Toronto Blue Jays lower levels even with a 50-game suspension for accidentally taking over-the-counter anti-histamine that had an ingredient on Major League Baseball's banned substance list. A mere blip on the radar as upon his return to action, Stroman continued to take names and cash cheques enroute to a debut with the Blue Jays on May 4th, 2014 - less than two seasons after he was selected by Toronto and placed in Vancouver.
Was he ready at just 24 years of age to take on the beasts of the American League East?
STROMAN PROVES HE CAN HANDLE THE BIG STAGE
One of Toronto's bright lights to an otherwise underwhelming season that began with high expectations - Stroman would go 11-7 for the Blue Jays with a 3.65 ERA in 26 games. He also gobbled up 130.2 innings, striking out 111 against just 28 walks. Great numbers by any standard and yet these numbers were being put up by a rookie that was just 5-foot, 8-inches!
The baseball world was abuzz with Stroman's aura and ability and hoped that the next season he could avoid the proverbial sophomore jinx and become one of the Blue Jays arms of the future. That was until his blew out his knee at Spring Training and stopped everything in its tracks.
Stroman, according to many in 2015, was done for the year and that he should rest up and rehab for a clean slate the following spring. Devastated, Stroman cried openly before fading into the background as names like Aaron Sanchez and R.A. Dickey took center stage. But remember Marcus Stroman's mantra about heart? Instead of moping and hanging around the Blue Jays Florida complex watching the games on TV, he went back to Duke University, got his degree AND rehabbed with some of the best doctors in the U.S. who couldn't believe that his body had responded as well as it did. His healing wasn't normal, but his body was ready to accept the challenge as who was beside him during his rehab?
Stroman would storm back to the Blue Jays just in time for the team's playoff push and went 4-0 including a huge victory over the New York Yankees. The Jays would get into the post-season that year and again last year with Stroman logging over 200 innings in 2016 - again proving the critics wrong.
Some would say that Marcus is in mid-season form despite the Blue Jays clunker of a start. Stroman pitched so well for Team USA at this past spring's World Baseball Classic that the tournament named him the Most valuable Player as he helped USA claim its first ever World Baseball Classic Championship.
This before a single pitch was offered up at Rogers Centre.
Already this year, a World Championship, a complete game and talk that he is ready to become the ace of a team that has one of the brightest core's in all of the American League.
How does Marcus Stroman do it? How has he done it his whole life? He truly believes in himself and that he is "Un-Beet-Able".
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.