After being Toronto's first round draft selection in 2007, catcher J.P. Arencibia arrived in Dunedin in 2008 and thrived, hitting .315 with 13 home runs. He reached the Major Leagues in 2010, playing six seasons in the Bigs. He spent four seasons with Toronto, one with the Texas Rangers, and one with the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring in 2016. He recently returned to Dunedin as an instructor at the Alomar Sports Fantasy Camp and shared some of his favorite memories from his time as a Dunedin Blue Jay.
Strike 1: Welcome back to Dunedin! You tweeted when you arrived in town for the Alomar Sports Fantasy Camp that you have "So many great memories in Dunedin". What are some of your career highlights in this city?
Every year in Spring Training was a highlight, getting to come back and play with your team again. There was always a lot of optimism every time you came to Spring Training. I enjoyed the city. I enjoyed all the fans coming down. I love Dunedin, the Clearwater area, the beach.
As a player, my time here was a great memory because I was only here for two months. I did really well and I was able to get up to Double A pretty quickly. I didn't get to play here a long time, but I did enjoy playing with Omar Malave, our manager, and Darold Knowles, our pitching coach, and 'Mate' [Paul Elliot], our hitting coach. We had a good staff and they were an instrumental part of my development. At every step, there's guy that have an impact, and they did for me.
Strike 2: You excelled in Dunedin in 2008, hitting .315 with 13 homers in 59 games, before being promoted to New Hampshire. What did you learn during your time with Dunedin that helped you develop into a Major Leaguer?
That was my first full season, so it was more learning a routine. You have to learn what it takes to play every day. That was the first time I was starting a 140-game season. Opening Day, getting through that stuff, learning how to work with my pitchers and staff. Plus, it was fun to play in good weather. Honestly, that made a big difference to start in warm weather.
I had a lot of good guys in front of me. That was the reason why I had such a good year. Sure, I hit some home runs, but I drove in 62 runs only a couple months into the season, and that was because of the guys in front of me. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do the things that I did without the guys in front of me. It was a cool learning experience. I really got confident and believed that I could do really well in professional baseball after my time in Dunedin.
Strike 3: 2017 was your first full season out of baseball. How was your first year of retirement?
It's been great, honestly. I'm thankful for the time that I played. I'm thankful for the game of baseball. You learn really quick that it doesn't owe you anything. I went out on my own terms. I had some offers in the spring, but I was like 'you know what, I'm done'. I just didn't have the same drive for it. That's why I was able to get away from the game and be fine with it.
There are a lot of adjustments to life because you're used to someone literally telling you where to be and what time to be there every single day and I didn't have that. But, there's also great things. I had my first summer ever. I didn't know what people did on Memorial Day Weekend because players never really have days off. Having normalcy in my life, waking up, and being able to do things I wasn't able to do before. I got to snowboard this year and do things that we're not allowed to do as professional athletes. I loved my time in professional baseball as a Blue Jay, but I was excited to be able to say 'okay, I got six seasons in the big leagues, I'm 31, and now I can go and kick butt at something else in life'.
I'm going to go back to school and finish my degree. I'm going to be a volunteer assistant at the baseball program at the University of Tenessee just to give back and help the program. That was a big part of my development as a man and as a player and I want to be able to help other kids have that opportunity.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.