Griffin: Blue Jays notes at Baltimore - Game 18
With 24 hours to gather his thoughts following Tuesday's game-winning Matt Wieters homer that bounced off his glove into the seats, Blue Jays' outfielder Eric Thames spoke candidly about his difficulties in dealing with an April that has been below the standards he expected of himself entering his first full season.
The 25-year-old California native had sat with his back to the room after the Jays' series-opening 2-1 loss to the O's staring into his locker alone with his thoughts. It was an unusual reaction to a difficult circumstance, but since there are 162 games during a major-league season, you normally have to learn to move on when misfortune occurs.
“It's almost like there's periods of time as a ballplayer that you try to do too much," Thames said, speaking pre-game to a small group of reporters. "You press, you try to be that guy. There was a big play last night where I kind of reflected, as if right now I'm not happy, like I'm miserable. It's spilling into my personal life too.
"I'm not doing what I do best and that's just relax, go play the game hard, have fun and let the game take care of itself. But balls are hitting off my gliove, left and right. It's certain pitches that I swing at. It's one of those things where today's a new day and all that's in the past is in the past now. I'm going to have fun, have a good time, compete and let other things take care of themselves."
It's not like Thames has been totally awful. Playing in his first April in the bigs, he entered the middle game vs. the Orioles batting .273 in 15 games, with a homer, two RBIs and a .713 OPS. Jays manager John Farrell had been aware of his young left fielder's unusual reaction to that key fourth inning gaffe and to making the final out of the same contest.
“As hard as he works and as committed as he is to his craft, not surprising," Farrell said. "Guys respond differently and in that case, he obviously took it hard.
"It ends up being the difference in last night's game, which at the time you wouldn't think that would be the case. But I think he made one heck of an effort to get to the ball and unfortunately certain things came together at the right time with a deflection that ends up being a home run and the difference of a ballgame."
Thames was called up last year, then sent back down and called up again. The second time back was the stint that earned him the incumbent status in left field heading to spring training. There seemed to be none of the same angst that has plagued him this year.
“Last year it was just, 'You're in there,'" Thames explained. "This year there's all the added stuff, kind of too much to think about. I'm a player that if I think too much then I spiral out of control. So I've got to keep it simple, play the game like I have nothing to lose.”
There seemed something unsual, someting cool about Thames when he arrived and began to succeed in 2011. He had had devastating muscle problems in college that cost him a first-round draft selection, dropping him to the seventh round for the Jays, so the heavily muscled outfielder had turned more to yoga instead of weight-lifting. Now, I'm no expert on the subject, but isn't yoga supposed to have a calming, zen-like influence on those that practice the art? What? Was Sam Kinison his instructor? In any case, Thames has turned to someone closer to the scene, batting coach Dwayne Murphy for advice.
“Murph's one of those guys that has been in the same situation I am in right now, so talking to him has helped me out a lot," Thames said. "He's doing double duty as a hitting coach and a mentor. He's been telling me what we've just talked about now, but it really clicked last night. 'OK, just go have fun. It's a game. Go have fun. Stop trying to control everything, stop trying to do too much. That's what I've been doing for the past month."
Thames is not saying that he will not strike out with runners in scoring position in late innings or get a bad read on a flyball any time in the future, but he is saying that he is learning to handle the game off the field with more of a "we'll get 'em tomorrow" feel.
“I would say this year so far has definitely been a learning experience," Thames admitted. "It's the first year in my life I've been through stuff like this. So, yeah, I'm not a veteran, haven't been around for a long time. It's a learning experience and I'm taking it in stride and getting better day-by-day."
Thames was back in the lineup batting fifth against the O's on Wednesday.
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One night after manager John Farrell suggested that the move of Edwin Encarnacion to cleanup could be a lineup that he would use for a while, the Wednesday batting order had Adam Lind back in the four-hole with Eric Thames fifth and Encarnacion sixth.
“It's an alignment that we use," Farrell said, sounding as if he was suggesting that the middle of the order will continue to be in flux. "The lineup that we have today is also one that we used three nights ago in Kansas City. Edwin will be a middle of the order bat for us, but we're trying to put together the best combinations to win a game. It's based on matchups and looking at the career performance lefthanders have had against Hammel. Just wanted to stack the lefties in the middle of the order tonight."
Edwin was also playing third base on Wednesday while Brett Lawrie had a day from playing the field as the DH. Yikes. The first ball hit to Encarnacion at third base, a grounder by Nick Markakis, he double dribbled towards the hole for an error.
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On a different note, Wednesday was the 36th anniversary of Cubs' outfielder Rick Monday saving the American flag from two disgruntled fans intent on setting it on fire as a form of protest at Dodger Stadium. So, why is that date important to Canadian baseball fans?
It seems the Rick Monday act of patriotism so impressed the Dodgers, who had tried to sign him out of high school, that on January 11, '77 they engineered a trade with the Cubs for Monday, a five-player deal that sent Bill Buckner to the Windy City.
In '81 it was Monday's home run at Olympic Stadium against Steve Rogers in the NLCS Game 5 that broke the hearts of Expos fans in the franchise's one and only shot at the post-season and getting to a World Series. He might still have been a Cub without the flag incident. Blue Monday.
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On the brief 30-minute walk from the hotel to Camden Yards on a sunny afternoon, I passed a 7-11 on the way to the Jays Orioles game. Heading across the street for some gum and a couple of RockStars, I was halfway across the boulevard when a dramatically choregraphed fight broke out in front of the store among about a dozen teenaged schoolkids wearing red and white school uniforms, kicking and flailing wildly in a ritualistic urban waltz. Not many blows landed as the wailing of sirens from approaching police cars and officers on bicycles raced to the scene. Kids went running off in all directions as Taser-bearing officers stepped from their cars knowing deep down there was nothing that could be done. I've been told incidents like that in Baltimore are called Wednesday.