The Blue Jays and the curse of the Hometown Hero
There has always been a fascination with heroes. Add in that they are from the same town, city, province or country and the hype only increases. It is the idea that hard work and perseverance can work and lift a person up to a place of prominence. They are living, breathing proof that dreams can come true. Having a player come from the same place as you do can add a layer of connection, a tie to a player that comes with presumed shared experiences.
Is this home town hero moniker a hindrance or a help? That would depend on who you ask. For the marketing department, it’s a boon, another way to connect a player to fans. To the player, it can be quite a heavy weight to bear, as the expectations are raised – unfairly – and the need to exceed those expectations can quite simply be too much.
Toronto saw this phenomena play out in full force with Dalton Pompey. Lauded as the hometown boy who made it to the bigs, the scrutiny started right away.
It was 2015 when Dalton Pompey opened the season as the starting centre fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. Hometown fans were excited to see a hometown boy on the field. It didn’t last long though. After 23 games, Pompey was sent down to AAA, the Buffalo Bisons, and from there down to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The pressure put onto the Blue Jays rookie was obvious. Both John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos were vocal about it.
Anthopoulos: Pompey took move to NH well. Want to get him away from "Canada, Toronto, expectations." Back to AAA quickly if bat improves.
— Jamie Campbell (@SNETCampbell) June 6, 2015
“There was definitely extra pressure, had to be,” Gibbons figures. “Playing in his home town, he was hyped up pretty good. I don’t know what that would be like. He wanted to prove to everybody, constantly, that he was the fair-haired boy. Hometown boy made good. That can’t be easy.’’ (DiManno, Toronto Star)
Despite being called up late that September, Pompey has yet to again break into the everyday roster for the Blue Jays and the scrutiny has continued. The latest headline being “Blue Jays Still Intrigued By Pompey’s Potential” just a few months ago during this season’s spring training.
Russell Martin was another player heralded as a hometown hero, and despite growing up in Montreal, a big emphasis was put on the fact that he was born in Toronto. Mark Polishuk from MLBTR made sure to add in his birthplace when announcing his arrival,
“Toronto-born Russell Martin is heading home, as the Blue Jays have officially announced a five-year deal with the free agent backstop (in both English and French).”
Martin himself spoke about the signing, acknowledging that there was more than country pride in his decision to play for the Blue Jays, but adding that it was a factor in his decision,
When it comes to decision time, teams are usually pretty close to one another [on money], so it’s like, OK, you gotta really think about five years down the road: what is the best decision you can possibly make?” he said. “There’s the team — how the team’s made up? Personally, I want to play and I want to win, so where do I see myself winning? But ultimately I don’t think there’s a better place to win than my home turf, wearing a Blue Jays uniform. That’s kind of like a thing anybody Canadian would say, but it’s the truth.”
To date, he has escaped much of the intense scrutiny that Pompey had to deal with. Maybe age and experience kept the pressure at bay – or maybe performance has had something to do with it. Maybe that is the key for these young players coming up through the system. Let them get their baseball legs before they get their hero cape.
There is no question that a Canadian ball player would love to be a part of what has been coined “Canada’s team”. Micheal Saunders was another “hometown” boy coming in to play with Canada’s team. After being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in December 2014, during the 2015 spring training camp, a torn meniscus in his knee kept him from play for most of that season. It was in 2016 that he enjoyed a surge in his offense, a breakout season, and had the country behind him in his quest for the all star game. He received 17.7 million votes, almost half the population of Canada.
Though not the first Canadian player to hit three home runs in one game, Saunders did become the first Canadian player to accomplish this on a Canadian team. Saunders hit 16 home runs and had 42 RBIs in the first half of 2016. As the all star break came and went, so did Saunders offense. Captain Canada was struggling, and the glare on him didn’t help matters. Despite putting up some fight in September, Saunders and the Blue Jays parted ways with little fanfare. Being Captain Canada and all the extra pressure that came with it didn’t fair so well for Saunders.
The home town hero moniker, which is harder for a rookie to own than a seasoned veteran, would be an added pressure for anyone going back to their hometown to play for a major league team. It does however get amplified when that “hometown” is country-wide and includes millions of fans. As great as it is to watch one of our own walk out onto the field, it might be better practice to tone it down a bit and just let baseball happen. The game has enough pressure without this added, and our players deserve the chance to just do what they do without the extra scrutiny. They know where they’re from, they know they have kids looking up to them, they know their every move is watched. Let’s just let the Canadians play ball.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.