Numbers game costs Janssen

STEVE SIMMONS, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

Casey Janssen stood staring into his locker, frozen by his personal circumstance and the unfortunate meaning of getaway day.

There were two black travelling bags just to the side of him, bags waiting to be packed, and in between a few handshakes, a few hugs, a few well wishes and some players avoiding eye contact.

The major leaguers don’t have to pack their own bags. On Thursday afternoon, Janssen was a major leaguer, pitching the final two-thirds of the ninth inning in the Blue Jays 2-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. Just after the game Janssen got the news: For the first time in three seasons, for just the second time in five seasons, he was going back to the minor leagues, devastating news for a fifth-year veteran.

The Blue Jays are heading to the West Coast. Janssen is also heading west, but not to Anaheim, to Fresno, where the Las Vegas 51s are playing on the road. It wasn’t that he did anything wrong as a Jay. He pitched two innings in relief, gave up three hits, no runs, walked nobody, struck out one. He had an option on his contract which by baseball standards made him expendable. Octavio Dotel is ready to return from the disabled list. And another day of the early baseball season goes on. In a game of numbers, sometimes your number is up.

No matter how many times you see this post-game scene in a clubhouse, the discomfort, the embarrassment, the anger, the pain, it never feels right. You wish it didn’t have to be this way, sometimes. This public. Emotions so raw for every one to witness.

Janssen is normally full of laughs and fun. That’s his nature. He looks something like a surfer dude. On Thursday, at the age of 29, his eyes were moist, his body almost physically shaking. He didn’t see this coming. He didn’t necessarily deserve it. And around him it was clear that people knew that and were respectful of the public nature of his situation.

This has been a terrific start to the young Blue Jays season and there is all kinds of evidence that the new manager, John Farrell, is having a significant impact on Alex Anthopoulos’ roster. The players seem pleased with the manager and Hill talked a little bit Thursday about almost sitting at the end of the dugout bench, waiting to see what good thing is going to happen next. The anticipation is there and the pitching staff, led by Ricky Romero, having been through the rotation once plus Romero’s second start and in his words: “I’ll put my five against anybody’s five.”

There is all that excitement around a 4-2 Blue Jays team, especially with the Red Sox and Rays starting at 0-6. There is that common Blue Jays belief that this is just the beginning of something great. There is all that exuberance of youth and belief and yet the juxtaposition of a roster move has one group headed to a charter flight and one player finding out which commercial flight he is about to take.

For 30 years, I’ve been watching this. From the outside, it always looks so damn cruel.

For a long time, fellow pitcher Shawn Camp stood by Janssen’s locker, shook his hand, and didn’t seem to want to let go. They talked for what seemed like an ordinate amount of time, only it was probably just a few minutes. The rest of the greetings, from coaches, from teammates, from trainers, were brief. A quick word. A quick pat. Always encouraging. We’ll see you again soon. Even the manager post-game wasn’t necessarily himself. Farrell has been nothing if not smooth in his first weeks on the job. Thursday seemed like a tougher day, and not just because Trevor Cahill had pitched so brilliantly for Oakland. Maybe Farrell, the former pitcher, saw a little of himself in Janssen. No one in any sport, professional or not, cares to tell someone they’re not good enough, especially in a case like this one where Janssen hadn’t really done anything to lose his job. But victim of circumstance or not, the hurt is monumental.

Casey Janssen looked down at his shoes late on a Thursday afternoon, grabbed them and stuffed them in the travelling bag. The Blue Jays return home on April 19 after three games in Anaheim, three in Seattle and four in Boston. For Janssen, first a Blue Jay in the summer of 2006, the return date now remains unknown.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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