BALTIMORE - Near the end of batting practice, Brett Lawrie sauntered off the field at Camden Yards, heading toward his parents standing in a roped-off area behind home plate.
He wrapped his arms around his mom, Cheryl, and then his dad Russ, lingered a moment in the company of his family, then headed off to start his career as a Toronto Blue Jay, playing third base and batting ninth.
How it all turns out is anybody’s guess but if you believe what we’ve seen of his minor-league career to this point, and if you believe the projections of the baseball people, Lawrie is going to be at the epicentre of all things Blue Jay for years to come.
“I’m no saviour,” said the 21-year-old. “I’m here to play baseball and do what I’ve always done, which is compete and try to help the ball club win.”
Those words are music to manager John Farrell’s ears.
“From what I learned about him in spring training, I don’t think there’s anyone who will have higher expectations for his play than himself,” said Farrell. “I don’t want him to come in and think he’s got to carry this team. I just want him to come out and play to the game-situation that’s unfolding in front of him.”
Lawrie has a rare magnetism associated with special athletes. For spectators and teammates alike, he is a can’t-miss at bat. When he comes to the plate you move a little bit forward in your seat in anticipation of ... something.
“His style of play is not only energetic and powerful but it’s something you feel when he steps in the box,” said Farrell. “You feel like that engine is revving when he’s in the batter’s box.
“He’s got multiple weapons. He can run, he can drive the ball the other way out of the ballpark, he can leg out an infield hit. He can steal some bases. He’s going to be an exciting player.”
What he’s not going to be is an anxious player. A lot has been written and said about the expectations that have been placed on Lawrie’s shoulders, both as a highly-touted prospect and as a highly-touted Canadian prospect, playing for Canada’s only major-league team.
Those kind of inflated expectations could smother some players. There is not a hint of such insecurity in Lawrie’s demeanor.
“He carries an air about him that stands out in a good way,” said Farrell. “He’s an aggressive personality that has been nothing but positive from the day he joined the organization. People are going to quickly gravitate to that energy and that athleticism, including everyone in this dugout.”
In his first at-bat with two out and runners at first and second in the top of the second inning, the count was 2-2 when he lashed a single up the middle off Baltimore starter Tommy Hunter to drive in Toronto’s first run.
“I was taking a lot of deep breaths, not trying to get over-excited,” said Lawrie. “I wanted to see what he had and what the ball looked like coming out of the backdrop and then I got a pitch I could handle.
“I couldn’t have mapped it out better, to have my mom and dad and sister here. They’ve been with me the whole way.”
In the bottom of that inning, the Jays got a taste of Brett Lawrie, the defensive work-in-progress when, with one out, he clanked a routine ground ball off the bat of Nolan Reimold. Pitcher Brad Mills picked him up with a strikeout and a groundout, but defence is probably not going to be his strong point.
“I’ll be out here getting my work in (Saturday),” he said. “I’ll be allright.”
Last night’s debut got a lot of firsts out of the way - first game, first hit, first RBI, first error, first strikeout - but he can expect a chaotic welcome when the Jays play next in Toronto on Tuesday.
“Obviously being back in Canada will be cool,” said Lawrie. “I’ve got a lot of people behind me. It’s one of those things you just have to harness.”
In the end, given his own will to succeed, his path is simple enough. If he’s able to please himself, then he will have fulfilled all those wild expectations that others have placed on his shoulders.
If this summons to the majors seemed to take forever, when it came, it was a blur.
“It happened so fast, waking up, packing my bags and I was on the plane before I could even breathe,” said Lawrie, recounting Thursday. “It was one of those things where at some point you just stop, take a deep breath and see where you are.
“Being out there on the line, hearing the anthem, it meant a lot to out there with all those guys.”