DUNEDIN, FLA. - He is a force of nature with a motor that never quits. A planet starved for new energy sources might consider just tapping into Brett Lawrie’s persona.
Since he arrived in the Blue Jays clubhouse last August, the place has never been the same. We’re not just talking about his game, which is way out there on the dynamic scale, but his very being.
Take Monday morning, for instance. Lawrie had the entire Blue Jays clubhouse in an uproarous debate.
“What’s the toughest sport to play at the highest level: Golf or baseball,” he asked to no one in particular and everyone in general.
Apparently the argument had begun the day previous and was only spilling over at Lawrie’s insistence because he was determined to convince his teammates that golf was the tougher of the two. Monday’s sequel started in the main clubhouse and when Lawrie couldn’t find enough support, he took it into the trainers’ room where soon the decibel level could be heard all over the building.
There was, of course, no resolution, just a lot of good-natured debate because life is never dull when Brett Lawrie’s around. He wears his passion for life alongside his passion for baseball, right out there on his sleeve.
“It’s something I’ve always had,” he said. “I play with a lot of passion. That’s part and parcel of the guy that I am and the player that I am, the fire that I have. It’s just the way I do things, the way I go about my business. It’s the way I play the game.”
A few days before spring training began a year ago, Lawrie had just turned 21 when he arrived in Dunedin, traded to Toronto in exchange for pitcher Shaun Marcum. He was a stranger for about six minutes, immediately folded into the fabric of this young and growing team.
He tore it up all spring, went to triple-A Las Vegas for what was supposed to be a two-month stay to work on his defensive fundamentals and plate discipline. That became four-plus months because of a fractured bone in his wrist.
No matter. When he came back in August, the hype was so intense that you had to wonder if anything he did was going to be good enough. Instead, he was better than the hype. At the plate, he ripped the cover off the ball and ran out each grounder like it was the Olympic 100 metres. He didn’t just play third base; he consumed it.
“I’ve taken a lot of pride in my defence,” he says now. “That was the biggest concern that people had. I had no position to play, so I wanted to prove the point that I could play the position, that I could play any position.
“I did need to hone my skills at third base when I went to triple A and needed to prove that I could play there. That was what I was there to do.
I just wanted to prove that I was really sound.”
In 150 at-bats in Toronto, Lawrie hit .293, with a .373 on-base percentage, and slugged .580 for an OPS of .953. Nearly half his 44 hits were for extra bases, including nine homers and four triples.
“I knew I was going to hit,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done. I didn’t find it that hard to jump into the pool and get it going.”
With the Brewers, Lawrie had been a second baseman, but from the moment the trade was made, Alex Anthopoulos made it clear that Lawrie was the team’s third baseman.
“I knew that I could do it,” Lawrie said. “It was just about learning the footwork and getting the repetition in, over and over again, so that when I got up to the highest level, everything was going to be the same.”
From that first day in spring training on, there has never been a hint of intimidation. Respect, yes. Awe? No.
“There’s always growing up to do and always learning how to be a better professional,” he said. “As young as I am, I learn from these guys every day. Every day it’s something new.
“But it’s just baseball. You’re under a magnifying glass when you’re in the big leagues and there is always something going on. It’s just important to keep things consistent. So far, it’s been a relatively smooth transition for me.”
For a guy so young and so wired, it probably helps that there are a lot of players in their early 20s on the team.
“It’s a great feeling, walking in this clubhouse. We’ve got a lot of guys with a great attitude. We’ve got a young team, a lot of spark and a lot of fire.”
In that mix, Lawrie is the No. 1 arsonist.
“It gets me going and it seems to get everyone else going. I always feel that if I can get all my teammates going, we’re going to be better off for it.”