Lawrie, Jays riding perfect storm
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Toronto Blue Jays infielder Brett Lawrie, left, and Travis Snider wait to bat during practice at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 21, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
DUNEDIN -- In the fall of 1973, four years before the Blue Jays were born, Buck Martinez was introduced to fellow minor leaguer, George Brett, while both were part of the Instructional League training with the Kansas City Royals.
His name might have been Brett but he wasn't quite the Hall of Fame material yet.
"The club approached me because I was going to Triple A, and George was going to Triple A, and I had already been in the big leagues a little," said Martinez, the Blue Jays broadcaster. "They asked me 'Would you let George live with you?' They figured I'd be a positive influence on him.
"Turns out, he lived with me in Omaha and he lived with me in Kansas City and we got to be very good friends."
There is a reason Martinez is explaining his relationship with Brett. He is actually sitting in the stands at Florida Auto Exchange Field Friday morning talking about another Brett, the Canadian Brett Lawrie, who continues to turn heads in the spring and making a most unlikely comparison in a compelling fashion.
Brett Lawrie and George Brett? A kid who hasn't played a full big league season with one of the greatest third basemen to ever play?
"When I compare Lawrie with Brett, I don't throw that around very lightly. George is one of the greatest ballplayers I've ever seen," said Martinez. "What I mean is, Brett Lawrie plays the game the same way George Brett played. Like it's his last day on earth and he's never going to get to play baseball again.
"Physically, he has better talent than George, if you can believe it. Better speed, power, strength, absolutely. George played better than his skills. He had the greatest commitment I'd ever seen from anybody. He hit a ground ball, he expected it would be a double. He hit a double he expected it to be a triple. If he got four hits, he expected to get five. That's the way he approached the game. That's why he has 3,000 hits, three batting titles, a World Series ring. I don't say this cavalierly about Lawrie. When I see him, he has that same attitude. Now matter what he does, he wants to do more.
"When the Jays acquired him, people in Milwaukee told me he was a team wrecker. That was the reputation. And I have never seen him take a bad step since he's been with the Jays. He made the team better last spring. He made the team better when he got called up. He's made the team better this spring. This guy, in my opinion, can change a pennant race."
This is what spring training often is about, comparing this young guy to that legend. Who's the next Mickey Mantle, the next Ozzie Smith, the next Brett?
"This sport is built on those comparison labels," said John Farrell, the Jays' manager. "We try to reserve judgment on labelling guys. But we all see the talent. We all see the energy. We're fortunate that Alex was able to acquire him. But at this time, he's Brett Lawrie to us."
Which means what?
"We saw it from Day 1 last year. For one, the maturity. He fit our clubhouse from the beginning. I can't speak to the experience he had in Milwaukee. All I can talk about is from Day 1 he stepped into our clubhouse and he's been respectful, he's been high energy, even with all the accolades and all the notoriety that gets thrown his way, the first and foremost thing on his mind is to win.
"I don't think anyone has greater expectations for how he plays than he does because despite all the potential distractions that might exist it doesn't take away from his game. He impacts the game one of three ways every time he takes the field -- at the plate, in the field, on the bases."
Farrell wanted to start last season with Lawrie in his big league lineup but was voted down by club management. He now jokes about that. Sort of. Simply, he believed the Jays were better with Lawrie in the lineup than they were without him. Over time, Farrell was proven correct. Now this spring, the manager has worried that Lawrie goes so hard that he's actually had to put the brakes on him in the spring. He has ordered him not to steal bases in spring games. He has asked him not to run full out during games. The last thing he wants is an injured player come April. "Sometimes he forgets and we have to reign him in." said Farrell.
Martinez believes this is the right moment in history for Lawrie to be beginning his first full big league season with the growing Blue Jays. Toronto sports couldn't be in a more dismal state, considering where the Leafs and Raptors happen to be. "It couldn't be a more perfect storm," he said. "He's young. The team is on the rise. Toronto is looking for a winner and a star. He's a terrific energetic player. And to top it off, he's Canadian. What could be better than that?"