I recently posted a story I wrote about Brian Jeroloman, the Blue Jays minor leaguer who is in his fourth stint at the Double-A level with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. This is the interview from which that story was written.
Since we spoke two weeks ago on his 27th birthday (“I’m trying to hide it. I’m trying not to tell anyone on the team,” he joked before we started the interview. “When I was 22 I was telling everybody, but now when I’m 26, 27, I’m not telling anybody.”), Jeroloman has received a new charge to take under his wing (Sean Ochinko arrived from High-A Dunedin on May 18 after A.J. Jimenez was sidelined with elbow issues) and caught his second no-hitter in a Fisher Cats uniform.
First thing I’ve gotta ask you is probably a question you’ve been asked a million times so far this year: how does it feel to be back in New Hampshire?
You know, it’s a unique situation. It’s a situation that, I’ve come back here a couple times in my career. I’ve been here, ’08 I was here with guys like Ricky Romero, [Brett] Cecil, all these guys, and I went to Triple-A that year. The next year coming back – 2009 struggling, 2010 good year – coming back this year is different.
What makes it so much easier on me is [manager] Sal Fasano and [hitting coach] Jon Nunnally and [pitching coach] Tom Signore. If these three coaches weren’t here I don’t know if I’d be as happy. New Hampshire’s a great place, a great city, a city I know pretty well, and I’ve learned a lot here. I’ve grown a lot here. It’s like a second home, in a sense, for me. Fans are great. Add ‘em all together, it’s not a bad situation at all.
They’ve got me here to help the younger pitchers and help our young catcher. It’s one of those things that’s a unique situation, but it’s a situation I can work my way out of as long as I just keep going out there and doing what I do behind the plate. Baseball’s a unique game and that’s why it’s one of the best games in the world. Just because you never know what can happen. Injury here, injury there, you never know. It’s just one of those aspects of the game that I had to come up here with my head up, enjoying getting ready to go out there and play.
As far as the places you’ve played – you mentioned Triple-A, you mentioned being around a little bit – what are some of your favorite places you’ve played, both home and away?
That’s a great question. I actually thought about this, someone asked me this not too long ago, one of my teammates, and it’s a really good question. This would probably be up there. It could be probably the best place I’ve ever played at, and played in, at, everything. Professionally, I would have to say New Hampshire. Another good place would be Oklahoma City, is very nice. So out of all the places, those are probably my favorite top two, New Hampshire and Oklahoma City.
Did it take away from the major league experience last year, getting called up to Toronto but not getting a chance to play?
Not at all, just because I deserved the opportunity to go up there. I knew I was ready. I take a lot of pride in what I do. Defensively, I’ve been ready for a long, long time to be up there, and the way the teammates welcomed me in was outstanding. They understood the situation. It was a unique situation I hope no rookie ever experiences, but having a lot of friends – a lot of those guys that were up there came up with me, so they welcomed me with open arms and made it a lot easier time than it could’ve been.
You had mentioned being here to help A.J. The Blue Jays have a lot of good young catchers that are kinda coming up the pipeline. How do you fit in with that group?
It’s different. It’s a different situation. A.J. Jimenez is one of the better catchers I’ve ever been around. I hold high regards on catchers. I expect a lot out of them, so when I see one I expect him to be good, because I take a lot of pride in it and I expect everyone else to as well. He’s one of the first catchers I’ve ever been around that actually does take a lot of pride in what he does behind the plate and that’s why it’s a pleasure to work with A.J. He’s gonna have a bright, long future in the game of baseball. Travis d’Arnaud’s gonna be a superstar. He can swing it just as good as anyone else. We have some younger guys coming up that are pretty young, but to me A.J., what he’s done, the strides I’ve seen him make throughout the Blue Jays organization, his ceiling’s really high. I expect a lot out of him, I expect him to have a long future.
Sort of the same thing with the pitchers. You also mentioned the young pitchers, helping them out. What is your role with them? How do you help them develop?
You know, it’s a second voice. It’s one of those things that, this might come off bad, but you get tired of hearing the same thing from the same person over and over and over. Just like when you were growing up, your father always telling you to do something, do something, do something – you get tired of hearing it from him. It’s the second voice. It’s one of those things that instead of one of the coaches going up and saying something to them, now they come to me, have me see if they’re making a mistake, and now all of a sudden I can go and be like, “Dude, I see it too.”
I’ve been in a lot of situations in the game of baseball. A lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones. On the field, I’ve had my ups and downs, so I can talk to them about how, through my experience, I’ve dealt with things. Hopefully I can clear a path easier than the one I’ve had, for them, and whatever I can do to help them out to expand their knowledge of the game, I’ll do it any way that I can.
Another thing you had mentioned was Sal Fasano, and you also told Kevin Gray recently that you learned a lot from him just in a few weeks. What kinds of things are you picking up from Sal that you might not have gotten before, might not have picked up before?
Coming out of college I was the top-rated catcher in the country, so I’ve always been good at what I did behind the plate, and it was unique. When I first signed with the Blue Jays, they were like, “Hey, let him be. Don’t touch him.” Because I do things a little differently, but I can do them just as good as anyone else in the game. So no one really touched me, and in a sense it aggravated me as a player just because here I am, I wanna be better than anyone else at what I do behind the plate, and they kind of just stayed off me, stayed off me, so I never really truly developed a routine behind the plate and in a sense almost try to get better from where I was at.
Sal Fasano, in two weeks, worked with me more than anyone else has in my six years in the Blue Jays organization. The stuff I’ve learned from him, the talks we can have, is truly amazing. We think on the same page, we think a couple hitters ahead, and not a lot of people do that. His knowledge of the game, you don’t find that often. It’s a truly remarkable experience just being around him, and I don’t wanna say anything without sounding like a brownnoser, but he sends out an aura. He has so much knowledge and the things he says, he knows how to talk to players. It is truly amazing.
One thing I’ll never forget is my first year of big league camp was in ’08, was my first big league camp. It was my second spring training and Sal was a player, and I was a player as well so we were both teammates for that little period of time. And I’ll never forget, I never caught any of the big leaguers before that big league camp, and when I went to big league camp EVERY pitcher wanted to throw to Sal Fasano, and they would argue over it. That’s how much respect he had for pitchers, and if you have that much respect for pitchers, you have my respect, just because that’s where I wanna be. That’s when you know you’re taking steps in the right direction, when pitchers start requesting you.
So everyone can learn a lot from him, not just catchers or pitchers, positions players. His knowledge for the game is not found that often.
Coming out of college, you said you did things differently from other catchers. What do you mean by that? Can you give me an example?
I had quicker feet, so by having quicker feet my hands moved in a different direction. So one guy might teach THIS style, but this style works for me because my feet are quicker than this guy’s so my timing’s gonna be different. That was pretty much with me. I’ve always had a pretty quick release, but my biggest problem I get into is I try to go too quick.
Let’s say you have a pitcher that’s not giving you a chance? I would try to make up the difference, and instead of throwing anywhere from 1.85 to 1.95, I’m trying to throw a 1.4, and that’s not doable. But that’s what I try. I take stolen bases very personal, and Sal’s taught me to instead of trying to be 100%, try to be 80%. Because my 80% is just as quick as my 90% and I’m more accurate, it’s easier.
It’s unbelievable, the stuff that he’s taught me. Jon Nunnally, the same thing. He’ll talk to me about catching and hitting. Just like I said, it’s the second voice, in a sense, and when you have these three coaches here it makes it a lot easier on me. It does.
For a couple years after you got in the pro game you were a Top 30 prospect for the Jays. Everybody I think I’ve ever talked to has said they don’t pay attention to that stuff, they don’t listen to the rankings, but do you notice when that praise sort of starts to go away, when others feel like you’re no longer a prospect?
Yeah, absolutely, you can tell. You can tell just by the way people treat you, in a sense, and stuff like that, but I’ve never really had a problem. I’ve always kind of had the respect of the coaches. But absolutely. Being a player I’ve seen it happen with so many other people. As long as they don’t lose the respect of the game, the coaches I don’t think will treat them differently, but a lot of guys that are used to being “the guy” and then all of a sudden they’re not “the guy”, their attitude kinda changes, that’s when there’s a problem. That’s when you see the big difference.
As long as you keep your head up, keep trying to improve, and keep your head getting forward, because to me it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how quickly you get back up. Those guys are gonna be the ones that flourish later on in their career. So that’s the way I’ve always seen it. It’s easy to become a prospect and then go to a suspect pretty quick, but it’s pretty hard to become a suspect back to a prospect. But it’s very doable, especially if you’re playing at a vital position such as catcher, pitcher, one of those positions. You never know.
What comes after baseball for you? I gotta be honest, you sound a lot like a manager or a coach would.
You know, I’ve never even thought about it. Baseball’s always been my life. I’m gonna play for as long as I can. I’ll be back in the major leagues, it’s not a matter of that. It might not be with the Blue Jays, it might be with a different team, but I know I’ll be back up there. It’s just a matter of time. It’s one of those things, it’s just a bump in the road, and hopefully things will end up working out. What these guys have done for me this year, it’s really kind of in a sense built my confidence up to now I have a routine, now I have a plan of how I can improve both offensively and defensively.
Last stuff I wanted to ask you about, actually there’s three little statistical things. The first one is from 2006 to 2009 – you said you take stolen bases personally. You had four excellent seasons there throwing out runners. Numbers slipped a little over the next couple years. Was there a reason that you can attribute that to?
In 2009 I tore my hip. Tore my hip here in New Hampshire. I had a good year in 2009, end of the year tore my hip. It’s not an excuse. Two-thousand-ten, I knew it dropped a little bit, I was afraid to do certain stuff with my body. And in 2011…as a catcher, I take a lot of pride in it. I would blame it on the pitchers, because that would actually somewhat be the truth, in a sense, if you don’t get a chance to throw out the runner, but the way I do it is if you don’t give me a chance, I’ll give myself a chance. Just because I’ll try to go quicker. It got a point last year where I was trying to go too quick, and once you start going too quick over and over and over and over, you start losing how you got there.
So it took me a little while to get back to where I am now, and it’s just by doing stuff with Sal. That’s why I speak of him so high, because it took him two weeks to get me back to normal, when no one else knew what it was. Just like I said, the stuff he knows and the stuff he sees, he sees stuff that people don’t, and it’s an overall honor to play for him. But when it comes to base stealers he’s the same way I am. We take a lot of pride in it. So does A.J. We get pretty made if someone steals on us. Pitcher’s fault or our fault, it’s the same difference to us. During that time period, I lean on that injury a little bit because I wouldn’t trust my body, but then in 2011 was the year that, I don’t wanna say it was haywire because my catching was fine, it was just my throwing I started trying to go too quick and I forgot how I got there.
It’s funny, talking about stolen bases because I was looking – your first five years, you attempted two stolen bases…
Oh, for me. Base stealing, oh yeah.
…and then last year, you attempted six. What’s going on there?
You know, it was unique. Last year I had three stolen bases in the first like week and a half, so these teams thought I was fast and they started picking off non-stop when I’m on first base and I’m sitting there, I’m just like, “Tell you pitcher I ain’t running.” But it was just delayed steals, reading balls in the dirt, small ball things, and those are the things that actually end up winning games, to me, is the little things end up becoming big things later on. But I’m not gonna say it was luck, it was…
The last thing, and then I’ll let you go – you never hit for a huge average, but you’ve always had a decent number of walks. You get on base a lot. What is it about your approach that lends itself to drawing walks?
Knowing the strike zone, knowing the umpire, knowing the catcher, knowing the pitcher. Those are my biggest things. If we’re playing at home and I catch the first inning, so I’m back there before the other catcher, unless they get up that inning, I already know where he’s established his strike zone. And I know how the catcher is in the sense I know if he’s a good receiver or if he’s a bad receiver. Just like knowing the pitcher – how much life does he have? Because you can have a pitcher that has a lot of life that has no idea where it’s going, but if you have a great receiver that makes that pitcher look really good. And it all depends on the umpire. Some umpires are tight, some have small zones, some have huge zones.
So I’m not gonna say that manipulates how I’m gonna take my at-bat, but when I see a ball out of a pitcher’s hand and I put all that stuff together, that’ll kinda give me the outcome of what it’s gonna be. I’m trying to be more aggressive. It’s a unique process, the difference of playing every day to where we are now, it’s a little different for me. It’s a unique circumstance and it’s one that I think I can learn from because when I get back to the big leagues this is the position I’ll play. I’ll play as a backup, more than likely, and it’s a unique situation but I’m learning a lot about it.
Thanks to Chris Shuker and Tom Gauthier for coordinating this interview.