He wore his Toronto Blue Jays home jersey, with No. 6 on the back, but when he spoke to more than 200 kids wearing baseball hats representing various major-league teams during a baseball clinic inside the bubble at Hofstra on Saturday morning, Marcus Stroman’s roots were showing.
“I’m from here. Medford. LIE Exit 65,” said the 5-8 righthander, who starred at Patchogue-Medford High School and Duke University before reaching the majors in 2014. “I love everything about Long Island. Baseball on Long Island is a priority for me. I’ve always wanted to come back and give back.”
And so he did. Stroman the Showman spoke eloquently and enthusiastically about his upbringing, his pitching, his work ethic and his fielding, which on Tuesday brought him the prestigious Gold Glove award. It was presented Friday night at a gala at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel.
“Coming from here, we get a bad rap as far as baseball goes,” Stroman said. “Everyone always talks about people who play ball in the South. But those kids from the South have got it easy, being able to go outside every day. I remember playing catch in the snow and working out in bad weather. Baseball in the Northeast is a thing and it needs to continue to be a thing. I understand the grind that it takes being from the Northeast, but that created the baseball player that I am today.”
A player who became only the third Long Island native to win a Gold Glove, emblematic of the best-fielding player by position in each league. The other two are Hall of Famers, second baseman Craig Biggio (Kings Park) and outfielder Carl Yastrzemski (Bridgehampton).
“I attribute my Gold Glove to being an athlete,” Stroman told the kids. “Growing up, I played every sport — football, soccer, basketball, baseball. Basketball was actually my favorite. A lot of the things I’m able to do now is because I never lost my athleticism.”
Stroman said defense is so important to him that during batting practice, he regularly takes ground balls at short (he was a high school shortstop and college second baseman) and shags fly balls in the outfield.
“That’s why I won the Gold Glove,” he said. “If I’m able to make a backhand play in the hole at shortstop during batting practice, then everything I do on the pitcher’s mound is easy. I’m playing with All-Stars like [third baseman Josh] Donaldson and [shortstop Troy] Tulowitzki, but I tell them to get out of the way. I’m like, ‘Pop flies, ground balls, anything close, I got this.’ They make fun of me, but I take pride in my defense and I’ll do anything in my power to get an out.”
Stroman’s appearance at Hofstra was part of a joint effort by MLB and the MLB Players Association. “We call it a youth initiative,” said former Mets general manager Omar Minaya, the current senior adviser to the MLBPA. “The idea came from the Players Association and we pick five or six guys a year to go back home and give back to the community. Marcus wanted to do this. He fits the mold of what we’re trying to do.”
Stroman, 26 and a four-year veteran, discussed and demonstrated his pitching technique. “I pride myself on living on the corners. Big league hitters are unbelievable. If you throw anything in the middle of the plate, they’ll hit it really far,” he said. “Not everybody is Aroldis Chapman — 105. For guys like us that throw in the 90s, I put a premium on location over velocity.’’
He also values patriotism and is proud of being named MVP of the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He threw six shutout innings and picked up the win as Team USA beat Puerto Rico in the championship game. “It was the perfect transition into the season for me,” said Stroman, who was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 201 innings and 33 starts in 2017. “I got my body right; I got my pitches right. This has been a whirlwind year for me, so to cap it off with a Gold Glove was pretty special.”
So was his homecoming. “It’s the first clinic I’ve ever done where I was the headliner,” Stroman said. “I love interacting with kids. You’re the role model they’re looking for. I’m the guy who can tell them to chase your dream.”
Gold Glove winners from Long Island:
Carl Yastrzemski - 7
(Bridgehampton High School)
OF: 1963, 65, 67-69, 71, 77, all with Red Sox
Craig Biggio - 4
(Kings Park High School)
2B: 1994-97, all with Astros
Marcus Stroman - 1
P: 2017, Blue Jays