TAMPA, Fla. — Troy Tulowitzki didn’t hide his emotions during the game or in the clubhouse afterward.
The veteran shortstop, cut loose by the Blue Jays in the offseason after missing last year while recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels, led off Monday’s game against his former team by punching an 0-and-1 sinker from Long Island’s Marcus Stroman over the rightfield wall.
The homer, which came in his first exhibition game at-bat, set off a reaction not often seen in a spring training game, one that included Tulowitzki shouting toward the Toronto dugout as he rounded third.
“The biggest spring training homer I’ve ever hit,” he
said with a laugh. But his undertones were 100 percent serious.
“No doubt about it, it was definitely extra special,” he said as his new team finished off a 3-0 victory over his old team in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League home opener. “That was the team that basically told me I couldn’t play anymore. It’s spring training, it is what it is, but it was a big day for myself.”
A strained right hamstring and a sprained right ankle limited Tulowitzki to 66 games in 2017, and he had the surgery on his heels in March 2018. The Blue Jays released Tulowitzki in December with $38 million left on his contract. After seeing him in two workouts — one private — the Yankees then signed him for the league minimum of $550,000 (the Blue Jays are on the hook for the remainder of the $38 million).
Tulowitzki, 34, copped to his response rounding the bases.
“I play with emotions,” he said. “I care a lot about this game, I put a lot of work in. There were a lot of people who said, ‘Forget about it.’ Those people said I’d never make it back on a baseball field again . . . I got a little pumped out there. But anybody who tells you you’re done, you’re going to have a little extra fire.”
Stroman, a close friend of Tulowitzki’s, did not object to the outburst.
“That’s my guy, that’s one of my boys, so obviously I would always love to compete with him, I would always prefer him on my team,” Stroman said. “But like I said, I’m ecstatic to see him somewhere being healthy, back out there doing what Tulo can do. Because like I said, I know how much of a grind, and I know how tough it’s been for him over the past few years, and to see him back out there, full health, it’s really exciting.”
Tulowitzki, a five-time All-Star, said his primary inspiration to return to the field did not come from getting released. It was his son, Taz, who was in attendance Monday.
“My son’s 5 years old, he was 3 the last time he was watching [me in] games, and he doesn’t remember that,” Tulowitzki said. “So to get back out there and have him see me again, that was probably what I thought about each and every day. No one saw all the hard work that went into it. The people in my close circle, I think they understand what I went through. So today was emotional, and I definitely got a lot of texts from a lot of people, so that was cool.”
Reminded that the Yankees have 19 regular-season games against the Blue Jays, he smiled again.
“Can’t wait,” he said. “Can’t wait. Today didn’t count, but it counted for myself. It’ll be exciting.”
With David Lennon