By IAN WILSON
Centre fielder Anthony Alford hardly had time to loosen his belt from his American Thanksgiving meal before he hopped on a plane for Calgary in late November.
The Mississippi product – a third round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 and former Ole Miss Rebels football player – came to Cowtown to help out baseball pal Shane Dawson Jr. with his Strive Baseball pro camp, which also featured the instructional help of pitcher Ryan Borucki.
Alford made time for Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast during his stop at the Coyote Den. Here’s a recap of that Q&A.
You’re a 25-year-old player entering a put up or shut up kind of season. What is your approach to 2020?
Just compete and lay it all out. Whatever happens, happens … really control what I can control. I know my situation. I have to make the team out of camp. I’m going to go into spring training and give it my best and try to show what I have in all aspects of the game: offensively, defensively and on the base paths.
You had a solid Triple-A campaign in Buffalo with the Bisons last season (46 runs, 37 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 76 games) and I believe you had your longest stretch of games in the majors last year, as well, playing 16 games for Toronto. The highlight of that was obviously your first career Major League Baseball (MLB) home run against the Baltimore Orioles. Can you walk us through that extra-inning marathon and what that at bat was like?
I definitely wasn’t expecting to get three at bats that night. I came in to pinch run for Billy McKinney and we just kept going back and forth, both teams were scoring runs and I had three really good at bats.
I’ve never really been the type of player to come off the bench. I’ve always started in the minor leagues, coming up. But in the majors it was kind of different with the situation with all the outfielders and I knew they were going to use me as a defensive replacement, coming in for spot starts, pinch running and in different phases of the game … pinch hitting. You just kind of have to be ready at that level to play at all times.
In Toronto especially, it seems like the land of opportunity for prospects. You’ve got such a young team and you see Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette get a lot of the spotlight, but there really is an opportunity for you to step in and make a name for yourself, as well. Is that how you look at it?
Yeah, 100 percent. Honestly, any time you get to put a jersey on and step in between the lines it’s an opportunity because, even at the minor league level, there are scouts at every game. You’re always playing, not only for the team that you’re wearing the jersey for, but every other team in the major leagues. It’s just like a real big showcase every game and that’s how you’ve got to treat it sometimes. You just have to go out there and help the team win and showcase your talent.
With Toronto, the expectations are low right now, in terms of the Blue Jays win-loss record and making playoffs. There aren’t quite as many fans in the stands as there were in previous years. How do you stay motivated in that kind of environment?
You really can’t get caught up in all that. You’ve just got to go out there and do your part, whatever it is that night.
People can say the expectations are low for Toronto but I think in the clubhouse we have high expectations for ourselves. We really just want to go out there and compete. There’s a lot of talent in that locker room. In September, you kind of got a flash of the young talent that’s up there. We had a few weeks where we just ran off and … we were playing teams like Boston and New York and we were really giving those teams a run. We won a few of those series and I think you can just see flashes of what it’s going to be like in the future with that core of Vladdy and Bo and Biggio and Rowdy (Tellez).
Toronto Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen was here in January and we asked him about Vlad, Biggio and Bichette and he told us to watch out for those guys. We’ve had a chance to see a bit more of those players now. Is there anything that really surprises you or stands out to you with those players, in particular?
With those three, I think the biggest thing is they don’t really fold under pressure. Just that discipline at the plate, that poise, and their ability to put together good at bats against elite pitching.
What does a successful 2020 look like for Anthony Alford?
Being in the big leagues all year … really, just being up there and producing and bringing something to the table that will really help the team win.
How did Shane Dawson convince you to come to Calgary during the American Thanksgiving weekend?
If he asks me for a favour then I’m going to do it for him, because I think a lot of him. We kind of came up through the minor leagues together at every level and we’ve remained pretty good friends, so of course with somebody like that if he asks me for a favour I’m going to jump up and do it.
As long as I didn’t miss Thanksgiving dinner. (Alford flew to Canada the day after Thanksgiving). And I like to travel … the only other place I’ve been to in Canada is Toronto, so it was a chance for me and my wife to come here and see this part of the country.