Tulo’s one of the boys now

Trade dead­line pickup last year bonded with Blue Jays team­mates dur­ing off-sea­son

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - BASEBALL - By Melissa Couto

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Troy Tu­low­itzki fi­nally feels like him­self when he puts on a Toronto Blue Jays jersey. All it took was a play­off run and some off-sea­son bond­ing with his team­mates.

The all-star short­stop, who came to Toronto in a trade dead­line deal with the Colorado Rock­ies last July, is par­tic­i­pat­ing in his first spring train­ing with the team.

While it took Tu­low­itzki time to ad­just to life out­side Colorado — he spent his en­tire ca­reer with the Rock­ies be­fore the trade — there’s no doubt in his mind he be­longs with the de­fend­ing Amer­i­can League East cham­pion Blue Jays now.

“You can’t go to the play­offs with a team and not feel like you’re a part of it, but for it to ac­tu­ally all sink in and di­gest, and for me to re­ally be OK with it, that wasn’t un­til this off-sea­son,” Tu­low­itzki said at Florida Auto Ex­change Sta­dium Sun­day morn­ing.

“When I see the Blue Jays logo I’m not like ‘what is that?’ any­more. I know this is where I be­long and I’m look­ing for­ward to this year.”

Tu­low­itzki and seven of his team­mates, in­clud­ing se­cond base­man Ryan Goins, third base­man Josh Don­ald­son, and right-han­der Mar­cus Stro­man, met up in Las Ve­gas in De­cem­ber to watch UFC 194 head­lined by Conor McGre­gor and Jose Aldo.

The fight it­self didn’t last long — McGre­gor knocked Aldo out 13 sec­onds into the first round — but the ex­pe­ri­ence went a long way in ce­ment­ing Tu­low­itzki’s bond with the oth­ers.

“I felt like we be­came closer this off-sea­son, and that made the tran­si­tion a lot eas­ier,” Tu­low­itzki said. Goins felt the same way. “Plan­ning a trip like that in the off-sea­son, that’s some­thing that I don’t think a lot of teams do, hon­estly,” the se­cond base­man said. “But it was fun to bond with the guys. We said ‘hey, why not meet in the middle of the off-sea­son?’ be­cause we love be­ing around each other.

“You start to miss your team­mates, hon­estly. I can feel like ev­ery­one in here missed each other. We get back and it’s like we never missed a beat.”

Tu­low­itzki had a lot to ad­just to when he first came over to the Blue Jays — new team­mates, new coun­try, new league, new play­ing sur­face — and a new spot in the bat­ting or­der.

Man­ager John Gib­bons had Tu­low­itzki bat­ting lead­off for 26 games, where he hit .227 with a .325 on-base per­cent­age be­fore get­ting bumped back down to his more tra­di­tional No. 5 spot in Au­gust.

Gib­bons said ear­lier this week he’d rather not use Tu­low­itzki in the lead­off spot again this year. Tu­low­itzki said he doesn’t mind one way or the other.

“Hey, he’s the man­ager, what­ever the lineup is, I’m good with that.”

One thing Tu­low­itzki never wor­ried much about was his new middle-in­field part­ner.

Goins, who ap­peared in 128 games for Toronto last year in his first full sea­son in the big leagues, fig­ures to be a lock for the team at se­cond base this sea­son, at least un­til Devon Travis comes back from shoul­der surgery.

While Goins doesn’t have much ex­pe­ri­ence at the ma­jor league level, Tu­low­itzki says the 28-year-old’s strong de­fen­sive skills helped put him at ease from Day 1.

“In my ca­reer I’ve changed a lot of se­cond base­men,” Tu­low­itzki said. “I’ve had al­most a dif­fer­ent se­cond base­man ev­ery year and all of them have been pretty good de­fen­sively. But with (Goins), I was re­ally im­pressed with how great he was.”

Goins says be­ing able to play along­side the vet­eran Tu­low­itzki has helped him, too.

“You watch a guy while you’re grow­ing up and you try to take parts of their game and make it your own, and then all of a sud­den you’re play­ing with that guy,” Goins said. “He’s the best in the game, I would say. There aren’t many guys bet­ter than him play­ing on that level like where he’s at.

“It’s spe­cial to go out there and com­pete with a guy like that.”

FR ANK GUNN / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Toronto Blue Jays shor tstop Troy Tu­low­itzki fields a ground ball at the team’s spring train­ing fa­cilit y in Dunedin Fla., Satur­day.

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Ryan Goins looks to be a lock at se­cond base for

the Blue Jays.

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