Justin Smoak has provided the Blue Jays with a ton of value off of the diamond this year, and there was another significant example this week.
We’ve already addressed that this could be the last batch of games for Justin Smoak in a Blue Jays’ uniform this week, but I feel like the veteran just keeps giving the club reasons to bring him back.
I just wrote about the impact that Smoak has had on Rowdy Tellez earlier this week, helping the rookie slugger adjust to the big leagues, and also to deal with the sickness and eventual loss of his mother and trying to navigate life as a professional athlete while grieving. Just as Smoak made a positive impact on his fellow first baseman, it sounds like he did the same for another rookie last week as well.
Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet provided an update on Bo Bichette‘s condition after sustaining a head injury last week, and naturally, Smoak’s veteran presence and leadership were a part of the story there as well.
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For those that missed it, Bichette was hit on the bill of his helmet by a 93 MPH fastball, and was allowed to stay in the game at first. However, after playing another inning and starting to feel the effects of what had happened, it was Smoak who approached Bichette and asked him if he was doing okay after a particularly poor four-pitch strikeout.
By the time Smoak was asking his 21-year-old teammate how he was feeling, Bichette was starting to question whether or not he was actually okay, and it was the voice of a respected veteran that helped him to make the right decision. He was removed from the game, and he’s now under MLB concussion protocol, which is definitely a wise decision for his short, and more importantly, long-term health.
"“I’m thankful that Smoak came up and said that to me. Especially with him being the veteran voice, to tell me to go say something — that kind of gave me the OK.”"
Let’s face it, even though Bichette has stormed his way on to the scene at the big league level, he’s still a rookie who is trying to prove himself to his new coaching staff, his teammates, and the rest of the league. He wants to be eventually considered at or near the top of list of the best baseball players in the world, and he’s willing to play through pain in order to get there. However, you can’t play through a brain injury, and that’s a hard lesson for many people to learn.
Bichette pointed out that he felt like it “gave (him) me the OK” to let the training staff know how he was feeling after being approached by his veteran teammate, and that’s not necessarily a surprise. The coaching and training staff can do all they want to build relationships with their players, but it’s rare when it matches the closeness that can develop between teammates. The fact is, Montoyo and the training staff are involved in deciding how often Bichette and the rest of his teammates play, so he’s never going to be as honest with them about the way he’s feeling as he might be with a respected teammate.
As the mini-farewell tour continues for Justin Smoak with the Blue Jays, I feel like he just keeps giving the front office reasons to bring him back. And if they decide to go in another direction, I hope that Ross Atkins and company have at least been reminded of the value of veteran voices in the locker room, especially among a talented, but inexperienced group like this.