Taillon is pronounced: TIE-yoan. It rhymes with loan.
In 2010, during his senior year at The Woodlands High School in Texas, Taillon committed to Rice University. He graduated with a 3.85 grade-point-average.
Jameson has excellent makeup. He is very well-grounded. Even in high school, he did volunteer work with a couple of organizations in his community.
June 2010: The Pirates made Taillon their first round pick, out of The Woodlands High School in Texas. He was the second pick overall, behind only Bryce Harper by the Nats. And Jameson signed just before the August 16 deadline, for a bonus of $6.5 million. Trevor Haley is the scout who signed him for the Pirates.
The Pirates took a roll of the dice with Taillon as they have never hit it big with a high school pitcher in the first round in the draft's 45-year history. Furthermore, just 3 of 11 high school righthanders ever taken with the first or second overall pick have sustained any success in the Major Leagues—J.R. Richard (1969), Bill Gullickson (1977), and Josh Beckett (1999), who were all No. 2's.
"We have to acknowledge the risk," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "You study the draft and see the large percentage of high school starting pitchers that don't make it. As we make an evaluation projecting into the future, we look at everything, and this pick gives us what we want, both on an off the field. We saw all the necessary traits in him that will make him successful for us.
"He has the stuff that allows you to envision, down the road, a top-of-the-rotation starter. A lot has to go right between now and then."
Taillon was also not deterred by the track record of other prep righties. He believes, like Beckett, another Houston-area product, that he has the intangibles to be an exception.
"My work ethic, my personality," he said of what differentiates him from so many draft failures. "Extremely goal-oriented. I'm not going to look at the track record of high school pitchers taken in the first round."
Taillon also seemed genuinely excited about being drafted by the Pirates, even though they had a streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons, a record for major North American team sports. He said he was extremely impressed with Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith after having a four-hour meeting with them a week before the draft.
"They're one of those teams that can't go out on the huge market and compete with those (large-market) teams," Taillon said. "Any time you get picked by one of those teams, it's a huge honor. I guess they see me as a future piece of that organization. They're eager to turn it around. Extremely motivated to turn it around here. I can tell what kind of player they like: motivated. I can see the Pirates turning it around shortly." (Editor's note: The Pirates did, in fact, turn it around, making the playoffs in 2013 and 2014 after a long drought. But they did so without Taillon, who still hadn't pitched in the Majors by then.)
Taillon is universally known as "Jamo" and says it takes a second for him to realize someone is trying to get his attention if they call him "Jameson." His older sister Jasmine gave him the nickname as a baby because she felt Jameson was too formal.
In 2011, Baseball America rated Taillon as the #1 prospect in the Pirates organization. He was at #2 in the spring of 2012, behind only Gerrit Cole. And he was 2nd-best again in the offseason before both 2013 and 2014 spring camps opened, behind Cole again in 2013, and behind Gregory Polanco in 2014. When he was #2 for the third straight year, early in 2015, he was behind Tyler Glasnow. In 2016, he was 4th-best prospect in the Pirates' farm system.
In 2013, Taillon pitched for Canada at the World Baseball Classic and struck out Ryan Braun, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino during a game against Team USA.
Jameson prefers to read the audience during Spring Training 2015 karaoke. He tailors his set to the mood of the room like an experienced stand-up comic. Taillon may swing between Puddle of Mudd at a dive bar, to the classic "Friends in Low Places" that will please the older set, and he's currently working on John Mayer's "Your Body is a Wonderland." He said he's trying to "conquer every type of music that I can."
Even though Taillon admits that he doesn't have the best voice, he added, "I'm not afraid to let [my voice] be heard."
Which, at the end of the day, isn't that the whole point of singing in a bar in front of a bunch of strangers? (Clair - mlb.com - 3/19/15)
- Taillon insists that the past two years (2014 and 2015) have not been wasted. He has lost 20 pounds off his 6-foot-5 frame and spent the offseason before 2016 spring training working out in Houston with Mark Melancon and Anthony Rendon.
“It really bugged me when I heard people say I had two lost years,” Taillon said. “Because those two ‘lost’ years, I was working with the best pitching coaches, away from the drawing board, getting to refine what I was weak at. I got to work out more and get on a better eating schedule. I think that ‘two lost years’ is kind of bogus, because I definitely got a lot better. I didn’t stall out by any means.”
MLBPipeline.com: You played on a legendary 18U USA Baseball team with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before going second overall in the 2010 draft, sandwiched between both players. Have you considered that this likely will be the year that you finally face both of them in the big leagues?
Taillon: That lineup was crazy. I think it was Harper hitting in the three-hole, Machado hitting cleanup, Nick Castellanos in the five-hole, with me and Kevin Gausman in the rotation. I felt like I fit right in; we were all ballers back then and won a gold medal for the U.S. They've obviously gone on to have great careers, and I'm happy for them, but I also don't think I should be forgotten about. I'm looking forward to getting up there and hopefully doing the same stuff. (Mike Rosenbaum - MLB.com. - March 29, 2016)
Six years to the day after the Pirates selected him second overall in the 2010 draft, Jameson arrived at PNC Park and found a No. 50 jersey hanging from a locker with his name on it. It has been a longer journey than expected, the destination delayed by injuries and lengthy rehabilitation programs, but Taillon finally made it.
The Pirates called up Taillon, their No. 4 prospect and the No. 49 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com, from Triple-A Indianapolis to make his Major League debut in their series finale against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets. He reported to Pittsburgh on June 7, 2016, settling in before a start long in the making.
"I feel like I'm in a position to say I put in the work for it. I wasn't just given this," Taillon said. "It's definitely sweet to be here."
While the Pirates were debating their options, Taillon was lying in a hotel bed in Columbus, Ohio, watching Netflix —season two of "Bloodline," to be specific. He rolled over to text his girlfriend good night and found "some missed calls from some numbers I didn't have."
The call Taillon missed was his long-awaited call to the Majors. Shortly afterward, Triple-A manager Dean Treanor delivered the news. "I kind of blacked out from adrenaline," Taillon said.
GM Neal Huntington said, "We're thrilled for him, to get him to this point with the adversity that he's just powered through." (Berry - MLB.com - 6/7/16)
Jameson was lying on his back on the mound, stitch marks from a line drive still visible on the back of his black Pirates cap, when the thought crossed his mind.
"Family is watching it. Girlfriend. People back home," Taillon said. "First thing that comes to mind is try to get up and show them that I'm all right."
Fortunately, he was. Taillon was struck in the back of the head by Hernan Perez's second-inning line drive, but he quickly returned to the mound and pitched six strong innings in the Pirates' 3-2 walk-off win over the Brewers. Pitching with one out and nobody on base, Taillon threw a 94-mph fastball to Perez. The ball came off his bat at 105 mph, according to Statcast, and caromed off the back of Taillon's head into left field.
"I was super scared," Perez said. "I think everybody was."
Taillon said he remembers everything about the play. He saw the ball coming, turned and fell at the base of the mound. He remained conscious as athletic trainers Todd Tomczyk and Ben Potenziano rushed onto the field and the Pirates gathered behind him.
The trainers followed the appropriate concussion protocol, manager Clint Hurdle said. Taillon said they asked him if he knew where he was and if he had any pain. They ran tests of his memory, balance, coordination and eyesight. He passed them all. "I answered all the questions they asked me," Taillon said. "I wanted to get up quicker than I was able to."
Remarkably, the 24-year-old Taillon sat up within minutes after the ball bounced off his head. A few seconds after that, he was on his feet and asking for his glove. "To be honest, I was waiting for it to hurt when I was down, and I really felt good," he said. "The biggest thing was fighting some adrenaline afterward. My pitches were up."
Taillon tossed a few warmup pitches and remained in the game. Hurdle said he left that decision in the hands of the club's medical staff. "I trust our people," Hurdle said. "He's got a mom and dad watching the game. I've got a son. This is one area that I'm not real comfortable with, and I've got to trust our people. They do know what they're doing and how to follow a protocol and to test the player and the things to do."
Trainers checked on Taillon throughout the night, but he remained in the game. He got better as the night went on, holding Milwaukee to one run and breezing through six innings on 65 pitches.
"He stayed in there and almost pitched better after getting hit in the head, which is pretty incredible," Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett said. (Berry - MLB.com - 7/19/16)
Feb 3, 2017: Given everything Jameson Taillon has gone through in his pro baseball career, he takes nothing for granted—especially the simple act of going through the physical rigors required in order to be ready for an upcoming season. After spending two years away from competition rehabbing his arm after Tommy John surgery, Taillon knows how awful it feels to be on the outside looking in, unable to compete at the highest level with his teammates. He was forced to stick with a rehab schedule, without that rush of competitiveness that engulfs a player when he walks onto the field.
In that respect, this offseason has been special, because it's been routine. Taillon, healthy, fit and ready to build on a promising debut in 2016, he headed to Bradenton, Fla. in February to prepare for the season.
"I compare it to people that say you don't understand what having kids is like until you have your own," he said. "You don't understand what missing time in baseball is like until you actually miss it. You truly can't understand what going through a surgery is like until you're down there in the dumps. A lot of people forget about you except your support system; friends, family. It definitely gave me a newfound appreciation."
Taillon is one of several professional ballplayers who trains at Fairchild Sports Performance in Houston. He works extensively with a staff led by founder Ben Fairchild, who has trained more than 100 pro ballplayers over the past five years since opening this Houston location. This offseason, approximately 40 ballplayers have used his facility. That list includes Nationals closer Mark Melancon, Taillon's former Pirates teammate who suggested a while back that Jameson might want to check it out.
Taillon, who grew up just north of Houston in The Woodlands and lives in Houston year-round, decided to give it a try once he was seemingly past the injury-prone start to his career. Seeking a change in his training and nutrition habits, he called Fairchild and gave it a whirl. Taillon now considers that one of his smartest decisions.
"Because of the kind of mind he is, has a high level of trainability," said Fairchild, who has trained past Astros stars Andy Pettitte and Lance Berkman. "He's able to quickly absorb what we were teaching."
Taillon's goals for '17 are simple: He wants to establish himself as a workhorse in the middle of the Pirates' starting rotation. He has his eye on reaching the 200-inning mark—"the magic number for pitchers."
"I saw a lot of guys that throw 200 innings at the big league level," Taillon said, naming, specifically, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Madison Bumgarner. "I want to be that guy."
Beyond that, Taillon's focus is narrower. "I have to knock out one start at a time to get to that point," he said. "I want to stay healthy, have a good spring and take it from there." (A Footer - MLB.com - Feb 3, 2017)
May 19, 2017: There is a mindset that defines Jameson Taillon's mental toughness as a pitcher. When runners get on base, his focus shifts away from how they got there to what he can do to stop them from scoring. He does not dwell on the past. Taillon has carried the same mentality into his recovery following surgery for testicular cancer. The Pirates' right-hander spoke with the media for the first time since he received the diagnosis, and he reported that he has received nothing but good news since undergoing the procedure on May 8.
"That's how I view the medical stuff, too. Can't worry about how I got here or what it is," Taillon said. "I just have to worry about the plan going forward. It's definitely made me a lot more mentally tough. Going through trials and tribulations and tough times, with each one, I feel like I've come out stronger. I wasn't going to let this stop me or get me down in the dumps."
Taillon said he noticed an abnormality on May 2, the night before his last start for the Pirates, and alerted the club's training staff. One of the Pirates' doctors pulled Taillon into a conference room and informed him of the cancer diagnosis.
"I felt like I was in a movie or something. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience," Taillon said. "My immediate thought was, 'What next? What can I do to get better?'
Dr. John C. Lyne performed the surgery at Allegheny General Hospital. Since the operation, Taillon has undergone a CT scan to see if the cancer spread. He also received pathology reports on the tumor to learn more about how advanced the cancer was.
"Everything I've gotten back on those, I've taken as good news," Taillon said. "It could be a lot worse." Taillon has some blood work remaining that will determine the path of his rehabilitation. He is playing catch and performing cardiovascular exercises at PNC Park, which he said has been a "form of therapy" following his cancer diagnosis.
The 25-year-old spoke about his cancer diagnosis as if it were just another setback on a path that's already seen too many. The No. 2 overall Draft pick in 2010, Taillon had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and a hernia operation just as he was nearing a return in '15. The maturity Taillon has displayed throughout this process is not a surprise to those who know him well.
"He made a decision a long time ago to own whatever happens to him, to not look for excuses and not pick at things, to own it and work with it and do the best he can with it," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's special."Lyne told Taillon they caught the cancer "extremely early," perhaps the earliest case Lyne has seen. Lyne also encouraged Taillon to be an advocate for early detection, which Taillon took to heart. "It's part of my identity now," Taillon said. "I've been given a platform."
Taillon made his Major League debut last season on June 8 and immediately provided a boost to the Pirates' rotation, going 7-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 24 career starts. Asked when he could return to the mound, Taillon said he is taking his rehabilitation day by day. He has been encouraged by the outpouring of support from within the Pirates' organization, teammates, fans and a number of athletes who have also battled testicular cancer—former Bucs teammate Andrew Lambo, John Kruk, Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis and Lance Armstrong.
"[I'm] feeling good now, feeling healthy. We're getting all good news back so far," Taillon said. "Going forward, it'll be something I have to monitor and stay on top of, something I'll carry with me the rest of my life." (A Berry - MLB.com - May 20, 2017)
June 13, 2017: Twenty days after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, after losing what he described as a "piece of my manhood" but feeling like more of a man than ever, Jameson sent a text message to Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis.
Taillon was concerned that people might judge him for what he was about to do: pitch. Before making a start for Double-A Altoona on May 28, Taillon reached out to Bettis, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2016, for support. Was he crazy for getting back on the mound so quickly?
"This is what we do. This is who we are," Bettis responded. "We're ballplayers."
"That's all I really wanted this whole time was to get back in a regular routine, pitch every five days," Taillon said afterward. "I feel like I've been through a lot. Hopefully there's not much more coming my way, and I can just take the ball every fifth day."
Taillon compared the nerves to those he felt in his Major League debut almost a year ago. After an emotional walk from the bullpen to the home dugout, his heart raced and his legs shook. He finally calmed down after the first inning, when he struck out Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu. He worked a perfect second on eight pitches before escaping minor jams in each of his final three innings.
"When I finished my outing, I got to step back and enjoy the moment and realize that I was back," Taillon said. "It was special."
His father, Michael, was in attendance. So were fans carrying signs of support, including one that read: "J.T., you struck out cancer." Taillon threw 82 pitches, scattered five hits and walked two in his first big league start in 40 days. (Berry - mlb.com)
Jameson walked off the mound on June 29, 2017, with two runners on base and only one out in the seventh inning. As Taillon headed toward the dugout, the crowd of 22,595 at PNC Park stood and cheered in unison.
In four starts since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, Taillon has been better than he was earlier in the 2017 season. He had posted a 2.42 ERA, completing six innings the last two times out. Taillon fired 6 1/3 frames against the Rays, leading the Pirates to a 4-0 win. It felt like he was finally back.
"It's nice to be a part of it. The time away was tough, when you're sitting there watching guys play and I'm not able to contribute," Taillon said. "I wanted a chance to come back, and I wanted a chance to pitch for something. Here I am. I feel like I'm back with the team, I'm contributing and we're playing for something," he said. (Berry - mlb.com - 6/29/17)
Dec 26, 2017: Think about where this year took Jameson Taillon, and it might have come across as a relief to hear him talking about something as relatively minor as his changeup grip. Taillon's first full season in the Majors was interrupted by a diagnosis of testicular cancer, surgery and a five-week recovery before his return to the mound. After another strong month, his numbers were marred by a second-half skid. But there Taillon sat during PiratesFest at PNC Park, not congratulating himself for what he overcame or making excuses for his 4.44 ERA last season. The 26-year-old was focused forward, talking about tweaking his changeup grip, his plan to attack hitters inside with aggressive sinkers and his confidence in Pittsburgh's young rotation.
"I think there's a belief from everybody that we have a good core and we have a good group," Taillon said. "With the young pitching, specifically, [you saw] the growth throughout the year. You spend time in the clubhouse and know we have a lot of good guys as humans that are extremely determined to get better."
That mental toughness and maturity drew the Pirates to Taillon in the first place when they started scouting him a decade ago. And with trade rumors suggesting Gerrit Cole's future may be elsewhere, those characteristics may soon land Taillon atop the Bucs' rotation.
"He's dealt with a ton of adversity. He's in a very small group of players that have dealt with cancer and fought back through that," general manager Neal Huntington said during the Winter Meetings. "His maturity, his mentality, his approach, his intelligence, his drive—among some of the better that I've been around in my fortunate time in the game. Part of being one of those guys is being able to do that."
The other part, of course, is consistently excellent performance. Taillon delivered an impressive rookie season in 2016, posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 104 innings over 18 outings, including 12 quality starts. It was the kind of debut that, combined with his pedigree and makeup, suggested more promising seasons to come.
Taillon did not disappoint in April, recording a 2.08 ERA in 30 1/3 innings over five starts. He underwent surgery on May 8, returned in June and recorded a 1.98 ERA in his next five starts. Then came the 11-start stretch with a 7.17 ERA and a bounce back at the end: three starts and four runs in 17 innings and two wins. So Taillon will go to work this offseason. He's already decided to switch back to a four-seam changeup grip, which he used in the past, abandoned (for a two-seam grip) for much of this season then rediscovered in his final three starts of 2017.
If he's granted a full, healthy season to fully focus on pitching, the Pirates are excited to see what Taillon can accomplish.
"The great ones are good for a long time. The elite ones are great for a long time," Huntington said. "It's awfully early to start talking about any of our guys in that category—they need to go out and do it on a consistent basis— but Jameson has those traits that we believe we could look up in a couple years and he could put together some really good seasons." (A Berry - MLB.com - Dec 26, 2017)
The moment Jameson walked into the Pirate City complex as a young prospect, he began to understand Roberto Clemente's significance in the Pirates organization and in the city of Pittsburgh.
When Taillon underwent treatment for testicular cancer last year, he began to understand the impact he could have as a Major League player and cancer survivor. Taillon has become deeply involved in several charitable, philanthropic and community efforts, making him the Pirates' worthy nominee for the annual Roberto Clemente Award. "I've been a fan of his. I visit The Clemente Museum all the time. I think his jersey's probably still the most-sold jersey in Pittsburgh," Taillon said. "I understand what he means to this city and what kind of humanitarian he was. It's definitely a big honor."
The importance of community service is instilled in Pirates players from the time they enter the organization. Prospects are encouraged and expected to sign up for charitable efforts. As they near the Majors, Taillon said, each player typically finds a cause that is particularly close to his heart.
That came into focus for Taillon last year, when he quickly returned from his cancer surgery. The 26-year-old right-hander, a coffee connoisseur, partnered with Pittsburgh's Commonplace Coffee to create a special blend with proceeds going to Lending Hearts, a local nonprofit organization that supports children and young adults living with cancer.
This year, Taillon also joined the Taylor Hooton Foundation's advisory board, which helps educate young people about the importance of proper nutrition and the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. In July, Taillon answered questions and encouraged children to live a healthy lifestyle as part of the national PLAY campaign.
"There's depth. There's a lot of thought. There's a lot of service-mindedness to him," manager Clint Hurdle said of Taillon. "There's a lot of compassion and empathy in his character as well. I think he's a wonderful choice. To have your name represented and tied to a Clemente Award, it's a high honor. He's very worthy." (Berry - mlb.com - 9/4/18)
Dec 21, 2018: Taillon put together a 3.20 ERA and 4.7 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) in 191 innings over 32 starts, a career-high workload in his age-26 season. And only a year after returning from testicular cancer.
But after about two weeks of rest, Taillon returned to Fairchild Sports Performance in Houston to resume his workouts with an eye toward 2019. MLB.com caught up with Taillon earlier this month.
MLB.com: So what is the early part of the offseason like for you? Are you travelling, relaxing, working out, a little bit of all that?
Taillon: The first week after the season, I stayed in Pittsburgh and was pretty horizontal on the couch all week watching the Wild Card Games, watching the beginning of playoff baseball. I caught a Penguins and Steelers game. Really just focused on unwinding, having some time to myself. Then the following week, I started focusing more on detoxing my body, eating clean, getting back into the swing of things. I don't take too much time off. I'll start working out after about two weeks. The first phase of workouts is kind of easier; it's more about resetting your body and making sure it's moving properly and healthy. Hitting a career high in innings this year, I was pretty careful with the early phases of my workouts, not wanting to do anything crazy—really just wanted to make sure everything lined up and was working right. Every offseason is a little different. There's the occasional wedding or family trip or family you've got to see. Really, it's just time to myself to get back in the swing of things.
MLB.com: Let's talk about a shared love: coffee. You seek it out on the road, blog about it and all that. What is your offseason routine like when you're not working around the baseball schedule?
Taillon: That's funny. I just made some cold brew overnight. I made it in a French press, and this time I did it a little bit differently. I make usually a pour-over every single morning. I try stuff from all over. I'll do some research, look at Instagrams. I'll look at different people's blogs and see what they're drinking. I'll place some orders. Houston has a really great coffee scene, so I'll go to one of my shops and pick a bag up. I make a lot more at home, but offseason or in season, every single day starts once I have my good cup of coffee. The quality of your coffee sets the tone for the day. It's the first moment you have to gather yourself, so why would you want to do it over a crappy cup of coffee?
MLB.com: Everyone also knows you love your binge-watching. What have you caught up on over the offseason, and what topped your list?
Taillon: The only show that I've really sat down and genuinely gotten into was "The Haunting of Hill House." That was pretty spooky. It's tough for a horror series to not get on that side of corny or cheesy, and they did a great job of keeping it with a great storyline, and they developed the characters. I was really into it. I was pretty spooked out for a while. Besides that, I'm pretty much always watching reruns of "The Office" or "Parks And Rec." I'm looking to get into "The Good Place"; I just watched a trailer for it last night. I haven't really sat down and watched as much TV as I would like. I also watched "Narcos" and "Westworld"—people keep talking to me about those, so those are up there.
MLB.com: You posted on Twitter about the playoffs and award winners. You're the team's union rep, so you're following baseball, to a certain extent, even in the offseason. How closely do you follow the Hot Stove-type activity? Some people are really into it; others just want to unplug. Where do you fall?
Taillon: I follow it pretty closely. I'm not keeping up with every single rumor and every single team's needs. I've always been interested in it, even before I was a professional baseball player. In high school, I was checking the early stages of MLB Trade Rumors and stuff. I've always been intrigued by free agency and trades. I'm a pretty big fan of the game. You find a lot of guys that going into the offseason are like, "Why would I want to watch playoff baseball? I just got done playing 162 games." But I love watching playoff baseball. I love following the offseason moves. I'm just a fan of the game. I'm not too cool for school; I'll admit I love baseball. I'm probably one of the more in-tune guys with what's going on in the offseason.
MLB.com: Changing lanes here to the holiday season. You're one of four kids (siblings Jordan, Justin and Jasmine). What were the holidays like growing up in the Taillon household, and what kind of traditions do you guys still keep now that you're all grown up?
Taillon: My grandma is Hungarian, so her side of the family always did Christmas on Christmas Eve at night. My parents (Michael and Christie) had to balance that when we were kids, you know, with Santa. We would do the formal dinner and presents to and from each other on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, we would do the presents from Santa. That's one. Whoever's around and awake and can make it, we do midnight mass every year. My parents' house in The Woodlands (Texas) is the gathering spot for Christmas Eve. Then we've started a new tradition where my sister and her husband host Christmas Day and the kids all prepare the food.
MLB.com: If you could give your teammates a gift this holiday season, what would it be and why?
Taillon: I would probably get everyone the portable game units, PlayStation 4s and headsets, so we could all play Fortnite together all offseason. I play with Adam Frazier a lot. I play with Chad Kuhl a decent amount. I'm probably going to get made fun of for this, but it's a good way to keep in touch with everybody. We don't call each other on the phone every day. Good way to keep in touch. Good way to bond. (A Berry - MLB.com - Dec 21, 2018)
HELPING PITTSBURGH RESTAURANTS AND WORKERS
March 23, 2020: Not long after Spring Training was suspended, the Pirates players’ text thread started buzzing with ideas. They wanted to support hospital workers overwhelmed and overworked amid the coronavirus pandemic. They wanted to buoy local businesses that might be impacted by shutdowns and social distancing. They wanted to help Pittsburgh, even if they weren’t there.
That led them to the plan they executed. Pirates players purchased more than 400 pizzas plus pasta from Slice on Broadway (located at PNC Park) and Pizzeria Davide (in the Strip District) and had lunch delivered, with help from Pirates employees, to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital.
“We might not be in Pittsburgh, and we don’t have the opportunity to play in front of our fans and for all of us to be up in the city that’s kind of become a second home to us and that’s treated us so well,” Pirates player representative Jameson Taillon said. “We know local businesses are getting crushed and they’re really hurting and they’re really affected by what’s going on. Then obviously, the hospitals and the staff working on the front lines there, they’re putting in extra hours, extra work, exposing themselves. “We thought this was a way to help. Two birds with one stone. We can help local restaurants. We can help the hospitals and the workers and show our appreciation.”
Rico Lunardi, the owner of Slice on Broadway, heard about the plan. That gave him time to prepare the 300 pizzas he and his staff made at the popular pizzeria on Federal Street—an order nearly double the size of anything they’d previously received there. The players’ purchase, Lunardi said, will allow him to keep his entire staff working for a week.
“Of course, we wanted to help everyone we can in the process,” Lunardi said. “Obviously, the Pirates and the players are awesome to want to be able to do this and reach out to help as many people as they can. Helping us out, I was able to keep my staff all working down here. More importantly, the bigger picture is helping feed everyone at the hospital that’s putting in countless hours trying to get through all this together.”
For that reason, Pirates players decided to team up with Pizzeria Davide and Slice on Broadway.
“It was one of those things that we didn’t have to talk about for too long. We started throwing the idea around, and everyone got excited and made it happen,” Taillon said. “Everyone was just like, ‘Let’s all put our money together and come up with something.’ They just wanted to get something done to help out.”
Lunardi said his staff of roughly 10 people got to work early making dough and sauce and shredding cheese. Two people were charged with preparing the pizzas, two with monitoring the ovens, two with boxing and cutting the pies, and two with delivering them to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital. Just to be safe, they made 320 dough balls in advance.
“I’m like, ‘All right, we can only mess up 20 pizzas,’” Lunardi said, laughing. “And I think we only messed up three, which is good.”
Their first order, sent out at 11 a.m., was 134 pizzas. Since the drivers couldn’t go inside, they helped staff load up the boxes on carts and wheelchairs. Taillon said they staggered the delivery times to include staff on different shifts, so the last order went out just after 1 p.m. Pirates employees stepped in to help distribute the order from Pizzeria Davide.
“We would’ve needed like an 18-wheeler to have one person deliver it all,” Taillon joked.
Taillon said Pittsburgh’s players will continue to support local businesses and first responders however they can through this national emergency. They’ve talked about buying a day’s worth of takeout lunches somewhere. They’ve already looked into ways they can involve two player favorites—Driftwood Oven, another pizzeria, and Commonplace Coffee—and set up deliveries to local police and fire stations.
“We’re trying to be creative and just help out any way we can,” Taillon said. (A Berry - Mlb.com - March 23, 2020)
April 30, 2020: During baseball season, Jameson usually supports his favorite restaurants by visiting on a regular basis and sending everyone he knows to check them out, too. That’s how Scott Walton, the chef and owner of Acorn in the Shadyside neighborhood, came to know Josh Bell, other Pirates players and even members of Taillon’s family.
“I’m his biggest fan,” Walton said, “and he’s the same.”
Taillon and Bell teamed up with Walton to have 300 bagels delivered to healthcare workers at West Penn Hospital. It was yet another gesture by Pirates players, like their pizza delivery and coffee distribution, to simultaneously help local businesses and hospital staff who have been particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Living in Bloomfield, I’m neighbors to West Penn Hospital and to Acorn on Walnut Street. Acorn is always the first stop I make with my Pittsburgh visitors, and Chef Scott always makes it such a special experience,” Taillon said. “To be able to help his restaurant that he takes so much pride in, and to help West Penn and their amazing workers and staff, just made sense for me and JB.”
Taillon and Bell reached out to Walton and asked how they could support the restaurant. They offered to buy gift cards, but Walton wondered if there was a way they could help people at the same time. Why not support the healthcare workers at West Penn Hospital five minutes away?
Walton, who opened Acorn in 2017 after previously serving as the executive chef at Heinz Field, said it took about 7 1/2 hours of work to prepare the order, 300 bagels, a mix of sea salt, onion, poppy seed, everything and sesame, all made by hand.
“It’s a little different, but it was really super cool. Those guys have been great for me and for our restaurant and for the community,” Walton said. “Being as young as they are as athletes, they’re just amazing guys. They’re the nicest people in the world. On top of it, they left this huge tip for my staff. I told them not to; this is charity, and they’re like, ‘No.’
“You can’t say enough about them, how good they are to Pittsburgh and to the community.”
Why bagels? Acorn typically serves modern American cuisine and craft cocktails, but that didn’t translate all that well to the restaurant industry’s new normal of takeout and delivery orders. So Walton and his staff focused on making the bagels they usually serve for brunch on the weekends, even though they’re not set up to function like a traditional bakery. (A Berry - MLB.com - April 30, 2020)
Entering the 2020 season, Taillon is the WAR leader for the Pirates.
Jan 24, 2021: “It’s a perfect opportunity. I’m, like, giddy about it,” Taillon said in a phone interview. “I’ve put in a ton of work over the last couple years in Pittsburgh to reinvent myself and put myself in position to contribute to a team like this. I’m ready to come in and get to work.”
When former Pirates GM Neal Huntington famously spoke about a “bridge year” entering the 2016 season, he was talking less about taking a competitive step back and more about bridging the gap from the Andrew McCutchen/Gerrit Cole-led team to a roster potentially propelled by near-ready top prospects such as Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell and Austin Meadows, among others.
That group didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons. Some weren’t developed properly in the Pirates’ system. The club traded away others, like Glasnow and Meadows for Chris Archer. A few were dealt bad luck, none more so than Taillon as he battled through testicular cancer and two Tommy John surgeries.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Taillon said in a phone interview. “When I got drafted by the Pirates, you dream of coming up with the guys you get drafted with and come up through the system with. You dream of winning with them and bringing that to Pittsburgh. Over time, guys start leaving, guys get traded, guys retire, guys get released, stuff starts happening. … I feel like this is kind of the conclusion of that. We never proved we could win together.”
Without sufficiently supplementing that group, the Pirates struggled through losing seasons four of the past five years and turned over much of their leadership following the 2019 season. After evaluating the state of the organization during his first year as general manager, Cherington decided this offseason to more aggressively pursue prospects and prepare a potential contender years down the road. That led to the decision to trade Bell, then Joe Musgrove and now Taillon.
“It was more clear to us that, to get to where we really wanted to go, we just need lots more players and lots more opportunities,” Cherington said. “They’re not all going to turn out. Not all the players in the Minor League system before these trades are going to pan out, but we just need lots of them, and then we’ve got to really pour into development. Especially in deals like this, the acquisition is one half of it, and the development is just as important. We’ve got to pour into that now.”
“I think they have the right people in place to get the job done,” Taillon said “I’ve told everyone I talked to with the Pirates organization that today. I know people are probably getting tired of hearing it. Pittsburgh has been wanting a winner for a long time.”(A Berry - MLB.com - Jan 24, 2021)
Jan 28, 2021: When you get drafted as a professional baseball player, you don’t know what your journey is going to look like. You start out with this vision in mind of your perfect career, your path to the Major Leagues and then success at the highest level. But you really have no idea what you’re in for.
I had some of those clear-cut plans when I signed with the Pirates in 2010. I was going to make the big leagues by 2013. We were going to win a World Series by 2015. Those were the things I thought about when I entered pro ball at 18 years old. That was what I had in mind for my career.
Clearly, that didn’t work out. This was not the super smooth, super easy path I dreamed of. I wish I'd had more time, pitched more often and won more games with the Pirates. I wish I had brought a World Series championship back to Pittsburgh playing alongside the guys I came up with.
But I wouldn’t change my journey here for anything.
Because these are the things you don’t think about when you get drafted: the people you’re going to meet, the adversity you’re going to face, the way you’re going to grow up, the paths you’re going to cross and the lives you’re going to impact along the way.
With all I went through in Pittsburgh, I got to meet so many people I wouldn’t have in the career I had planned. I developed relationships with people who might have just said in passing, “Hey, I’m a big fan,” but instead said, “My aunt was a Pirates fan and just passed away after battling cancer, and by watching you, I can still connect to her through baseball.” I was able to see the real character of this city.
As I move on to the next phase of my career, that’s what I’ll remember even more than the wins and losses. The Pirates -- and the entire city -- backed me up the whole way through. I’m grateful for my time here, because I feel like it helped shape me as a person, not just as a pitcher. That was what my journey turned into in Pittsburgh: something way more than just baseball.
I learned pretty soon after I was drafted that Pittsburgh runs deep. Everyone has a connection here, it seems like, even if it’s just a relative who’s a die-hard Steelers or Pirates fan.
As I think about driving in from the airport on my way to sign with the Pirates in 2010, coming out of the Fort Pitt tunnel in the car with my parents, I was absolutely wowed by the city. It was the same, cliché first impression as every other person when they first visit.
And you guys -- yinz, if you will -- are so proud of your city. I get why now. It's not just that view or the championship sports teams.
One otherwise-normal Tuesday night in Cincinnati four years ago, I felt something that changed my life. A few days later, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I had surgery on May 8, 2017.
That was when I experienced first-hand what this city was all about.
That was when I learned the real, nitty-gritty, caring, we’ve-got-your-back, neighborly soul of Pittsburgh.
You hear people say, “Hey, Jamo, if there’s ever anything I can do to help, let me know.” And in Pittsburgh, I came to realize that people really mean it. They offered food, rides to my doctor's appointments, just an ear to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. At the grocery store, strangers asked about my health and how they could help. People would see me walking around town and ask me to sign a ball and write, let’s say, “Eff cancer.”
With the support I had, the first-class treatment and a whole city and organization behind me, I knew it was an opportunity to turn my personal challenge into something positive for other people. I had to grow up here and use the platform baseball gave me to impact others who weren’t so fortunate in their battles with cancer. I’ve been able to do that through partnerships with Pittsburgh's Commonplace Coffee and Lending Hearts.
My priorities really changed that year. I got more involved with Lending Hearts and the work they were doing. We held an art event at the Warhol Museum, visited the UPMC Children’s Hospital and hosted a carnival for kids at PNC Park. I got to meet some really incredible folks through that organization and even more of the people behind Pittsburgh, people I wouldn’t have known if my life here was just the ballpark and home. That made me feel so much closer to the city, my second home.
• Why me? Question has new meaning for Taillon
The night I came back and pitched against the Rockies, I could just feel the support. I remember running from the bullpen to the left-field line and back and reading the signs in the stands at PNC Park. You all went through a lot with me. I felt your excitement after every win and your backing through every bit of adversity. I truly can’t imagine going through what I went through anywhere else or with any other fanbase behind me.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first or last time I needed that support. It’s not fun to go through the Tommy John rehab process once, much less twice, and it’s not fun to always be the “hurt guy." But I learned the value of patience, and I learned first-hand over the years that my teammates, the city of Pittsburgh and the Pirates organization will have your back.
So after all that, after everything I went through and everything you went through with me, winning here would have been one of the sweetest things in the world. How awesome would it have been to hug Jacob Stallings on the mound after getting the last out of a postseason win? I wish it would have happened for all of us -- for the players in that clubhouse and for the people of Pittsburgh.
I really wanted to bring winning baseball back to this city, to experience what I saw in 2013 watching the National League Wild Card Game on TV from Pirate City. But from being on the inside, hearing the conversations they're having, seeing the hires they’re making and witnessing the work being done, I believe the Pirates are in good hands moving forward.
I’d be sitting here writing a book instead of a long letter if I took the time to thank every teammate, coach, trainer, staff member or fan who made an impact on me during my time with the Pirates. You’ve all meant a lot to me.
As soon as I joined the organization, I met people who remain a huge part of my life to this day. Ever since then, I’ve been making friends for life. Baseball brought us together, and even after it moves us apart, we’re still like brothers.
But I wanted to make sure I took the time here to thank just a small number of the people who’ve done so much for me behind the scenes.
Everyone who leaves the Pirates always says, “Don’t take Chef Tony for granted,” and I never did. I’ll miss him in the kitchen. Traveling secretary Greg Johnson is the glue that holds the organization together, just so incredible at his job, and he took care of me and my family often without me asking. Bones, Bulls and everybody on the clubhouse staff -- they made our jobs/lives easier and became the kind of friends you play golf and fantasy football with.
I watched Justin Meccage grow up as a pitching coach and start a family, eventually seeing him become a Major League bullpen coach and asking his son Kyler to grab us Rita’s from the concession stands. Aaron Razum sparked my curiosity in the art of pitching and analytics, beginning a professional relationship and deep friendship that turned into a bromance over music, bourbon and pour-over coffee with the rest of the starting staff.
A.J. Patrick provided the confidence I needed during my rehab, even during the chaos of last year, and got me so invested in taking ownership of my mechanics and health so that I can be a better, healthier pitcher in the future. Todd Tomczyk is someone I’ve trusted and leaned on through all of my injuries, and I think you can’t help but share a bond with someone when they’ve seen your elbow ripped open. It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, but those guys never let me lose sight of it.
Jim Trdinich and Dan Hart were always looking out for us, win or lose, good game or bad start. Our flight attendant, Rae, always looked after us like a team mom. I’ll miss seeing Bill, stationed outside the home clubhouse, and every other friendly face there for us at PNC Park every day. You all made big league life less chaotic.
You don’t see those people listed on the roster, but they make an impact on everyone who comes through the Pirates’ clubhouse. These are the names and faces I’ll remember.
I felt like I got the perfect Pittsburgh send-off just before sitting down to figure out how to say thank you after nearly 11 years with the Pirates. My phone rang, and it was Steve Blass calling.
I didn’t grow up as a Pirates fan, so I didn’t know much about him or his story when I first came here. But you learn quickly about this franchise's history and its heroes, guys like Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Steve Blass.
Steve took the time to watch my first bullpens in big league camp, and I got to know him over the years. He became a friend and someone I admired, someone who’d call me after my starts whether I’d thrown a complete game or pitched poorly. He was always there -- one of the first franchise icons I met, someone who gave 60 years to this organization and one of the last people to say goodbye.
Steve didn’t have the perfect journey, either, the one he probably envisioned after he got the last out of Game 7 in the 1971 World Series. But Pittsburgh remembers and appreciates him for more than who he was on the mound.
Steve has carried himself with class and grace in everything he's done, and I hope I was able to do the same here. That ultimately matters more than the back of your baseball card, your wins above replacement or whatever else. When you leave somewhere, your greatest hope is that you helped make it a better place. When one chapter of your life ends, you hope you're a better person than when it started.
Even though my journey wasn’t always what I expected it to be, I hope over the years I’ve still provided value to the Pirates organization and Pittsburgh on and off the field. My connection to this team and this city will forever be about more than just baseball.
Thank you, Pittsburgh. ((J Taillon - MLB Player - Jan 29, 2021
June 2010: The Pirates made Taillon their first round pick, out of The Woodlands High School in Texas. He was the second pick overall, behind only Bryce Harper. And Jameson signed just before the August 16 deadline, for a bonus of $6.5 million. Trevor Haley is the scout who signed him for the Pirates.
Jan 10, 2020: The Pirates avoided arbitration with Jameson by agreeing on a $2.25 million contract.
Dec 2, 2020: The Pirates signed Jameson to a 1-year deal worth $2.25 million for the 2021 season.
Jan. 24, 2021: The New York Yankees made a second off-season addition to their starting rotation, acquiring right-hander Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates for four prospects.
Pittsburgh received right-handers Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure, infielder Maikol Escotto and outfielder Canaan Smith.