Stroman grew up in Medford, N.Y., in Suffolk County. His parents split up when he was in 5th grade of elementary school but still have a good relationship, living barely a mile apart and working together to raise Marcus and his two siblings.
Earl Stroman is a police detective. He coached his son’s football, basketball, and baseball teams when Marcus was young, before passing him along to more advanced coaching.
"Basketball was my first love,” he said. “But I realized I could go further in baseball. I still miss basketball. But it was the right decision.”
Earl Stroman is a police detective, who offset his own small stature with an unrelenting will in the gym. He lifted every day and transformed himself into a physically imposing man. Earl, who is African-American, schooled his son on the inherent unfairness in life, that because was small and identified as black, he'd have to work twice as hard as anyone else to survive. He needed to be cocky, to know he was the best, and then back that attitude with action.
As a 6-year-old, Marcus was already running parachute sprints and dragging weighted sleds.
Though divorced, both parents were heavily involved in his life: Adlin, his mother, was the supporting, loving one, and Earl was the hard-ass. In the weeks that Marcus stayed with his father, Early would sometimes awaken his son before 5 a.m. so they could work out. They'd return to the gym later that night.
"Go to work Boo," Earl would tell Marcus.
"He pushed me to the edge,"Stroman says of his father. "He was intense." (Robert Sanchez - ESPN the Magazine - 5/08/2017)
Stroman did play point guard in high school through his senior year. He was second-team all-Long Island as a senior.Some scouts told Marcus he could be fast-tracked to the big leagues, and may one day develop into an elite closer.
The Nationals chose Stroman in the 18th round of the June, 2009 draft, not accepting a bonus of $400,000.
But three years later, Marcus signed with the Blue Jays for a bonus of $1.8 million, which was the recommended slot value for the No. 22 overall pick, on July 3, 2012.
The Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Stroman as the 7th-best prospect in the Blue Jays' organization in the spring of 2013. He was moved up to #2 in the winter before 2014 spring training.
September 2012: Stroman tested positive for the stimulant Methylhexaneamine and MLB suspended Marcus for 50 games, beginning in April 2013.
So Marcus did not begin his 2013 season until May 19. He said his suspension was from an over-the-counter supplement that he had been using before workouts.
"When [the news] first came out, that was hard to be on (Twitter)," Stroman admitted. "I kind of stepped away from Twitter. But I feel like it's out there, it is what it is. I'm not going to run from it. I'm not going to be one to completely shut down Twitter and shut down my interaction with everyone.
"It is what it is, people realize what it was. I'm moving forward from it, I'm completely past it. I used the extended spring training period I had to develop my pitches and I think that kind of propelled me to the season. Looking back at it now, it was an honest mistake and I owned up to it. I'm just looking forward to the future."
- In September 2013, Marcus threw a touching curve ball at his mother when he surprised her by paying off her mortgage.
Stroman tweeted, “About to do something legendary…” before posting a video on Instagram of his mother’s shocked reaction to the news.
January 2014: The fact that Stroman has yet to make his Major League debut has less to do with his overall abilities and more to do with Toronto's philosophy on developing prospects. The Blue Jays' organization stresses patience with its young players and often resists the urge to skip any steps along the way. That can be difficult to handle for a lot of prospects, but in Stroman's case, he understands there are a lot of positives with it as well.
"Yes and no," Stroman said when asked if he was frustrated by the club's philosophy. "I'd say yes, because you put in all this hard work and you feel like you're ready to contribute, but there is that waiting factor. And then no, because it shows you that they believe in you, that they want you to develop and refine everything that you have in your arsenal so that when you do get to the big league level, you're ready to contribute right away.
"They don't want you to have any doubts in your pitches or your mound presence or anything else. It's a little bit of both sides there, but it definitely makes you want to work harder to push the envelope a little bit."
The biggest benefit of Stroman's extended stint in the minor leagues is the amount of time that has been put into his development as a starting pitcher. When Stroman was drafted, the initial belief was that he would be best served as a reliever and had the potential to become a future closer.
One reason behind that scouting report was that Stroman is just 5-foot-9 and there were questions about his overall durability. That's a stereotype the New York native has been battling his entire playing career, and so far he has proven the skeptics wrong at every turn. (Gregor Chisholm - MLB.com - 1/10/14)
March 6, 2014: Stroman has always been a fiery and animated pitcher.
"I'm very critical of myself; that's the way I've been my whole life," Stroman said. "I expect nothing but the best out of me. I'm my harshest critic; that's how I've always been, and that's how I always will be. I definitely have some work to do, but I know that I'll get there."
It is certainly not a stretch to consider Stroman a perfectionist on the mound, but he is also not someone who is going to sit there and lament for days about where things went wrong. That is a good quality to have as a starting pitcher with another outing looming in the not-so-distant future.
"You have to have a short memory in this game," Stroman said. "I'm not going to dwell on each performance. I'm going to come to the park the next day, put a smile on my face, and I work hard and get after it again and get ready for my next start."
He may be small in stature, but there's no shortage of heart in Marcus Stroman. And that's what Blue Jays manager John Gibbons likes about his young pitcher. "He's good, and confident," said Gibbons. "Very productive for us."
At 5-foot-9, the knock on Stroman has been that he's too short to succeed. But that type of analysis has only fueled the fire that burns inside of him.
"It's something that I've faced my whole life, and I kind of enjoy it now," said Stroman. "I enjoy being small, because you're always doing things you're not supposed to do."
When he didn't make the Blue Jays' roster out of 2014 spring training, Stroman headed for the club's Triple-A affiliate, the Bisons. He burned through the competition in the early goings of this season. It appeared inevitable that the Medford, N.Y., native would eventually join the big club.
Stroman's time in Buffalo was valuable. It allowed him time to work on his changeup, the last pitch in his five-pitch repertoire. He's been throwing it steadily since 2012, and he now uses it to great effect as a counterpoint to his mid-90s fastball.
"It's a pitch that I feel really complements my arsenal and helps me a tonne," he said. "It's huge. I think a good, quality change can probably be one of the best, if not the best pitch in baseball … as far as messing up [a hitter's] timing." (Ross - mlb.com - 5/9/14)
Marcus is the first Duke player to be drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. He earned All-American honors from Louisville Slugger and Baseball America during his junior year. Stroman was also First-Team all ACC academic honor roll selection in 2012.
September 17, 2014: Stroman appealed a six-game suspension imposed by MLB for throwing at the head of a Baltimore hitter, Caleb Joseph. He stayed in the game, struck out Joseph to end the inning and engaged the Baltimore dugout as he left the mound. Stroman's pitch came a half-inning after Joseph blocked the plate as Jose Reyes slid home. Marcus, four days later, had his penalty cut from six to five games.
Marcus's slogan is "Height Doesn't Measure Heart."
And he is a mental stalwart who always believes positively.
"I never have a doubt," Stroman said early in 2017. "I feel like once you doubt a situation, you've already lost. I just put a lot of confidence into myself."
His 'Height Doesn't Measure Heart' T-shirts and New Era caps are no as omnipresent on him as the gold HDMH" charm that dangles from his necklace.
Marcus will take three classes in the spring of 2015, two more later in the summer and plans to graduate with a major in Sociology and a minor in Markets and Management studies in December. He'll have a busy schedule with a mixture of classes and rehab programs on his long road to recovery.
"My parents pushed me from a very early age to make sure that it was all academics first," Stroman said. "I was a kid who wasn't allowed out if I wasn't going to work, or I was the kid studying when everyone else was partying. That's something I always try to preach to everyone I'm around, even high school students now, I always try to gear them towards college.
"I tell them that to kind of get them going on that degree path, at least where they're getting close. If they want to play professional baseball they can still go back and get their degree. It means a lot, because you never know what can happen." (Chisholm - mlb.com - 4/24/15)
Before Marcus Stroman became a Twitter self-help guru, and even before he appeared on our television screens as the 5-foot-8, ACL-surgery-has-nothing-on-me Blue Jays phenom we know today, he was Marcus, an audience member on Nickelodeon's "Figure It Out."
"Figure It Out" was one of those those game shows in the '90s that featured kid contestants, celebrity guests culled from other Nickelodeon shows and a lot of slime. And, lo and behold, one of the episodes from the show's 1997-98 first season had none other than a young Stroman in the audience.Stroman was the randomly selected audience member who won a Toys R Us gift certificate, all because one of the contestants … asked a question. ( Ben Cosman - 2015 )
- 2016: Stroman adds to his resume as he raps on Mike Stud's new album. Stud, whose real name is Seander, was a former relief pitcher at Duke and Georgetown who finished his college career with a 3.41 ERA over 87 innings pitched. So even if you know nothing of his musical abilities, now you know a little something about his baseball work.
The album comes out on Jan. 12, so there's just a little bit of time left to remember music as it was, before Stroman changed it forever.
Every big-name athlete has at least a couple of those "I made it" moments, and for Stroman it happened when he met basketball legend Charles Barkley during the 2016 NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto.
The startling thing wasn't that Stroman got to meet Barkley, but that the Hall of Famer knew his story. It was Barkley who pulled Stroman aside during the All-Star weekend to tell him that he was an "inspiration." As Stroman reflected on their recent conversation, he still seemed giddy over the encounter.
"I was at a dinner and he was there with his family and friends, and he just kind of called out to me," Stroman said. "He had me come over to his table, sat me down. It was pretty special. He told me he was familiar with my story, told me how much of an inspiration I was and I had a really good talk with him for about 10-15 minutes.
"It was crazy just being a huge basketball fan. He's the man, he's one of the funniest guys to watch on TV being an analyst, and just to see that someone of that nature is familiar with who I am is pretty special."
During their chance encounter, Barkley praised Stroman's decision to return to Duke University in the summer of 2015 to complete his degree while rehabbing a torn ACL ligament in his left knee. Toronto's promising right-hander not only finished his education, but he also made a stunning recovery from surgery by getting back onto the field in September and excelling in the postseason.
Stroman was 9 years old when Barkley retired from basketball in 2000. Like a lot of people, Stroman was a big fan, and the fondness grew as he got older and watched Barkley on TNT, where he became one of the most popular analysts in sports with an uncanny sense of humor and blunt takes on teams and players around the league.
Barkley has been a superstar for more than three decades, yet it wasn't Stroman who was full of praise during their conversation, it was the other way around.
"When he said my name I was just like, 'What?'" Stroman said, shaking his head still in awe. "I was kind of taken aback, and then when he said he knew my story it just shows you how crazy it is. It's truly special, and I'm just honored to be in the position that I'm in.
"I still feel like a little kid when I have these run-ins with celebs and people who are familiar with me. I look up to them, I get giddy like a little kid on Christmas when I meet some of these individuals, and it's crazy to me to know that they know my story, and for them to think that I'm an inspiration when I think the same of them. It's humbling and it's been fun." (Chisholm - MLB.com - 2/26/16)
Stroman was selected to be the cover athlete of the Canadian version of 2016 R.B.I. Baseball 16 playstation game. Mookie Betts will be on the U.S. version.
Stroman took over as the team's undisputed ace during his third big league season in spring 2016. It has been a meteoric rise of sorts and one that will come with added pressure and scrutiny, but Stroman believes that's the type of environment in which he thrives.
"I think that brings out the best in me," Stroman said. "The more pressure, the more that you have to get it done, I feel like the more I rise to the occasion. I'm excited to be the ace, I'm looking forward to running with it and I think I've put myself in a position where I've worked extremely hard. I've worked like an ace, so now the fact that I can actually go out there and be the ace is extremely gratifying and just shows the confidence that not only the team or my brothers have behind me, but the entire country of Canada has in me. I'm excited."
"I'm more strong now physically, mentally and emotionally than I have ever been," Marcus said. "I went through a lot in 2015 and I learned about myself, the character of myself, because I was at a really low point in my life when I tore my ACL.
"Being able to battle back, get my degree while doing so, I feel like I'm in the best position now than I've ever been as far as confidence and I'm ready to just kind of take it and run with it."
Stroman likely doesn't have enough tenure in the league to be a vocal off-the-field leader quite yet, but he can definitely lead by example. He has one of the most vigorous workout routines in the Majors, he is a close friend and protege of veteran lefty Mark Buehrle and he got to experience firsthand what it was like to be around Price.
"I picked those guys' brains as much as I could while they were here," said Stroman. "DP actually just texted me and said, 'Congrats on getting Opening Day 2016, young champ.' That just shows you the type of individual he is.
"I'll look to take as many things as I can from DP, from guys like Buehrle. Not only things on the field like tempo, pitch sequences, the way they go about their business in the clubhouse, but also things off the field -- how to handle your business -- and I've just been in an extremely lucky position to play with those guys." (Chisholm - MLB.com - 3/23/16)
Stroman travels with his own spotlight. Wherever he goes, the former Patchogue-Medford High School star totes his 192,361 Twitter followers (@MStrooo6) and 259,000 more on Instagram. No wonder the back of his personalized Nike Jordan cap reads “STROSHOW,” the benefit of a newly inked deal signed weeks earlier with the shoe giant.
The Blue Jays boast the 2015 MVP in Josh Donaldson and the bat-flipping basher, Jose Bautista. But pound-for-pound, few players pack as much entertainment value as Stroman does into his 5-8 frame.And that’s not something he unpacks only for Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Even on this minor-league mound, facing Double-A hitters, Stroman is operating at max levels — scolding himself, smiling after strikeouts. One victim gets pounded hard with fastballs, then nearly falls down swinging when Stroman cuts the throttle for an unhittable changeup.
The kid is laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of that pitch as he looks over at Stroman, who is grinning back at him. “That’s a big-league cambio, son,” Stroman says, using the Spanish word for change.
This is playground stuff. When the game actually is a game and it’s still fun. Stroman is among the sport’s new generation that wants baseball to reflect those feelings, to shake it free from the straitjacket it’s worn for the past century. Bryce Harper rekindled the debate this spring, saying that baseball needs to be jolted awake from its “tired” state. But few live those words as openly as Stroman, and he’s only getting warmed up.
“I have a big personality, so I always push myself no matter what,” he said. “I’m always going to be myself no matter what the situation is. So the fact that the game is getting younger, and you’re allowed to be yourself, it’s just more accommodating to the young players coming up. So I’m all for that. It’s baseball taking a little bit of a turn, getting out of the older ways. And I’m all for showing personality and emotion out there.”
Stroman isn’t limiting that to between the lines. He posts frequently on Twitter, and in a recent tweet, Stroman writes, “Yeah, I stay up late at night, thinkin’ bout my life, want a lot, will I get it all? #aintnotellin”
The flip side to showing personality, maybe the hazard of it, also means leaving yourself more exposed. A look-at-me generation that consumes social media like oxygen risks giving too much to people who will use it for more nefarious purposes. Because once that personal snapshot is indeed out there, there’s no erasing the image,
Baseball’s unwritten conduct rules get stretched more each season. And players such as Harper and Stroman — to mention some of the more higher-profile names taking part in the movement — aren’t deterred by the risks involved with breaking new ground.
“Nah, I have zero worries,” Stroman said. “I know how hard I work. I know that a lot of people who are going to judge you are the people who aren’t working as hard as you. So when I put it all into perspective and realize how short life is, I honestly just truly enjoy every position that I’m in. Having fun is being able to show your personality, and that’s how I’m going to be, regardless of what anybody says.” (David Lennon - Newsday - March 26, 2016)
April 15, 2016: For the first time in his career, Stroman was in a Major League uniform, wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
"It means a lot for me," Stroman said. "I'm African-American, so without his efforts, who knows. He was the guy who paved the way, who integrated baseball. I couldn't be more thankful for anybody than Jackie Robinson. Without him, arguably you could say I wouldn't be in the position I am today. So I'm extremely thankful to wear 42 on his special day."
"I knew a pretty good amount about him," Stroman said. "Actually, I did a couple of book reports and school projects on him growing up. I know he went to UCLA. I knew he was a several-sport athlete. I knew his upbringing and his background. I've always been pretty in-tune with his career and what he did and just thankful for him." (M Mullen - MLB.com - April 16, 2016)
BROMANCE WITH SANCHEZ
Toronto Blue Jays resident BFFs and starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez can’t recall at this point exactly when and where they first met or when they initially connected as pals. It may or may not have been at a Tampa steakhouse, or on some dusty Blue Jays minor league Florida practice field in nearby Dunedin back in 2012. They did share the same agent when they were in the minors, so that first official meeting was inevitable.
At this point, four years later, all that matters to them, their Blue Jays teammates and a few million baseball fans in Canada is that they did meet.
They call each other “brother” so often it would be far more poetic if they played in Philadelphia. Sanchez and Stroman spoke to Bleacher Report in separate one-on-one interviews here this past weekend about their fraternal bond and how it has helped carry them to the majors.
For this “Duo of Brothers,” every day has become St. Crispin's Day.
“In the beginning, we were just friends. But we started hanging together in the minors,” Sanchez said. “Ever since then, we became brothers. He’s my best friend and knows more about me than anyone else. But he’s more my brother than anything else.”
For Stroman, the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter in 2016, his relationship with Sanchez has grown into a brotherhood thanks to shared time and purpose.
“It’s similar to the family aspect in a sense of the bond that you have between two individuals. It’s no different than having a brother—even though there isn’t blood,” Stroman said. “In baseball, you spend time with your teammates and your buddies more so than with your family. So from February to November, I’m with my brothers—we get to the clubhouse anywhere from noon to 2 on a game day, and we’re here until 11 p.m. at night.
The "Stromance" between Sanchez and Stroman has been social media fodder for at least two years and has its own #StroChez hashtag.
Stroman and Sanchez share a Toronto apartment, which has a spare room for visiting family and friends. They spend just about each waking hour together, whether or not they're at the ballpark.
"We enjoy being in [Toronto]. Toronto is not much different than New York. It’s much, much cleaner, smaller, nicer people, like a smaller New York City. It’s a very diverse place, and it fits our personalities well,” Stroman said.
The diverse geographic roots of its members are another unique component of this unlikely alliance.
Stroman is a determined, confident 5'8" starting pitcher from Stony Brook, New York. His parents were divorced when he was in the fifth grade. His father, a New York City police detective, spent considerable time with the young Stroman in fostering his baseball talent and his fearless attitude.
Stroman is one of seven starting pitchers 5'9" or shorter in the Majors, according to pointafter.com's sortable database. He has branded himself around a trademarked slogan that reads "Height Doesn't Measure Heart."
“That’s his personality,” Sanchez said. “He likes to prove doubters wrong, and he’s done it his whole life. You don’t see a lot of 5'8" starting pitchers in the game.”
"The difference in our backgrounds goes along with our story," Stroman said. "We’re very different personality types. Our upbringing has something to do with it. I was brought up on Long Island. I spent a lot of time in New York and have been around cities a ton. Aaron is from a small-population city. Ever since we started hanging out, he’s kind of opened up and his personality started coming out."
Sanchez, 23, said any soft-spoken persona is often temporary. “If you know me, you get the full me,” he said. “If I don’t really know you, I’m kind of reserved. He gets to see the real me.”
How close are these two? “It’s definitely unique. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two guys who didn’t grow up together be so close,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
This common experience has led to an uncommon friendship.
“It’s unique between me and Marcus because we’re doing memories of a lifetime, doing something we love,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people don’t understand it’s nice to have that same friend with you because we go through a lot of the same (stuff) of being so young and being away. We’re there for each other and we know when someone is missing their family they always have that brother right there to feel comfortable and know that we’re going through the same thing together.
Whenever one half of #StroChez is pitching, the other is emotionally along for the ride.
“I had runners on base a couple of time and I could hear Marcus (from the dugout) saying ‘Come on, let’s go. Now’s the time. This is the hitter you want.’ Stuff like that,” Sanchez said.
To no one’s surprise on the Blue Jays bench, Stroman was the first player atop the dugout steps to greet him.
“You know that umbilical cord can only go so tight before it snaps back,” Gibbons deadpanned.
“I try to be that top-step guy, more so for him, because we’ve been through the trials and tribulations together. We know each other better than many other people know each other. I can go up to him and say 'I think you should focus on this a little more,' and it resonates more than if it was coming from someone else,” Stroman said.
“When Marcus is pitching, I feel like I’m out there with every pitch. The thing about Marcus is that he trusts and values my opinion, as I do for him. If I see something when he’s pitching, or he sees something when I’m pitching, it’s easy for us to have that dialogue together, as opposed to someone else coming up to him,” Sanchez said
“He’s such an emotional guy. He’s so anxious to pitch,” Sanchez said. “When he’s out there, it’s more like me telling him to ‘calm down’ or ‘keep control.’ It’s more about staying in the moment. It’s about knowing that if you get the ball on the ground and stuff behind you doesn’t go the way you want, you need to just keep going.”
(Potential spoiler alert: For Stroman’s 25th birthday, Sanchez said he commissioned an original “sick painting” of his roommate by a female artist whose work Stroman admires. There was no completion date available.)
Gibbons sees plenty of benefit in the #StroChez dynamic. “They’re basically out there with each other whenever one of them pitches. They push each other, they encourage each other, and they get on each other. If I need to talk to one of them about something, and it applies to the other, I can say ‘just go see your buddy, too.’ So you don’t always have to go to the source to get your message across.”
When the two do talk baseball away from the field—a rarity—the conversations are forward-focused and center around approaching a hitter or a certain lineup
These are professional athletes living the dream in the big city and enjoying every coveted minute away from baseball. On an off night, you might find them “playing games, laying low or going out to eat at a cool restaurant,” Stroman said. “We’re normal people.”
“It was easy to get along with him,” Sanchez said. “He likes the same stuff as me off the field. We like to just get away. We try not to be so in-depth with baseball; when we’re away, it’s keeping the mood light and keeping the vibes good. It’s making sure that you’re having fun.”There are no disputes over who’s the messy one, or when it comes time to cook the occasional at-home meal.
“We have a good dynamic. We don’t fight, ever.” Stroman said. “We have two different personalities. I think we kind of round each other out. There’s a great dynamic.
And Sanchez's constant presence, Stroman said, remains a calming, stabilizing effect.
“It’s good to have someone there that you can bounce ideas off of and someone there that knows what you’re going through lately. It limits stress. It limits the tough times that you go through because you have someone there that’s usually going through the same thing you’re going through,” he said. (Bill Speros/Bleacher Report/ May 4, 2016)
May 15, 2016: Stroman could not have felt any lower when he tore the ACL in his left knee in the spring of 2015, but as the Blue Jays right-hander looks back now, he thinks it might have been a blessing in disguise.
Not only did Stroman return in September and play a pivotal role for Toronto in the postseason, but he went back to Duke University during his rehab process to complete his sociology degree. The days were long, the work was hard, but the countless hours will all be worth it when he walks across the stage.
Stroman was in attendance to receive his diploma at Duke's spring commencement. Many friends and family members were there as Stroman officially fulfills the promise he made to his mother back in 2012 that he would complete his education. (Gregor Chisholm - MLB.com)
December 3, 2016: Stroman announced that he would pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
February 23, 2017: If you were to think of one Toronto Blue Jays player who could make his teammates smile, who would that be? Marcus Stroman, of course.
The right-hander did just that during the club’s spring training picture day, acting as “official photographer.” Stroman showed off his work in a Players’ Tribune post.
“Everything about photo day at Jays camp changed this year when The Players’ Tribune asked me to flip the script and take over as our official photographer,” Stroman wrote. “We kept it extremely loose, and I gave guys the freedom to really be themselves.” (Sportsnet Staff - February 23, 2017)
March 22, 2017: Stroman dazzled for Team USA as it secured its first World Baseball Classic championship with an 8-0 victory, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning and stifling a Puerto Rican lineup that had slugged its way through the tournament with a plus-37 run differential and a perfect 7-0 record.
His performance earned him Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament as well as a spot on the 2017 All-World Baseball Classic Team. (Chad Thornburg - MLB.com)
Marcus had dozens of tattoos. They include a Martin Luther King quoted on his right pectoral, "Dreamchaser" down one arm and "BREAKING STEREOTYPES" along a forearm.
"He's smart, he's passionate and he's talented," Blue Jays 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson said. "And he definitely has a chip on his shoulder."
In Stroman's case, that is a literal statement. He got a poker chip tattooed atop his right shoulder in 2014 with the words "Critics Doubters & Haters"written on it.
"I like pressure," he says, then pauses. "No. I love it, I've always loved it."