Tellez first name is Ryan, but almost never does anybody call him that. It's always "Rowdy." He earned his nickname while he was still in the womb.
“I was always moving around, I was kicking her stomach,” Tellez said. “My grandma actually said I was Baby Rowdy because of how much I moved . . . and the name kind of stuck.”
His grandmother has called him Rowdy his whole life. In fact, when she is asked what her grandson's real name is, she says, "I don't know! It's Rowdy. Quit asking me that."
- Rowdy was riding a motorcycle by the age of 3. As the story goes, rocking Rowdy could ride a dirt bike before he could talk or read.
But as he got bigger, the bike seemed smaller. And by age 10, his racing days were over. Baseball, the sport that Tellez once used to fill the time between races, became his No. 1 sport.
The choice changed his life.
"My dad raced and all of my good friends did, too, so that was awesome," Tellez said. "But the older I got, I think we all figured out that I had a better chance of not getting hurt and making a career in baseball than I did racing. But I do miss going fast out there, because now I'm one of the slowest ones out there on the field."
Rowdy is from Elk Grove, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento. At the heart of that town is Elk Grove High, established in 1893. The school has a rich baseball tradition, one that includes six Division I Sac-Joaquin section titles and nine big league alumni—most notably Buck Martinez—as well as agent Scott Boras.
If Tellez goes to Southern Cal, which he committed to in his senior season of high school, he will be the first member of his family to attend a major university.
Rowdy's father, Greg, who works for Pacific Gas & Electric, and his mother, Amy, who works for the Elk Grove school district, both entered the workforce after graduating from high school.
Rowdy is a very good student, entering his senior high school season with a 3.2 grade point average. He is intelligent and has a strong work ethic to go with his natural ability.
July 2013: Tellez signed with the Blue Jays on the deadline (July 12) after they chose him in the 30th round, out of Elk Grove High School in California. His bonus was a rousing $850,000, via scout Darold Brown. It took that much to get Rowdy to not go to USC.
"I'd always been a Trojans fan and education is important to me," Tellez said. "But I wanted to start playing, and everything worked out the way I'd hoped."
- The Blue Jays signed Tellez as a 30th-round pick after failing to sign first-rounder Phil Bickford. Nearly all of Tellez's value will come from a bat that has the potential to make him middle-of-the-order presence, if he hits enough to allow his plus-plus raw power to play. (Spring 2015)
In 2014, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Tellez as the 18th-best prospect in the Blue Jays organization. But he fell to # 30 in the spring of 2015.
But a fine 2015 season bounced all the up to 7th-best Jays prospect in the winter before 2016 spring training. And he moved up to #6 in the spring of 2017. Rowdy dropped to #21 in the spring of 2018, and to #29 in the Spring of 2019.
Rowdy uses criticism of his big, burly body as a motivator. He plays with an edge.
Rowdy was a visitor at the Warren Park Junior Public School; it was something he looked forward to doing because he hadn’t had those experiences as a young student in California.
“I just want to have an impact on the kids,” Tellez said. “I didn’t have much of it growing up, of people coming into my classes. … Not many athletes would have taken time out of their day to come back. So for us, we want to give back to the community that is giving everything to us. Toronto is a phenomenal city and they take care of us. We want to do the same for the kids.”
The visit from Tellez and teammate Trent Thornton—along with Blue Jays mascot Ace and members of the J Force —was a surprise for the students of Warren Park, who had a chance to hear from the two rookies, ask them questions, play a game with them, and glean advice from them.
Tellez shared with the students: “Trust everything that’s going on around you. Believe in what your teachers have to say, they’re not going to steer you in the wrong direction. Just have fun, enjoy it. You only go to school once, hopefully.”
Embracing their time with the players, the focus of the visit for the students centered around teamwork and learning how to be a good teammate, something the Big Leaguers know a little bit about.
“For me, it’s showing up every day with the attitude that you’re going to be the best that you can be for the people around you,” Tellez said. “Not being selfish and worrying about what’s going on for you, or upset about everything that’s going on if it’s not going your way, but being the same person day in and day out.”
Both players enjoyed the opportunity to get out into the local community and embrace the city they call home for the season. “For me, it’s a bigger impact than just the city and the kids,” Tellez said. “It’s personal, this is everything for us.” (Brudnicki - mlb.com - 5/22/2019)
Rowdy quit baseball in 2018. When his mother Lori lost her battle with cancer in August, he left the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and headed home to California to be with his family. After some time there, Tellez decided that he wanted to stay, so he called the Blue Jays’ brass and told them he wouldn’t be coming back.
But 10 days after he departed, Tellez rejoined the Bisons. Only six days later, he made his Major League debut in Toronto, a clear shift from his plan not to return. So what changed the slugger’s mind?
Devon Travis did. “He’s always been the one who checks in on me, makes sure I’m OK, tells me he loves me. He’s basically an older brother to me,” Tellez said. “Last year, he was the main reason I came back to play and finish out my Minor League season.
“He said, ‘Hey, I think you should come back, it will help you get your mind off it.’ I don’t know if he knew anything and what their plans were, but every day that I was gone in August, he would text me or call me and see how I was doing, just keeping my spirits up. He’s one of, if not the most important reason, that I came back to play and got to the Big Leagues last year.”
“Everything’s positive with him,” Tellez said. “He’s just been so positive with me and keeping me in line. He’s like the older brother who’s nice, not the one who beats you up.
“It’s how he was raised, who he is and what he stands for. It’s hard to find in a person. He’s really genuine, he’s never going to blow smoke up your behind or tell you lies. He’s always going to be honest, whether it’s good or bad. … He’s just one of those people you would call the ultimate teammate.” (Brudnicki - mlb.com - 7/11/2019)
Ahead of the September 25, 2019 game with the Orioles, Rowdy made a promise.
As he went through his pregame routine, Tellez touted a companion along with him. Five-year-old Emmett Cooper from Brantford, Ontario, joined the infielder in the dugout, toured the clubhouse and participated in drills during batting practice, and when the two met with manager Charlie Montoyo in the skipper’s office, Tellez made a prophetic commitment to the young fan.
“I’m not going to compare Rowdy with Babe Ruth, but he promised the kid that he was going to hit a home run, and he hit two, so that was pretty cool,” Montoyo said, after Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Orioles at Rogers Centre. “The kid had heart problems before, and he was in the clubhouse today, and we were talking.
“He came to my office and I said, ‘Rowdy’s going to hit at least four more [homers] and he goes, ‘I just need one more,’ and he did it. That was pretty cool; a pretty cool moment when he did that. The kid is pretty happy about it.”
With the third multi-homer game of his career, Tellez became the fourth rookie in team history to reach the milestone mark of 20 round-trippers. And while he’s sure Cooper was happy with the performance, Tellez didn’t achieve what he’d told his young friend he would.
“I promised him three, and I failed,” Tellez said. “But it was a special moment for us. We have a connection, and I was glad that I could have him with me, took him around to tour the clubhouse and let him hang out with us. He came out on the field with me, he took some ground balls, played catch, stretched with us. Probably a fun day all around for both of us, but a little more special for him.”
Tellez met Cooper and his parents last year in Buffalo, N.Y., where the California native quickly added to his fan base when he offered an autographed broken bat to Cooper. On the 25th, Cooper traded an autographed Tellez baseball card to the fan who caught the rookie’s home-run ball in exchange for the souvenir and promptly returned the milestone ball to Tellez.
“[Hitting 20] is pretty special,” Tellez said. “One of those things that a lot of people dream of and work hard to do, but I couldn’t be more grateful to be in the position I am, with the organization I’m with, and everybody who’s gotten me to this point.” (Brudnicki - mlb.com - 9/25/2019)
Jan 24, 2020: Rowdy Tellez is a big proponent of homework. The man who meticulously kept notes on his opponents to maintain a competitive advantage throughout the Minor Leagues has continued to record personal tidbits during his time in the Majors, despite having a plethora of information readily available at his fingertips, because he places a sense of importance on compiling as much background information as possible. The 24-year-old first baseman emphasizes having that personal framework because he’s spent a significant portion of his career trying to show people—whom Tellez believes didn’t do their own homework—that he isn’t who they thought he was.
“I wanted to prove them wrong about me being a good teammate,” he said. “I wanted to prove them wrong in that I couldn’t hit [with velocity], I wanted to prove them wrong that I wasn’t an adaptable player. And I wanted to prove that for 894 picks [in the 2013 draft] teams missed . . . for 29 rounds teams missed.”
Not just a courtesy
Tellez was touted as a high-round talent ahead of the draft, but he slid down the board because teams didn’t do enough homework on him and his commitment to the University of Southern California, one he was hoping not to fulfill if he had a shot to play professionally. When the Blue Jays snagged him on the third day and in the 30th round, Tellez wasn’t even sure the organization expected to sign him, instead intending to do a favour for the slugger’s longtime coach and mentor, Dee Brown.
“No kid has the dream of slipping to the 30th round,” Tellez said. “I was still a 30th-round pick. “I was a courtesy pick for [Brown], who was scouting me and drafted me. He was the guy who taught me everything about baseball, so it was kind of a courtesy pick for him. That’s what I was, and I wanted to prove everybody wrong, that I wasn’t just a courtesy pick.”
After getting his first callup to the Majors in 2018 and spending the majority of ’19 at the game’s highest level, Tellez combined to hit .241/.299/.475 with 25 home runs, 28 doubles and 68 RBIs over 134 games for Toronto. But just making it isn’t enough for the native of California.
“I knew I was going to be here,” Tellez said. “There was no question about that in my mind. Now, having success and having a sustainable big league career is what’s going to prove everybody wrong.”
A chip on his shoulder
Tellez intends to continue proving people wrong in Dunedin, Fla., when the Blue Jays' Spring Training begins and he starts his fight to be on the team’s Opening Day roster. Tellez split time between first base and designated hitter last year, but he was well aware that the club went into the winter discussing a need at first base. When Toronto signed Travis Shaw to a one-year deal with the intention of having him spend most of his time at first, Tellez became the underdog.
“People can doubt me all they want -- it just fuels the fire,” Tellez said. “The underdog thing is something that’s been my entire career. Being a 30th-round pick, spending a lot of time in Triple-A, I’ve always been labelled an underdog, so that just fuels the fire. I’m going in every year like I always do, to impress and come back out on top.”
Putting in the work.
Tellez made a strong early impression at the Blue Jays’ annual WinterFest, when he brought with him more muscle mass and fewer pounds.
“Everybody expects me to fail, so I like to prove people wrong and I do it every time,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I do and keep going in and putting in the work I can. I know I’ve impressed some of the people in the organization with the way I came in here, with the way I changed my body, how much stronger I got, and that’s what I like to do. I like to come in and impress people, surprise people and show them that I’m not just a throw-in player.”
He also spent his 2019 offseason making slight adjustments to his swing—lowering his leg kick and standing more upright in the box—and working on pitch recognition and selection to have fewer holes.
“Rowdy’s going to have a chance,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I’m a fan of Rowdy. He’s still a young kid. Some guys take a little longer, some guys do it faster. That’s above-average power that he’s got and you don’t find that everywhere, so Rowdy’s going to get a chance to make the club.” (A Brudnicki - MLB.com - Jan 24, 2020)