Monday, April 30, 2012

The curious case of Brian Jeroloman

Here is the meat of my baseball column in the New Hampshire Sunday News:

Catcher Brian Jeroloman, a three-time All-Star with the Fisher Cats, paid his dues for six seasons in the minors before fulfilling a lifelong dream – sort of. In August, Jeroloman was called up by the Blue Jays but never played. He warmed up pitchers and earned big-league meal money for five weeks, not once entering a game as defensive replacement or pinch hitter.

Fans began to wonder. On Twitter, they made predictions on when he might finally make his major-league debut, creating a mock “Jero” pool. Was it a discipline issue? No. Was he hurt? How could he get hurt if he never played in a game? Jeroloman, an outgoing New Yorker who could talk a dog off a meat wagon, only offers a “no comment” when asked about the circumstances involved with riding the pine.

Jeroloman spent 37 days on the active roster with Toronto yet his 2012 baseball card shows no sign of reaching The Show. A former prospect, Jeroloman now serves as a backup catcher behind 22-year-old standout A.J. Jimenez. So what is the story behind the phantom big leaguer? (Isn’t the suspense killing you?) Yes, it was injury. Jeroloman suffered from a hand or wrist injury but everything was kept hush-hush, according to some Blue Jays teammates.

“He had the hand issue,” said lefty Brett Cecil, who first played with Jeroloman at Double-A New Hampshire in 2008. “It was tough to watch him not play, I’ve been with him for a long time, and I want to see him succeed … The type of guy Brian is, he handled probably better than anybody ever would. He is very professional about everything he does.”

J.P. Arencibia told me Jero was hurt and couldn't play. Fisher Cats reliever Danny Farquhar, who spent last September with the Blue Jays, said he knows the full story behind the curious case of Jeroloman but can’t say. “It’s supposed to be a secret,” he said.

Jeroloman, 26, has started only four games for the Fisher Cats this season. The former Florida Gator hasn’t hit for average, batting .071, but his defensive skills (specifically receiving, throwing and footwork) have been sharper than ever. He threw out three would-be base stealers in a home game against New Britain. Jeroloman may have been sent down to Double-A to start this season, but it could a blessing disguise while working under manager Sal Fasano, a long-time backup catcher in the majors.

“I have been with the Blue Jays for seven years, and it feels like I’ve learned more from Sal Fasano in one month than I have learned in seven years,” said Jeroloman, who caught Kyle Drabek’s no-hitter on July 4, 2010 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Asked about serving in a backup role, Jeroloman said, “A.J. Jimenez has a very bright future as a catcher and if there is any way I can help him, I’m glad to do so.”

Fasano has been there before.

“I see a guy who is a great worker and is just taking another step trying to get back to the big leagues. (Jeroloman) understands his role. A lot of times in development, you think playing every day is what you need. Well, there are other times when you have to learn how to play once a week,” Fasano said.

One has to admire Jeroloman’s attitude and work ethic. Last fall, he was an active big leaguer (sort of). Today he’s a backup Double-A catcher with only 14 at-bats this season. "This game can knock you down. It’s all about how quickly you get back up,” he said.


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