For every struggling Blue Jays’ star like Vernon Wells, who seems to draw the constant and increasing ire of the fans at the Rogers Centre, there is a John McDonald, whose mere entry into a game as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement is greeted with a genuinely warm ovation. Even McDonald sheepishly can’t help but notice.
“I’m appreciative of it, but I would like to do more on the field to gain more of that,” McDonald said. “You hear so many ovations guys get when they’re playing well, what it can be like for Doc (Roy Halladay) coming off the field in the seventh inning, I’m standing cheering in the dugout. I know it’s special that the fans root for me to play well when I get out there. I definitely feel it in my work and preparation before a game.”
The 34-year-old utility man is batting .227 in 24 games, with 10 of those being as a pinch-runner. Yet he puts in a full day of work before games as if he was still a starter.
“I don’t want to disappoint,” he said. “I want to be as prepared as I was when I was playing every day, as it was five years ago up until last year. Right now I feel I want to bring the same attitude and intensity to my work so that when I do get an opportunity in the game and people do cheer for me that I’m able to do something special.”
Those chances to play have been few and far between for Johnny Mac. When he signed a two-year deal for $3.8 million US prior to the 2008 season, there was no one ahead of him on the depth chart. But he was always aware this day might come.
“I knew I wasn’t being paid as an everyday shortstop,” McDonald recalled. “I was rewarded as a high-paid utility player that can play every day. I was coming into a free-agent year so I had a little bit of leverage, but I didn’t get paid big dollars as an everyday shortstop. My relationship and the talks I had with (GM J.P. Ricciardi) were to that effect. (He said) we don’t necessarily want to sign you as an everyday player, but we don’t want to sign you as a utility player. It worked for both of us.”
McDonald is a well-funded insurance policy. He knows Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill have been healthy and performing well, limiting his playing time.
McDonald’s contract expires at the end of the season but he knows there will always be a market for defensive specialists in the middle of the infield. For proof, he looks at his friend and mentor Omar Vizquel, still playing for the Rangers into his 40s.
“I try not to look ahead,” he said. “The shortstop position has changed over the last couple of years, from more offensive to definitely more defensive. Teams can’t afford to have a shortstop that can’t catch the ball.”