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Danny Jansen.Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photo John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports/USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays are in the basement of the American League East, but catcher Danny Jansen has provided some bright moments – especially with his bat – since making a late start to the season last month after healing a wrist injury.

The 29-year-old is a veteran of the team. The Jays selected him in the 16th round out of Wisconsin’s Appleton West High School in 2013, then brought him up for his big-league debut in 2018. Jansen is known for something that baseball analytics don’t measure: a knack for cultivating relationships with teammates, especially the pitchers focusing on him behind the dish.

Before this baseball season began, Jansen took some time to sit down with The Globe in Dunedin, Fla.


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Marrying my wife, having our son Miles. Having a child has changed everything. For me and my wife, it’s a dream, having a family. In the offseason, I’m full-time dad, trying to make up the time lost during the season. All the credit to my wife for holding down the fort during the season. They’re able to be with me in Toronto for a little bit, which is great.

When are you happiest?

Spending family time, being with them wherever we are, at home, at a park and just seeing my kid smile.

You’re a football fan. Who is your team?

The Chicago Bears. I grew up 30 minutes away from Green Bay, in Wisconsin. I went to high school there and all my friends were Packers fans. [Teammate] Daulton Varsho is a Wisconsin guy, and he’s a Packers fan. But I was born in Chicago. My brother, who was seven years older, he was nine when we moved to Wisconsin. My mom, my dad, my brother – they’re all diehard Bears fans. So my family gave me a choice and I stuck with family and the Bears.

What are your earliest memories of throwing a ball?

It was with my dad. And my brother, growing up playing wiffle ball in the backyard. It was competitive between me and him, there he is seven years older than me but trying to get me out, which he did a lot of times. He toughened me up for sure, playing wiffle ball, or basketball in the pool. It got physical.

Who is a person you admire?

My dad. He delivered steel as a truck driver for 40-plus years. My brother and I were in baseball, and he would work nights, sleep a little bit, and then coach us, all the time. I think about that more now as a parent myself, as an adult, how unselfish that was. I admire the commitment, and what he sacrificed to share those memories and be a coach and be there for his kids.

It takes a combination of skills to be a good catcher, but what do you think is your defining characteristic?

I’ll tell you my favourite part about catching – it’s the relationship with the pitcher. Some of my best friends are pitchers. I’m always getting to know guys, what makes them tick on the mound, and off the field, too. I like building relationships. Communication is a huge part of being a catcher. I like to think I’m pretty good at it, all the communication, the body language, and being a presence for them. It’s like ‘hey, I’m going to do everything I can to get you through these innings.’

What’s been the most rewarding day of your career?

Getting called up to the big leagues. You dream of it when you’re a kid. It was during a game I was playing in Triple-A Buffalo, Aug. 11. I’d seen it happen in Triple A, like something happens up in the big leagues, they call down during a game and say ‘Hey, you got to take this guy out, because he’s coming up.’ So many times, the phone would ring and all of us would look around like ‘who’s it’s going to be?’ So this time it rings, the trainer gets it, tells the manager, then looks right at me, and my heart starts pounding. Sure enough, he comes to me and says ‘I’m pulling you out of the game, and you’re going to the major leagues and I don’t want to see you down here again.’ Bobby Meacham was my manager at the time in Triple A. He told me, then I went out and I called my parents, and my brother. I went to a spot in the batting cage and had some tears when I shared it with them. It was emotional and rewarding.

What’s been the toughest day of your career?

I’ve had a couple honestly. Maybe my broken finger last year. It was Sept.1 and obviously we were making another September push – the most important time of the year – and had the ball go off my finger. I had been feeling good, and the team was in a good spot, and September baseball is so much fun, making that push to the playoffs. So the fact that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates really stunk.

If not baseball, what career might have interested you?

I think about that all the time. Space is something that fascinates me. I like computers, too. I was a decent student, and math was always my favourite. Maybe computer science, or something related to space, or NASA.

What is your greatest regret?

Maybe not taking more Spanish classes in high school. I took two years of Spanish, but I wish I had paid more attention to it. It’s not like I realized then that I was going to be a major-league baseball player. But in professional baseball you play with guys from all over – Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela. You pick up a little being around it, but I wish I’d taken it the whole time and my Spanish might be better today.

What’s the hardest thing about being a professional baseball player?

I’m a family man, so it’s tough to be away from family all the time, but I would say the hardest part of baseball is the mental grind of playing every day, good, bad, no matter the outcome, you’re going to be playing another game. It’s also the good part of baseball – there’s always tomorrow. It’s the everyday wear and tear, the mental battles that you’ve got to conquer throughout the season. You’ve got to flip the switch fast and flush it. Like if I went 4-for-4, that’s amazing, and I’m happy, and then the next day you have to go put in the same amount of work and preparation, because it’s a totally new night. The preparation has to be constant, day in and day out, and it can be a grind physically and mentally. But it’s also really fun.

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