Weeks ago, Marcus Stroman posted an admission on his Twitter account that read: "Chip on my shoulder. Doing everything they said I couldn't …"
For something more permanent, he went with a tattoo high on his chest near his right shoulder. It shows a poker chip. Written inside it are the words "Critics Doubters & Haters." Outside the chip: "Height Doesn't Measure Heart."
For Stroman, those are words that stand tall. They are not only trademarked by the Toronto Blue Jays' 5-foot-8 pitcher, they are the essence of who he is, why he's so good and what has made him that way. It's a topic he embraces on a January stopover in Calgary, where he and three of his teammates have come to promote baseball as part of the Blue Jays' Winter Tour.
The tour's message is aimed largely at kids, advising them to never give up on their dreams, no matter what others say. It's an easy pitch for Stroman. Last season, his rookie campaign, Stroman was among the Jays' best starters. His six-pitch arsenal made it tough on opposing batters who were still trying to get a read on him.
In a game against the Boston Red Sox, Stroman had a no-hitter going until the seventh inning.
He finished the season with an 11-6 record, and adds much hope for 2015. Not bad for a guy who was told by one online hack he wasn't good enough to line the fields at Duke University. (All he did at Duke was win the Atlantic Conference's top freshman award and play second base when he wasn't on the mound.)
"[At Duke], I wasn't just short, I was 'superundersized,'" Stroman said of the taunts hurled his way. "When I started in the minors, I was told I can't hold up, that I would have too many injuries. Have coaches tried to change the way I throw? All my life."
If you scour the Internet, you can find opinions and reports saying height really isn't that big a deal for a pitcher. But you can also find scientific data and baseball types arguing the opposite – the taller the pitcher, the more leverage and velocity he has. Throwing over the top, the taller pitcher's throws will travel to home plate at a steeper angle.
The American Sports Medicine Institute once calculated that a 6-foot-4 pitcher with a longer stride will release the ball as much as 20 centimetres closer to the plate, giving the batter less time to react. That's why we're seeing things such as this: On their 40-man active roster, the New York Yankees have three pitchers listed at 6 foot 7 and two at 6 foot 8. That's like the starting five for the Knicks.
"I've had coaches who have tried to change the way I pitch," said fellow Blue Jay Aaron Sanchez, who stands 6 foot 4 and lives with Stroman during the season and off-season. "I think [Stroman's] mentality and how he pitches a game is what's important. We talk about what pitches for what hitters. We're always trying to get better."
Whatever Stroman lacks in leverage and pitching angles, he has more than enough confidence to win the day. The idea he could do whatever he wanted as an athlete was preached to him by his father, Earl, a Suffolk County detective. He told his son to concentrate on what he wanted to accomplish.
"My dad said, 'Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something,'" Stroman said. "I'm not arrogant or cocky. I know I have enough confidence for me and everyone around me."
Yet whenever he needs a jolt of self-assurance, Stroman will read the e-mails and tweets that bashed him and his stature. Originally, he would print the chat-room barbs and read them before every game he started. Now, he has stored many of them on his phone. That can get him "fuelled up," he acknowledged, but not to the point of ruining what works for him.
"One of the important things is being yourself," Sanchez said. "Marcus is always himself; he never changes. It doesn't matter if he's a starter or a reliever. He goes out and he pitches the best he can."
Of course, Stroman will have to show his stuff all over again when the season begins anew. At the first sign of trouble, the doubters will doubt, the haters will spew. None of that, however, will catch Stroman by surprise. He has his dreams all mapped out, with his trademarked mantra – Height Doesn't Measure Heart – leading the charge.
"I want to be a main component in leading the team to the playoffs," he said. "Obviously the goal is to win a ring, and our team is pretty special right now. We have a really explosive lineup. If we stay healthy, who knows what we're capable of?"