TORONTO –- Tim Mayza is leaned up against the soft blue railing of the Blue Jays dugout, about two hours before the first pitch of what will be an 8-1 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 29-year-old lefty doesn’t know how the game will go just yet, obviously, but he posted up on this railing with a big smile on his face. “It’s so fun to be part of a late-season push,” Mayza said. “We’re a resilient group. We’re a team that continues to claw back and to never give up.”
That last bit sounds a lot more like Mayza. On Sept. 13, 2019, the reliever that manager Charlie Montoyo calls “one of our MVPs” endured the most awful moment of his career. He threw a pitch to the New York Yankees but then fell to the ground, feeling a burning sensation in the arm. It was not just a torn tendon which required Tommy John surgery but also a complete tendon tear that took five months to heal.
But Mayza has made a comeback. “A lot has changed since then,” as he puts it, and that’s a big understatement. “Being a father, I went after my degree. And I’m healthy.”
Mayza became a dad in January to Everett, a little boy named Everett. In January, Mayza became a dad to Everett, a little boy named Everett. That last point is the most important as the Jays head down to the stretch with an eye towards a wild-card spot. Mayza has fully recovered from the injury which kept him out of the game for 2020.
Everyone in the Blue Jays organization knew Mayza had the talent to become Toronto’s reliable eighth-inning keep-us-going or get-us-out-of-this-jam guy, but nobody knew whether he’d be physically ready to take on the role.
“If he was healthy, there was always a chance he could get there because his movement on his fastball, it’s pretty good when he’s healthy,” Montoyo states. “But to do what he’s done? Oh yeah that’s tough to do what he’s done this year.”
“I don’t think anybody expected him to be so well rehabbed and competitive in spring (training),” adds bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. “I think if you told me he was healthy and himself, yeah I would’ve expected this. But I think that was a question mark. It wasn’t, would he be integral. It was, physically, would he be able to be integral?”
Mayza has proven to be integral, and to be the team’s “most consistent” bullpen arm, if you ask Buschmann. He can attack both left-handed and right-handed batters.
“He’s been going 18 months straight,” Buschmann says. “I don’t think you can say enough about what that says about him and his ability to be resilient and go through adversity, and oh, by the way, he also got his Masters degree and had a kid. It’s awesome. You root for people like that.”
Mayza is well-liked in these parts, it’s no surprise. “I love the guy,” Montoyo said. Catcher Reese McGuire says Mayza is among the team’s best chirpers, with a unique brand of subtlety and sarcasm. “He doesn’t fire off too much, but when he does, guys listen because he’s so hilarious,” McGuire says. Mayza will often slap his teammates if they are a few minutes late or even early for a bullpen session. “I tend to go after Jordan Romano the most,” Mayza smiles, “I pick on him a little bit.”
Buschmann claims that the bullpen is constantly in motion, with a lot of it being driven by Mayza. “You gotta be careful where you step, because he’s gonna let you have it. The running joke with him is he’s the crotchety chaperone that is keeping everyone in line. It’s kind of tongue and cheek, but also, yeah, it’s good to have someone paying attention to details and holding everyone accountable.”
A stickler for the rules, and a fun guy — it’s a rarity. “That’s what makes Tim special,” Buschmann says. “He’s an enigma and a paradox. It’s his ability to say, ‘Hey, we gotta do this,’ but also be light-hearted about it when people give it back to him.”
Mayza said that the light-heartedness surrounding baseball is even easier to find since he became a father. “It gives me perspective. You leave the field and now there’s a little one that I’m taking care of that is counting on me to help him out along the way,” Darian, his wife, has done most the heavy lifting, he said.
“I’ve been lucky to have them by my side most of the season,” he adds, since Everett and Darian were there for spring training, then moved to Buffalo, and are now splitting time between Toronto and Denver, Pa.
Mayza grew up in Allentown, Pa., and he comes from an athletic family: His dad played college basketball, his mom played soccer and his sister played pro basketball in Denmark and Lithuania. There’s pride in his voice when he talks about his family, the fact his sister is now a basketball coach. He was also a great basketball player. However, college baseball recruiting letters began to outnumber basketball recruitment letters when he was a sophomore in highschool (the same year that he threw his no-hitter). “That’s why I figured this was the path I wanted to choose,” He said.
Although it was a difficult road to reach the major leagues Mayza never lost sight of his goal. He continued to improve his delivery and kept trying new things. He is always improving himself, not just in his pitching. He was able to read more books about his favorite topics, leadership and building cultures, after he received his Masters in April. Right now he’s reading The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy. Legacy, What the All Blacks can Teach Us About Business of Life is a recent favorite.
The Jays’ culture, Mayza says, is top shelf. “We play loose, we play with a lot of fun and a lot of energy,” He said. “In the bullpen, you expect each and every guy to be prepared and to have one another’s back. There’s accountability and that’s great, and it’s what keeps us together through the ebbs and flows of the season.”
McGuire has watched Mayza rise to prominence this season and has seen many changes in his approach to baseball since then.
“He really took ownership of his recovery, he took ownership of his preparation,” McGuire says. “Whether he’s pitching that day or not, he’s always doing something for arm care. I’ve watched him a lot this year dissect how he wants to attack certain lineups. I watch him watching video of hitters, looking at numbers, stuff like that to prepare him for when he gets in the game, who he might face. He’s an all-around professional teammate, he’s a leader out of that bullpen, and we’re leaning on him heavy here down the stretch.”
McGuire can’t choose a favourite Mayza weapon. “He’s got 97 with the sinker and he’s got 91 with the slider. You can’t pick one,” After a session in the cage, the catcher laughs. “His stuff’s too good, it moves too much.”
Mayza’s 3.28 ERA has seen him throw more innings (49.1) than strikeouts (50). However, those numbers don’t reflect the quality of his pitching. After some early-season struggles, Mayza has posted a 1.51 ERA and is now one of the most trusted relievers on the team.
Mayza said that he was able to take a step back and make small adjustments in his mechanics to improve his delivery. “I think I’m seeing the best swings, and the results have been there,” He said. “It’s a testament to the staff and what we’ve changed over the past two years to get me to this point. It’s never a guarantee that your velo is going to come back, that the sharpness or consistency of the breaking ball is going to be there. I’ve been one of the fortunate ones where I think a lot of things have come back to normal.”
Or even better than the norm.
“You make it through what he’s made it through, what’s pitching in an eighth inning in a game?” Buschmann says. “I think that’s the difference. He’s got the confidence in himself, he believes in what he can do. Since 2019, he’s gotten better in a lot of different ways. You can see that in the way he carries himself.”
Mayza’s still grinning, still leaned up against the dugout. He’s excited for this game to get started.
“I feel great, I feel healthy,” He said. “Obviously some exciting stuff happening around here, right?”
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