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A’s fans may still be coming to grips with the trade of Josh Donaldson, but his replacement sounds ready to embrace Oakland as his new baseball home.
Brett Lawrie addressed Bay Area media for the first time Monday, on the heels of Friday’s blockbuster trade that sent him and three others from the Toronto Blue Jays to the A’s in exchange for Donaldson.
A once blue-chip prospect whose career so far has been derailed by injuries, Lawrie said he’s looking forward to turning the page and getting a fresh start in green and gold. And he doesn’t view the prospect of replacing Donaldson, the A’s best player and a fan favorite, as a burden.
“I can’t look at it like that,” said Lawrie, who turns 25 in January. “I need to go out there and be me. You can’t fill someone’s shoes, and I’m sure that’s not what’s expected of me. I’m gonna be me and go about my daily business. If I can go do that and stay on the field, I’m gonna be a help to this team and feel like I have a lot to contribute.”
Though Lawrie saw some time at second base last season, he said A’s officials have told him he’ll be the regular at third base, where he’s spent most of his three-plus big league seasons.
The question is whether he can stay on the field.
Lawrie has missed 184 games over the past three seasons due to an assortment of injuries. Most problematic have been oblique strains that have sidelined him for periods in each of those seasons. He’s also suffered finger fractures that put him on the shelf in 2011 and last season, and ankle and rib injuries in 2013.
He’s a .265 career hitter who has never hit more than 12 home runs or driven in more than 48 in one season. But Lawrie also has never played more than 125 games. He feels more time in the lineup will lead to more production.
“It’s just about staying healthy and getting a substantial amount of playing time and going through a full season,” he said. “Some things I can’t control. (Injuries are) a part of the game. That’s how it goes. The beautiful thing is those things are in the past. I’m moving forward.”
Lawrie arrived in the majors as a sports darling of his native land. Born in British Columbia, he was drafted 16th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 – the highest a Canadian position player ever was taken. He was traded to Toronto for pitcher Shaun Marcum before the 2011 season, and his big league debut with the Blue Jays in August of that year was met with great hype.
Lawrie grew up loving and playing baseball – and soccer, and even golf. But he never fell in love with hockey, unlike so many kids north of the border.
“My family was not a huge hockey family,” he said. “It’s like baseball -- you gotta do it from a young age.“
A’s fans might remember Lawrie jacking a grand slam off Oakland reliever Craig Breslow in 2011. Lawrie jumped in the air as he rounded first and continued a demonstrative celebration in the dugout. Some in the Oakland clubhouse thought it a bit excessive coming from a fresh-faced rookie.
That could be chalked up as youthful exuberance from a then-21 year old. But Lawrie drew some unwanted attention in 2012 when he blew his top after a called third strike and slammed his helmet, which then bounced and hit home plate umpire Bill Miller. Lawrie earned a four-game suspension.
Yet his emotion pours out in other ways too. After Friday’s trade, he sent a heart-felt tweet to Canadian fans, thanking them for their support.
“It’s not every day a Canadian plays for a Canadian team,” Lawrie said Monday. “It was a lot of fun for me. Everyone had my back from Day 1. … There’s been ups and there’s been downs, I learned from every single one of them. I wouldn’t change anything I did in Toronto. I’ve learned from it and become a better man.”
Now he just wants to be a healthier player. Some of his injuries have been bad luck. A bad-hop batting practice grounder bounced up and broke a finger in 2011. In 2013, his spike got caught on the bag on a slide into second and he sprained an ankle.
But Lawrie also believes getting away from the hard artificial turf at the Rogers Center – a surface that A’s players sometimes complain about when they play in Toronto – will benefit him physically.
“I really do feel that the turf had a lot to do with” the injuries, Lawrie said. “My body is wound tight. Being a high-energy guy, a quick-twitch guy, I’m wound tight. … When I’m on the road on the grass, I feel better. Then I get back to five or six games on that stuff, my body gets thrown for a loop. I think this is a big step for me toward staying healthy.”