Tim Mayza can be a little particular, but no one's holding it against him.
Earnest about rules and keen on the details, Mayza has conquered injuries, finished post-grad and emerged as one of the Toronto Blue Jays' most valuable relievers. The 29-year-old's penchant for discipline has been key to his success on the mound, in the clubhouse and beyond.
"Preparation is what goes into being confident," said Mayza. "But yeah, I can be a bit of a stickler."
The lefty doesn't mind the label. Despite his endearing notoriety as the cranky guy who will nag you about dress codes and punctuality, Mayza stands out as a welcoming, fluid point of reference within the Blue Jays.
Add a dash of gallows humour to those qualities and you get a natural leader within a young team still finding its footing.
"He's the one and only Tim Mayza," said Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. "He always has things he needs to get off his chest. It’s like, 'Tim, what’s bothering you today?' And it’s in jest, but it’s funny and he plays it perfectly.
"He just fits. He’s one of those guys that his personality fits perfectly within our group."
Mayza was a 12th-round selection of the Blue Jays in 2013. After paying his dues in the minors for four seasons, he's gained space and comfort in the big leagues, standing out in a bullpen that is filled with different personalities.
For Buschmann, Mayza's disposition is reminiscent of a very specific reality TV star.
"Everyone in the bullpen, I kind of compare it, because my wife watches it a lot, but it's like a Real Housewives show," said Buschmann. "Everyone has their own personalities. ... Tim's a little bit of Lisa Vanderpump. The one that people tend to look to and kind of just go 'you can’t do that. That’s something you can’t do.'"
It seems fitting that the 60-year-old British lady Buschmann compared Mayza to was so popular in the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that she later got her own show — Vanderpump Rules.
"Tim is one of my best buddies in the bullpen," said Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano. "He keeps it light, he’s really funny. I think he’s one of the team’s favourites."
Mayza's performance surely helps to keep things light. He has a 3.40 ERA and 0.978 WHIP as a high-leverage reliever, along with 46 strikeouts over 45 innings. In the lefty's last outing — a Blue Jays win against the New York Yankees on Monday — he needed just nine pitches to get three outs, posting a strikeout, a groundout and a flyout in a very quick bottom of the eighth.
His primary weapons have been a sinker and a slider, which generate plenty of swings and misses with their treacherous movement.
Through discipline and preparation, however, Mayza still finds the time for the fun stuff in baseball.
The reliever spent between 10 and 15 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures with young fans ahead of the Blue Jays' game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday at Rogers Centre, still on the field way after everyone else had already headed back to the locker room.
"(Mayza) will come in all crotchety, but at the end of the day he is very attentive," said Buschmann." You kind of see who they are based on how they treat people around them. And he’s very kind and understands everyone else and the work, the job they have. He’s not self-absorbed in that sense, so it’s really cool to see someone like that.
"Which is really cool for other people to see as well."
How do we describe Tim Mayza's past 2 years?
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 10, 2021
Mayza knows better than most how significant it is to be back at a ballpark.
"It means more now," he said. "Seeing what the fans have gone through for two years, with COVID, and the long journey to get back here for them. And a little bit for me as well. I kind of missed that fan interaction while in recovery and rehab. But seeing what the sports world had to go through for the past couple of years, it means a little bit more now."
Mayza had been gaining steam after reaching the majors in 2017. He worked on the effectiveness of his slider and two-seam fastball and started seeing more and more high-leverage innings with the rebuilding Blue Jays.
Then, he suffered a gruesome tear in his left elbow in September 2019, which required Tommy John surgery and a 19-month recovery.
"You go through that journey and there’s a lot of unknown of what’s it going to be like," said Mayza. "Is the velocity going to come back? Is the stuff going to come back?"
In the midst of so much uncertainty, resolve and resilience once again came into play.
"It was gut-wrenching," said Buschmann. "What happened, and just the severity of it, I’m sure was very daunting. ... And what he did, which I think is awesome, was find ways to take his mind off of that. He got his master's and there were so many other things he was doing that allowed him to just focus on the arm and the recovery when he was in it — and not think about it 24/7 outside of it. Credit to him for how he went through it."
Mayza used his recovery time to get a master's degree in Sports Management with Ohio University, all while maintaining a constant line of communication with the Blue Jays and garnering as much information as possible on the recovery process.
As he and Romano rose through the ranks side by side in the Blue Jays organization, Mayza had a friend to count on during that span.
"He asked me questions, because I’d been through it," said Romano, who underwent Tommy John in 2015. "I told him, it’s not going to be easy, but you just gotta stick with it every day. Your arm is not going to feel great when you come back, but you just gotta work through it. And that’s exactly what he’s doing."
While the club just wanted to make sure Mayza was healthy for the 2021 season, the lefty exceeded every expectation. Now, as the Blue Jays try to gain ground in an intense wild-card race, the homegrown product is embracing the responsibility.
"A team takes a chance on you and you want to make it up with that club," Mayza said. "It's great to be a Blue Jay, it’s great to be here and it’s great to be around a fun group of guys that we have. And hopefully the performance keeps going."
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