NEW YORK – As the Blue Jays venture into Yankee Stadium for an important three-game series with their foes in pinstripes, there are a number of storylines to latch on to before considering who will take the mound for Toronto on Tuesday night.
It's the first-place Blue Jays against the team closest to them in the American League East. Toronto enters the series with a four-and-a-half game lead on the Yankees.
It's another chance, the second of what will be as many as six, to wave goodbye to New York's future Hall of Fame shortstop, Derek Jeter. Here in New York, the dulcet voice of the late, great public address announcer, Bob Sheppard, brings No. 2 to the plate.
Jose Reyes is back in New York, too. He made his name over in Queens playing for the Mets.
R.A. Dickey is here but won't pitch. He won the Cy Young award two seasons ago on the other side of the city.
Oh, and don't forget about the Blue Jays' rookie's mound opponent on this Tuesday: a rookie himself, technically, the Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, who's dominated the early days of his major league career like he dominated for years back home.
Then there is Marcus Stroman. It's strange that this, essentially a homecoming for a young man raised in the Long Island town of Medford, is somewhat lost in the shuffle.
He's the 23-year-old who stunned general manager Alex Anthopoulos, blowing his bubble gum in the middle of his windup. The kid seems born for the spotlight, even if it will shine more brightly on others.
"I'm usually pretty good with dealing with things like that," Stroman said on Sunday. "I don't let anything get to me or get me overly excited or kind of get me out of my game. I'm fine. I'm in a good place mentally. I feel good going into it. I have kind of an off-day just to hang out with friends in the city and then it will be 'Game on' Tuesday."
Medford is a sleepy town, according to Stroman, more than an hour from New York City. It's closer to the upscale Hamptons, a drive of about 45 minutes. Medford has one high school, Patchogue-Medford High School, which Stroman attended before moving on to college at Duke University.
The town will awaken this evening. Many of its inhabitants, in fact, will venture to Yankee Stadium to watch the hometown boy pitch. Stroman has purchased up to 70 tickets for close family and friends. He said he's been told by another 50 or 60 people they've bought ducats. He'll have a throng of about 130 people here rooting him on.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to pitch in front of a bunch of family and friends, it's exciting," said Stroman. "I should have a lot of – a bunch of people texting me, bunch of friends from high school, college, a lot of people reaching out to me saying they're going to be at the game so that's always exciting to pitch in front of people who've been there along the way."
Stroman is 3-1 in his first year in the big leagues, 2-1 as a starter. He's gone six innings in each of his first three starts, losing his last outing against the Twins. In two of those appearances, including the Minnesota defeat, he didn't walk a batter.
He has impressed with his fastball. His breaking stuff, particularly his curveball, has baffled opposing hitters. He's developing his changeup.
He's not developing confidence. He already has it. His coaches brag about it.
"I certainly don't see him as a guy who's going to nibble and pitch around guys," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "He's definitely on the attack. His walks have been down and I would like to think that that's going to continue with him. He certainly trusts his stuff. There's no doubt about that."
Growing up, Stroman went to Yankees games at the old stadium and saw the Mets at Shea. He didn't cheer for either team. He admired players. Like most native New Yorkers, he watched Jeter in awe.
On Tuesday night, he'll pitch to Jeter. He doesn't know what to expect.
"I can't even tell you," said Stroman. "I'm sure it'll settle in once I'm kind of on the mound but I'm pretty sure it will be surreal."