Maple Leafs pitcher overcomes adversity

ALL THE RIGHT ANGLES: Toronto Maple Leafs pitcher Drew Taylor recovered from a small rotator cuff tear and bicep tendonitis, fighting hard to better his game even though his velocity slowed down.

Drew Taylor adapts by adding curves, sliders to arsenal

Drew Taylor’s journeys across America in the minor league affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies have matured him into a stronger, more cerebral pitcher.

It’s been five years since the Bennington Heights southpaw and son of major leaguer Ron Taylor last spoke with the Town Crier. At that time, June 2006, he had just signed a contract with Toronto Blue Jays.

Plenty has transpired, leading him on an unexpected path back to his hometown with Intercounty Baseball’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

“My approach to baseball has changed a fair bit throughout my career,” he said. “When I was a senior in high school … I was pretty much a power pitcher.”

Reaching speeds of 93 and 94 miles per hour, his velocity was his main weapon, throwing four-seam and two-seam fastballs, then throwing in the occasional changeup to throw batters.

But bicep tendonitis and a small rotator cuff tear during his draft year at University of Michigan threatened his major league career.

What his injury taught him though, was velocity and speed didn’t mean the world.

“Really being able to read a hitter and set up a hitter so that you’re throwing a pitch he’s least expecting,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you kind of learn along the way and those are things I really had to get better at especially when my fastball wasn’t quite what it used to be.”

Though it seemed to be the worst timing, Taylor overcame his adversity.

“I stayed at Michigan, I kept pitching there,” he said. “The next year it turned out to be a blessing because I got to win a Big Ten championship as their team captain, which is a phenomenal experience.”

That was 2006, and after stints with Pulaski Blue Jays, Auburn Doubledays, Traverse City Beach Bums as well as in Philadelphia’s farm system, Taylor returned home to play in the Intercounty Baseball League.

In addition to sating his diamond dreams, Taylor has been able to pick up the stethoscope again. He graduated from Michigan with a masters degree in molecular cell development biology.

Now attending U of T, he’s specializing in cartilage tissue engineering. He’s candid, saying his injury was a blessing in disguise.

“It’s one of those things where if my baseball career had gone on much longer, I would have lost those opportunities to become a physician,” he said. “That would have been more of a tragedy than becoming a big league ballplayer.”

During the day, Taylor can be found working away at Mount Sinai Hospital, and also doing charity work with girlfriend and former Miss Universe Canada, Elena Semikina through Strike Out Cancer.

Though he admits he didn’t accomplish all his goals, being back home, mellowing out and watching baseball with his father, who is still the Blue Jays’ physician, is in his biology.

“I’ve got a big leaguer at my disposal to teach me things while I’m sitting around lying on the couch watching the game,” he said, with a laugh. “There definitely were some expectations and it was very tough to deal with when I had my arm injury.

“A lot of people thought the natural progression would be to follow in my father’s footsteps and pitch professionally.”

But now rounding third base, Taylor’s homerun will be attending med school.

“I’ve been doing it in the off-seasons all along for the past four years,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity getting my baseball fix in.”

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