In all honesty, it was a little weird for Darin Mastroianni.
For the last two years he had been a familiar visitor to Coca-Cola Field as an outfielder and slugger for the Rochester Red Wings. Saturday he made his downtown Buffalo debut as a member of the Bisons.
That pre-game awkwardness quickly disappeared. Mastroianni doubled twice and scored two runs to help the Herd to a 6-2 win over the Louisville Bats in front of a few hundred hardy fans.
Claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays, Mastroianni was optioned to the Buffalo Bisons while the team was finishing its four-game series on the road against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
On the bus ride home from Moosic, Pa., the 28-year old started thinking about his Coca-Cola Field debut as a member of Herd.
“It’s definitely different. It’s weird,” Mastroianni said. “I was thinking about this last night when we were driving home. I’ve actually played the majority of my games in Triple-A in either Buffalo or Rochester. It’s a little bit weird being on the other side of the field and sitting on the first-base side.”
It’s a mix of fresh start and full circle for Mastroianni. He started his professional career with the Blue Jays organization as a 2007 draft pick by Toronto. He spent much of 2009 and 2010 with Double-A New Hampshire. In 2011 he advanced to Triple-A playing for the Blue Jays affiliate in Las Vegas, making his major league debut in August with the Jays.
Toronto put him on waivers. He was claimed by Minnesota and played for both the Twins and the Rochester in 2012.
Then came 2013, a season Mastroianni would like to forget.
It started the last week of spring training when he fouled a ball off his shin. He originally thought it was a bone bruise. It wasn’t. It was stress fracture that turned into an actual fracture requiring surgery. But the device installed to help heal and set the bone moved as Mastroianni pushed to get off the disabled list. He ended up splitting another bone that required another surgery in October.
“Last year was a disaster. I just couldn’t stay on the field,” said Mastroianni, who played 45 games between the Twins and Red Wings. “I got back to the big leagues in September and was still kind of banged up. I wasn’t playing that much and the ankle wasn’t right.”
After his second surgery came the rehabilitation process.
“Before I could strengthen, I had to get the flexibility back and that was hard to do,” he said. “When we did, then we started to get the strength back and mobility in my ankle.
“Then it was a matter of getting out on the field and playing. Once I got to spring training and I got a chance to play consistently, I think just running around started to strengthen it even more baseball-wise. Then by the time we left camp, I felt I was 100 percent for the first time since 2012.”
He had an impressive start this season in Rochester, batting .450 while driving in two runs in four games. That earned him a quick promotion to Minnesota where he had only 11 at-bats in seven games. Designated for assignment, he was claimed by Toronto. The fresh start came with some sense of familiarity, particularly with general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
“It’s the same organization in a lot of ways,” Mastroianni said. “Alex was there when I was with Toronto before, so when he called me, it wasn’t the first time I spoke to him. It is kind of a new start and a new situation for me. I’m excited. It’s always fun when someone wants you. For them to go out and get me this way, you know they want you here. It’s a good feeling.”
Mastroianni doubled in the fourth and crossed the plate on a single by Dan Johnson to score the first run of the game and kick-start a four-run inning for the Herd.
He doubled again in the fifth and scored on a single by Chris Getz that extended the Herd’s lead to 5-0.
“We haven’t had Mastroianni that long,” said Bisons manager Gary Allenson. “I don’t think he’s played a lot, so I think he finally got his timing down. I was really impressed with the double he hit into right center, his second hit. He stayed back and just flipped his hands at it and got it in the gap there. To get him rolling … will be important and make it easier on us.”