Thirty years apart, the Kansas City Royals twice played the foil to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last year, it was the Royals who ousted the Blue Jays in Game Six of the American League Championship Series, before going on to win the World Series.
In 1985, the series went to Game Seven but the Royals still bested the Blue Jays en route to that year’s World Series win.
Did it feel like déjà vu for Jesse Barfield?
“It really did and they were just as scrappy as they were back in ’85,” said the former All-Star outfielder who was at Coca-Cola Field on Sunday afternoon as the Bisons hosted their fourth Blue Jays weekend. “That’s a good ball club in K.C. They could have easily been back-to-back world champions. But the Jays did great last year. They haven’t gotten hot yet.
“I think really they have a chance to really do some damage this year. No one’s really tearing it up yet. When the weather changes, they have a lot of sluggers in that lineup. From being a former guy that drives the baseball, it’s harder in cold weather. Not to make excuses but when I sweat, it’s on.”
What’s not on for the Blue Jays is living up to the expectations. At least not through the first two months of the season. Again, Barfield knows something about this first hand. Expectations were high for the Blue Jays after that 1985 season. They didn’t quite live up to the hype, finishing 9½ games behind Boston in the AL East.
But Barfield excelled with the hype. He had his best season in the majors, leading the American League with 40 home runs (then a club record) while driving in 108 runs. He was an All-Star and won a Golden Glove and a Silver Slugger in 1985.
The key was not letting success or expectations change his approach to the game.
“Well, from a personal standpoint, I really didn’t try to do anything different,” Barfield said. “I had my best year of my career the next year. I just tried to go out there and do what the situation called for and nothing more. I know sometimes hitters tend to get a little big with their swing and when that happens, when you live with the long ball, sometimes it gets you in trouble.”
Bisons outfielder and Mississauga, Ont., native Dalton Pompey was born in 1992. He has no memory of Barfield or of the powder blue throwback jerseys the Herd wore for Blue Jays weekend. He hasn’t watched much video of the slugger or of his classic, powerful throws to nab base runners when they least expected it.
But he does know Barfield, having worked with him a few years ago on hitting, learning from “experiences he went through, what worked for him, taking little things that could work for me as well,” Pompey said. “I just liked what he was teaching. I went down there to experiment and it definitely helped.”
Pompey is hitting .255 this season, going 0 for 4 with a strikeout in Sunday’s 2-1 Bisons win over Pawtucket.
“What I’ve seen from Dalton, the thing he needed to do was really work on transferring his weight,” Barfield said. “He seems to have been doing a lot better.
“Sometimes when the hitter is in a mental or physical slump they get a little careful,” Barfield said. “They look for that ball in a teacup. You’re not going to get out of a slump or any funk being too careful. You have to attack the baseball and trust your eyes. Because your eyes will tell you ‘No. Don’t swing at it.’ But if you’re trying to be too careful, that ball’s going to be in the mitt before you know it and that’s no way to get out of it. You have to really get aggressive on offense. You have to really attack the baseball. Stay on the outer part and trust your hands inside and be on time.”
And when the offense wasn’t there for Barfield, there was always defense. Defense was pride. Defense was a commitment not just for him but with outfielders George Bell and Lloyd Moseby.
“Seriously if we weren’t getting anything offensively we felt we weren’t giving up anything either,” Barfield said. “A guy robs you, please hit it my way. I want to get you back.
“Defensively I don’t think people realized how much we were into the games. You play a guy straight up, he gets ahead in the count, I look over to George and Lloyd and we’re all shifting over to pull at the same time. He gets behind in the count and I look over and we’re all going, it’s like synchronized swimming. We’re all moving over at the same time. We were that much into every pitch. That’s how much we were focused and trying to be the best out there. That’s how you win a lot of ball games.”