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Jerry Sullivan: Bisons' Devon Travis sees beyond the numbers

Devon Travis says he's never been one for statistics. Oh, he understands that stats are an essential and inescapable part of the baseball ethos. But he also knows that obsessing about the numbers can drive a player to distraction.

"Let's not be foolish about it," Travis said Sunday morning before the Bisons' 6-1 win over Syracuse at Coca-Cola Field. "If you look up at the scoreboard and you're hitting .300, it's a better feeling than hitting .150. But it's just something I've never looked at, because it's easy to get caught up in letting your stats dictate how you feel on and off the field.

"This game of baseball, as you know, it's such a game of failure that it can really eat you alive."

The numbers can chew you up inside if you let them. They can also tell a story. In Travis' case, it's a tale of the rising star he once was, and the player he hopes to be once again.

In his first two years as a big-leaguer in 2014-15, Travis played 163 games for the Blue Jays. He hit .302 with 189 hits, 46 doubles, 19 homers, 85 RBIs and 92 runs scored. Over a full season, those would be numbers worthy of an all-star.

The thing was, he did it over two seasons. Travis was the AL rookie of the month in April of 2015. In May, he injured his shoulder when he was hit by a line drive. He came back, reinjured the shoulder and was shut down in September. He wound up having two surgeries for a rare condition known as Os acromiale.

Travis missed the first two months of the 2016 season while rehabbing the shoulder. The second baseman hit .300 to help Toronto reach the postseason. He hurt his knee early in the playoffs and had surgery after the season to repair cartilage.

Last year, after a miserable start, Travis hit .364 in May and set a Jays record for extra-base hits in a month by a second baseman. Five days into June, he hurt his right knee again and underwent surgery to end his season.

Travis signed a one-year, $1.45 million deal and returned to the Jays this spring, his knee healed. The Jays, determined not to push him too hard, decided to sit him out every third day. But he struggled again in April. In 18 games, Travis hit .148. On April 29, he was optioned to Buffalo.

Some players would be resentful and mope after a demotion. Travis, in his fourth stint with the Bisons in four years, arrived with a perpetual smile and a determination to be a positive force for the team.

"He's been great," said Bisons manager Bobby Meacham. "He's doing his job and in the meantime helping those around him, being part of this team."

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Travis, who is 5-foot-9, knows no other way. He wasn't drafted out of high school in West Palm Beach, Fla. His parents, Tony and Tammy, raised their three children to be resilient in the face of life's inevitable challenges and disappointments.

"My dad was a detective for 30 years with the Palm Beach County sheriff's office," Travis said. "My mom is a nurse. They didn't play. I had to do things the right way and, yeah, I'm very thankful for all the tough days, that's for sure. Life can throw a lot of things at you."

He grew up as a player and person at Florida State and was drafted in the 13th round by the Tigers in 2012. Travis shot through the system, crushing the ball at every stop. But Detroit traded him in November of 2014 for outfielder Anthony Gose (who later switched to pitcher).

Travis has always hit – his health permitting, of course. He has been slow to come around with the Bisons, though. he's batting .217 (5-for-23) after going 1-for-4 on Sunday. He made two fabulous defensive plays against the Chiefs, ranging to his right behind the second-base bag to take away hits.

On Saturday, he led off and had two hits for the Bisons, who have won a season-high four straight. Per the parent club's orders that he sit out once every three games, Travis will likely sit out Monday's game.

There will come a time when Travis is deemed ready to play every day. He grudgingly accedes to the limited playing time. He knows it takes time for an athlete to dispel the notion that he's injury-prone.

"It's not easy," he said. "But I get it. I understand that with my past and the team trying to take care of me that it's part of their plans. I'm good with it if it's for the best. When you're continuously going through stuff, no one cares to understand or hear why or how it's happening.

"Until I go out there and play a full season, it's something I'll have to live with."

He has learned to be patient. All the lost time has reminded him how precious a baseball career can be, and to treasure the time that he has.

"For sure," Travis said. "You got to appreciate every day in this game. First off, it's a day you're never going to get back. So to be able to put on a uniform and go out there and play baseball and call it your job, it's something you can never take for granted.

"Better never forget it, because it can be gone quick."

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