It was a dazzling rise in the summer of 2014. Dalton Pompey, the kid who grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, began the season in Class-A Dunedin. He climbed the organizational ladder, going to Double-A New Hampshire to Triple-A Buffalo to fulfilling every baseball kid's dream – making his Major League debut for his hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
The outfielder with good defensive instincts, good hitting skills and wicked speed on the bases had arrived at age 21.
The next season, he was on the Blue Jays' Opening Day roster. He was living the dream. Or so he thought.
The rookie played 23 games at the start of the season for the Blue Jays, batting just .193 in 83 at-bats while committing several miscues in the outfield. The Canadian golden boy was struggling and went back to the minor leagues.
It was a failure. And there was hurt and disappointment at the time. But Pompey was able to use the experience to grow – as person and a player.
"It kinda caught up to me because the big leagues is so much about performing and I wasn't really performing right away," Pompey said. "It was kind of wearing on me. I was doing so well and I hit that failure and I didn't know how to handle it. That was a couple years ago. I'm a different guy now. I've just got to wait for my next opportunity."
His next opportunity already arrived.
After 10 games with the Buffalo Bisons where he hit .244 (10 for 41), including two doubles and one home run, drove in five runs, and stole five bases, Pompey earned a promotion to Toronto on May 4. In two games with the Blue Jays he has two hits.
"This guy could win a battling title," Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said of the switch-hitting Pompey last week. "He's a good hitter. He's a really good hitter. I think he uses the whole field, both sides of the plate. He's a little bit better from the left side it looks like, more comfortable from the left side. But he's got a great approach at the plate. As a base stealer he's outstanding. And with his speed he runs down balls in the outfield. … The sky's the limit for him."
The sky may be the limit, but Pompey has learned not to put a timetable on his career. He's spreading the message to the young prospects in the Blue Jays organization who are eager to reach the big leagues, much like he was a few years ago when he was a hot up-and-coming prospect.
"A lot of them want to get to the big leagues really fast and obviously I got there really quickly and you want to be ready when you go," Pompey said. "I tell them all the time that if you get there at 20 versus you get there at 23 but you stay there, which one would you want? Well, I want to stay. Well, that couple extra years, honestly you don’t want to go through it but it can mean the world of difference so when you get there you're ready."
Getting ready means not just dealing with on-field failure but injury setbacks. And Pompey is well-versed in that area as well. He injured his right wrist in a spring training game doing one of the things he does best – sliding into a base. At first, he thought the soreness would clear up. It didn't. That landed the 25-year-old outfielder on the disabled list to start the season.
But Pompey's disappointment was mild. Even after missing all but 13 games last season with two major injuries – a concussion sustained in the World Baseball Classic followed by a knee injury in Buffalo – Pompey was optimistic about his health despite the setback early in the season.
Sure there was a little bit of the here-we-go-again thinking that crept into Pompey's consciousness. But it didn't last.
"I knew I had a solution. There was an end in mind," Pompey said. "When I had the concussion, when I had the knee injury, it was kinda so up in the air. I didn't know when I'd come back, what was going to happen. This time, I kinda had a guideline for that so I knew I would be back and I just prepared for that."
It wasn't just that the injury rehabilitation protocol was more straightforward this time. It was also that Pompey had matured. He had a meteoric rise in the Blue Jays organization followed by a crash. A year nearly completely away from playing the game allowed Pompey to develop perspective. He learned how to deal with failure and disappointment. He learned how to appreciate the game. And he kept his impressive skills in the outfield, at the plate, and on the base paths.
"For me, the lesson was just not to take anything for granted because it could be taken away just as quickly as it's given," Pompey said last week in Buffalo. "Just try to have fun. I don't know how long this is going to last so I’m going to enjoy every moment while I can whether I'm here, whether I'm in Toronto, whatever. It's about coming out here and enjoying my teammates and just competing."