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Blue Jays' Eric Sogard offers major league advice to former Bisons teammates

Eric Sogard was promoted from the Buffalo Bisons to the Blue Jays last week, allowing the veteran major league infielder to join the big league club in time to contribute to a three-game series sweep of his former team, the Oakland Athletics.

Sogard, who has batted leadoff for Toronto since being called up, swallowed his pride and opened the season with Triple-A Buffalo after signing a minor league contract during the offseason. In his first few days with the Bisons, the second baseman offered an enlightened perspective that doubled as a lesson for the team’s top prospects, one they should keep in mind when they get their shot at the major league level.

“I see it as the same old game,” Sogard said recently in the Bisons clubhouse. “It’s the same game we’ve been playing our whole lives, whether it’s up there or down here. You’re still playing the game that we love, and sometimes you’ve just got to be grateful you still have a uniform to put on and get after it.

“I think that’s the thing that hopefully they can recognize when they get up there, is that, ‘Hey, it’s the same game that you’ve been playing your whole life.’ It’s not something different up there, which guys, it can have that kind of effect on them.”

Sogard, who turns 33 in May, has played parts of nine seasons in the majors over the last 10 years.

The San Diego Padres drafted him out of Arizona State with a second-round pick in 2007, but he made his major league debut with the A’s. He played his first six big league seasons in Oakland and became the team’s starting second baseman in 2013.

Sogard missed the 2016 season with neck and knee injuries and spent the last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, who released him after an ineffective and injury-plagued 2018.

This season, Sogard appeared in nine games for the Bisons prior to his promotion to the Blue Jays. He produced a .267 batting average with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs in 30 at-bats. He also drew seven walks and scored seven runs.

Coincidentally, six of his first eight games for the Blue Jays will be against the A’s, who visit Toronto for a three-game series beginning Friday.

Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said it’s different dealing with a veteran major leaguer like Sogard than with an up-and-coming prospect, and he relies on his own playing experience to relate to those guys and get his message across.

“From my seat, it helps to have gone through it all,” Meacham said, explaining his approach and the message he delivers to major league veterans who find themselves in the minors. “I actually played here for the Bisons in ’89. I had already spent five years in the big leagues, and this was the one year when I got traded and sent down and I was like, ‘OK, I have to make it back up.’ So I can relate to the ups and downs of a guy like Sogard, who’s played for years in the big leagues.”

Sogard, a rangy 5-foot-10 infielder with horn-rimmed glasses, earned the nickname “Nerd Power,” while with the A’s, a moniker born in the raucous right-field stands in Oakland.

In 2014, the A’s hosted “Nerd Power Night,” giving fans free Sogard T-shirts and fake plastic glasses, which a half-dozen teammates wore in the clubhouse.

“It took me a little while to embrace” the Nerd Power nickname, Sogard said. “But it turned out to be one of the coolest things ever, just because it wasn’t in a demeaning way at all. And the whole fanbase jumped on it.”

Sogard said he began wearing glasses in high school and preferred wearing the frames instead of contacts because they were better at correcting his astigmatism.

While with the A’s, Sogard partnered with a non-profit named “Vision to Learn,” which provides underprivileged children with free eye exams and glasses.

The “Nerd Power” nickname followed him to Milwaukee.

“For players’ weekend I wore ‘Nerd Power’ on my back,” Sogard said. “The fans, they love it. I think it’s neat, too. I’ve done some stuff with children getting glasses for the first time, which is really neat. I even get a lot of kids say, ‘Hey, I’ve been playing with my glasses now.’ Some kids were afraid to go out there because they were wearing glasses, and now they see me doing it and they’re not afraid to wear them and go play.”

After missing the 2016 season with injuries, Sogard elected to become a free agent when the A’s sent him outright to Triple-A Nashville.

Two months later, he signed a minor-league deal with the Brewers, who offered an invitation to spring training. Sogard spent a month in Colorado Springs before being called up to Milwaukee.

His first season with the Brewers was one of the best of his major league career.

In 2017, Sogard hit a career-high .273 with 15 doubles, a triple, a career-high three homers and 18 RBIs in 94 games. He scored 37 runs and walked a career-high 45 times, contributing to a .393 on-base percentage. The Brewers rewarded him with a one-year, $2.4 million contract.

But last season was a disaster.

Sogard struggled to a career-worst .134 batting average in 97 at-bats, was designated for assignment and eventually released.

In December, Sogard agreed to a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays that included an invitation to spring training, where in 24 games, he produced a .239 batting average, six doubles and eight RBIs in 46 at-bats.

Sogard opened the season with the Bisons and was promoted on April 14. The Blue Jays optioned Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Buffalo.

“They’ve got some young studs in this organization …” Sogard said. “They’re always asking questions, and if there’s something I see, they have no problem with me — they want me to say something. They want to just hear that veteran advice, which is huge as a younger player. It shows their willingness to want to get better every day, in every aspect of the game.

“It’s neat to think back where I was in my career and to think these guys are in the same spot. It’s fun. They’re living their dream right now, playing the game that they love and obviously one step away from making the big leagues. I know a lot of them are going to get there.”

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