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Josh Donaldson's Leap

Hard-nosed Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is a throwback. His robust power and jaw-dropping defensive plays have made him an instant fan favourite in Toronto and the starter of the All-Star Game.
Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim-The Canadian Press

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

On June 23rd, Josh Donaldson dove over the rail at Tropicana Field, laying out in the manner of football's great receivers like Lynn Swann and Jerry Rice, performing that same daring horizontal leave-taking of Earth which looks like aerial grace right up until the sprawled body returns and begins to resemble a NASCAR pileup. Donaldson did this, only instead of turf below him, there were seats, and concrete and humans. He spread himself long, his body a bullet, crashing into said bystanders in pursuit of a foul pop that, if caught, would inch Toronto starter Marco Estrada one out closer to a perfect game. Donaldson knocked a kid over, spilled some folks' $12 beers, and emerged from the good seats with the 20-second out in his glove.


It was beautiful and improbable, and at the time it nestled snugly into the trim narrative of what everyone watching hoped would become a memorable moment in a flawless pitching performance—the spiritual kin of Dewayne Wise's wall-climbing, ball-bobbling, rolling catch in the ninth to preserve Mark Buerhle's perfect game in 2009.

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Looking back now, it's clear that the fact Estrada gave up an infield single to the very next hitter hardly mattered at all. In the broader context of the grinding season, the significant takeaway from the moment was that it was the point at which everyone started paying more attention to Donaldson. It also probably helped get him elected to the All-Star Game.

Donaldson's having a hell of a season. He's been everything the Blue Jays could have hoped for, and then some, when they landed him in exchange for Brett Lawrie and prospects. Since April, he's been a reliable blasting cap in Toronto's record-teasingly explosive offense, but he can also be counted on to make charging barehanded plays at third look routine. In all, he operates with the sort of galloping abandon that results in extra outs on defense, extra runs on offense, and an extra-dirty uniform. When you learn that the Cubs drafted him as a catcher, that all sort of clicks into place. There's a catcher's aura about him.

But there's something other than just grit and hustle in his makeup. When he popped back onto the Tropicana Field turf, the ball in his glove, his tongue stuck brattily out of his mouth, there flashed the apparent essence of him: an exultantly cocky swagger of the sort we've viewed cautiously in the turbulent wake of Jose Canseco and the neon-plastic wraparound era embodied thereby. Donaldson inevitably removed his cap and flipped back that hair of his—a cut last seen gracing yearbook photos atop Vuarnet T-shirts and Nike Airs. That's when it hit you plain: Donaldson is a throwback, but not in the usual baseball sense of Pete Rose's dirty uniform—or not only of that variety—but in a somewhat more modern sense. He's possessed not just of that hard-nosed, vaguely dirtbaggy air, but also of a flash and zip, an MTV-ness that Rose and our other rote callback characters never had the chance to acquire. Donaldson is the intersection of Brooks Robinson and Brian Bosworth.


At the moment of that leap, Donaldson trailed Kansas City's Mike Moustakas in All-Star fan voting, though he was unquestionably deserving of a spot.

Suddenly, with a crystallizing-highlight moment to shop around, a movement coalesced behind Toronto's third baseman, especially in Canada, where he's been roundly embraced, as evidenced by the fact that walking flag Don Cherry chose Donaldson—and not actual Canadian Russell Martin—to receive his ceremonial first pitch on Canada Day at the Rogers Centre.

On the heels of his Tampa Bay tumble, Donaldson was able to leverage that naturally sprawling fan base—from Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland, to Campbell River, British Columbia—to collect the votes necessary to overtake Moustakas for a starting spot in Cincinnati. In the end, he tallied in excess of 14 million votes—the most in All-Star history—and was extended an invitation to the Home Run Derby.

It's not certain that he'll leap rails or bash homers at Great American Ballpark on Tuesday—the All-Star Game is custom-built to be somehow less than the sum of its parts, or to hinge on something wonderful done by a sixth-inning replacement. But the more salient point, and the one that produces a too-unfamiliar giddiness in a Jays fan, is that Toronto employs a third baseman whose ability and flash make him the envy of 29 other fan bases, the kind of player whose bat seems more often destined to swing the outcome of a game, the kind of player we watch because we know it's only a matter of time before he leaps again.