I recently had the opportunity to interview both Jason Bay and his sister, Lauren Bay Regula (who starred on the Canadian women’s softball team for years), for a feature I wrote for the current issue of Canadian Business. Now that the article’s been published at last, the rights revert to me, so I thought I’d reproduce the conversations I had with them in full. These interviews both took place in March. We’ll start with Lauren.
LAUREN BAY REGULA
RotoRob: Tell me about having Jason as an older brother; what was he like when you were growing up?
Lauren Bay Regula: (Laughing heartily) “I think it was just like any younger sister having an older brother. Nothing sticks out too much in the sense of it was just a regular childhood. I mean both of us loved to be outside and kind of play sports. I was obviously a little bit less developed being three years younger, so he would have to put up with me when we would go play tennis and things like that. But, he always won, so that was good for him.”
RR: I figured with the two of you both being world class athletes, you must have had some competition.
LBR: “I think we’re both competitive, but more just of whatever we were doing. My dad would take us both out and we’d all play catch. I clearly understood that I probably wasn’t ever going to catch up to him, although I think in my mind I thought I was able to,” she said laughing. “Because I always wanted to go outside and play with him because I thought I could. We always just went out and we played randomly enough, we’d give anything a shot. We had a basketball hoop in our driveway. So whether it was just shooting some hoops in the driveway or going out and playing tennis…when we were younger we used to go, there was a tennis court not very far away, we’d go almost every summer day and play. And to tell you the truth, there wasn’t really that much of a competitiveness just because I always expected him to be better and I think he just kind of took it easy on me as his little sister.”
RR: Were you two close when you were growing up?
LBR: “Yes, we were. I thoroughly enjoyed always trying to hang out and do whatever he was doing, and for the most part he was a pretty good big brother. He let me tag along, now that I’m older, more than I assume he would have being a guy growing up with a sister three years younger just following him all over.
‘What are you guys doing today? You going to play hockey? What are you guys doing today? You going to play tennis? What are you guys doing today?’” she said in mocking tone of an annoying kid sister, almost mimicking the ‘Hey Spike’ bit from Looney Tunes.
“But it was good, though, because he had his friends, which were like older brothers to me and he’d have the same friends in elementary school through high school, so I knew them well. But I also had my own friends and being a boy-girl I think that helped, I had my friends, I did my thing, he had his friends, he did his thing. But when it came to sports, I think I always wanted to tag along.”
RR: How often do you two speak now?
LBR: Pretty often, she said. She was about to head down to Florida to hang out with him (he was down there training for the WBC).
“Not everyday, but I definitely know what’s going on his life, and he knows what’s going on in mine.”
RR: Your dad was a Red Sox fan when you two were growing up, wasn’t he?
LBR: “Yeah, isn’t that crazy? It’s ridiculous. It’s bizarre. I think our family liked the Red Sox due to my dad. Growing up, my dad loved the Red Sox, he loved Carl Yazstremski, he loved No. 8. My brother, therefore, loved the Red Sox, loved Carl Yazstrmeski, loved the No. 8. I, therefore, loved the Red Sox, loved Carl Yazstrmeski, loved No. 8.”
She said they were Mariner fans just because that was the closest thing.
“When my parents took us to a game and Nolan Ryan was pitching against the Mariners we thought that was the coolest thing ever. I think we took the Red Sox growing up just because of my dad.”
RR: What was your dad’s reaction when Jason got dealt to Boston?
LBR: “From what I understand, he was pretty emotional about it. I knew he was super excited. The Red Sox was kind of the icing on the cake; I think my dad was just excited that the team he was going to was in a serious position to make it (to the) postseason. I was in Japan when I heard the news and I’m just trying to find any computer possible and Googling his name to see what was going on, so I was kind of out of the loop.”
RR: How did Jason react to that pressure?
LBR: “Clearly, he reacted pretty well. But the one thing about Jason, and I’ve said this a million times, is he really is like a chameleon. He’s very good at adapting to his surroundings. He loves Pittsburgh from what I know, from everything he’s ever spoken to me about, he loved it. Pittsburgh is similar to where we grew up; it’s just a blue collar town, industrial town. So I think he found a home there while he was there and he loved the people, but I think when he got traded, literally, if he goes to a big market, he’ll adapt to that.
“Like anything that kind of comes his way, he’s one of those even-keeled people – I wish I could be more this way (laugh) – just whatever’s at him that day, he just takes in. He never gets too high, he never gets too low. He’s just very ‘okay, well, I’m playing in Boston, tonight. Alright.’
“Trust me, I wish I had it. He’s more of the take everything in stride, I’m more of the high strung, ‘what’s going on? What’s going on?’ He has that laid back ability. I know my husband, when he first met Jason, like my husband thought he was laid back until he met Jason. And then he’s like ‘oh, okay. Now I know what laid back really is.’”
She said she called when she heard about the trade.
“I was very impressed; he was very, you know ‘like, yup, this is cool, this is great.’”
She thought he’d be over the moon, but he was totally mellow about it all.
“I think the pressure of just going over in the first place is probably the hardest thing he was going to ever have to deal with, just because of who he was replacing,” she said, referring to Manny Ramirez.
“But, you know, and this is just from a sister’s point of view, even when he came to Pittsburgh, although they weren’t a winning team on their way to the playoffs or anything, he was still replacing Brian Giles, who was their kind of poster boy, that’s who their whole city and fans embraced. So as soon as I found out he got traded, I was like ‘okay, he got traded for Giles before, so he’s been in this situation where he’s taken (the place of) a very well known person in the organization.”
She said that this allowed her to rest assured: “okay, he’ll be fine; he’s done it before.”
Even though the Pirates weren’t going anywhere, Giles “was their bright spot.
“When he got traded there was an uproar. ‘Who’s this guy coming in? Why’d you get rid of Giles?’ He did get booed on his first at bat as a Pirate because no one knew who he was, they just know that he came in and replaced their favourite player.”
She said that if you look back at the articles, it said “Bay replaces jeers with cheers” because he had a good game.
“He was kind of getting a tough time for first game.” But he was 2-for-3 with a double, run, RBI and walk and they were cheering after that.
“By the end of the game, they were actually cheering for him.”
RR: How about that standing ovation he received before his first at bat at Fenway?
LBR: “That was pretty cool. And I give the fans in Boston a lot of credit for that.”
RR: We know about Manny being Manny, that’s legendary; so who is Jason being Jason?
LBR: “I think you saw it. He just goes out and plays. He plays every day. Coming from Manny, he’s the polar opposite, he’s not going to do anything crazy, but he’ll just play the game right.
“Every time I talk to my husband about him, I’m like ‘he’s the type of player who could have been playing back in the day with the old school players that just show up, put on their cleats, lace up and say ‘okay, let’s go.’ But that’s him.”
RR: So are you saying we’re not going to be seeing Jason growing dreads and high-fiving fans after making a catch against the wall?
LBR: “I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s going not going to happen. If it did, I’d be a little worried.”
RR: So what else do I need to know about Jason?
LBR: “He’s very candid and he’s an honest person. So if you’re wondering how he really feels about something, the answer that he gives (is really how he feels).”
RotoRob: Who was your idol growing up?
Jason Bay: “My idol growing up was an outfielder on the Cincinnati Reds, Eric Davis. Just a five-tool guy, at the time when he was healthy, one of the best players in the league and just someone that was I guess easy, fun to watch. Like I said, the speed, the power of those guys, even now, now, then, whenever, it’s hard to find a guy that did the things that he could do.”
RR: What do you think is the biggest challenge you faced in your life?
JB: “Probably coming from Trail, B.C., everybody’s got to come from somewhere, people make a big deal out of this and that, but the exposure that you get in a small town and even just playing in Northern Idado as I did, stuff like that, to get to where I’m at it took a lot of things to kind of go in my favour and do the right things at the right time, so I think the lack of exposure as opposed to a lot of other people who are in big markets and have people watching them all the time, guys like me, it’s almost like a one-shot deal and I’ve played against a lot of guys that for whatever reason, just didn’t get it done at the right time and you kind of miss your window.”
RR: Did you ever feel like you wanted to quit the game?
JB: “Ya, I did actually. I was in A Ball with the Expos, and I had just got sent down a level because I was struggling, I got to the lower level and I was there for about a week and I was struggling really bad again. And I called home and I was talking to my dad and I said ‘you know I think I might just quit.’ Because I figured at some point they were probably – I was a 22nd round senior draft pick, I didn’t have a lot of leverage, so I didn’t have a lot of numerous chances that other guys they invest a lot of money into get — I thought they’d probably just ship me home soon, so I thought I’d take the honourable route and go out on my own. And my dad said ‘hey, it’s your decision, but you’re there. You might as well try to see it through.’ And sure enough, the next couple of days, I had a hit one day, and the next day and the next, and ending up winning the batting title in that league that year, so…Yeah, there’s doubts, but at the same time that was probably one of the best learning experiences of my life. Everything up to that point had been pretty easy for me, or gone pretty well, I should say. You know I hadn’t really had a (problem), through high school and college, I had always done well. The first time I actually struggled, I think it was a good thing, a good learning experience.”
RR: What drives you?
JB: “Just personal pride, honestly. I know a lot of people have said ‘what do you play for?’ And you say ‘what drives me?’ And what drives me is the fact that I want people to go out and say ‘he was a good teammate, he played the game right and I loved having him on the team.’ I tend to shy away from the limelight, I’m not trying to do a lot of things, I just basically (am trying to be) a good person within the game. Show up. I’ve been referred to as I said almost like a lunchpail approach to the game. You know, I show up, I take it serious, I do my job and I go home. And I’d like to think that’s the way it should be played.”
RR: Do you consider yourself a leader? I’ve heard some players refer to you that way, but I’ve also read some scouts who said that you weren’t. Who’s right?
JB: “I think it depends on what your definition of what a leader is. I mean, if you’re looking for a guy to stand up and wave a white towel and cheer rah rah and pat everybody on the back, that’s not me. And that doesn’t mean I’m not a leader, that’s just not my personality. I’m more of a lead by example kind of guy and that probably isn’t the type of style that when I was in Pittsburgh, probably wasn’t the type of leadership that they needed. And I think that there were numerous times where people wanted that guy who stands up and do all that, and like I said, I can’t do it, because it’s not me. But then you go to a different situation and you play your game and certain guys look up and certain guys respect that. I’m definitely not a vocal, hold a team (meeting kind of guy), I take a lot of pride in getting out there almost every single day and playing the game right, and I like to think that people appreciate that.”
RR: What makes you nervous?
JB: “Believe it or not after all these years, just playing baseball still makes me nervous, and I think that once it doesn’t, it might be time to stop playing.”
JB: “Yes, I still, before every game — regardless if it’s game No. 78 of the regular season or Game Seven of the World Series — I still have that little butterfly feeling in my stomach that just becomes accustomed to competing and I like to think that if and when I lose that little edge, then it might be time to go.”
RR: Well, that’s just the anticipation of the game, right?
JB: “Yes, exactly, and I guess that’s kind of the passion, that’s why you do it – the unknown. Like I said, if and when that goes away, I’ll probably walk away.”
RR: You mentioned being drafted in the 22nd round, of course that was by the Expos in 2000, but you were traded as a Minor Leaguer and never actually came to the majors on a Canadian team. Did that disappoint you?
JB: “Not really. I would like to think that everyone in the perfect world would know I would say ‘yes, it was devastating,’ but to be honest with you, at that point, it didn’t matter if it was a Japanese team. I was just looking for a chance. It was a nice coincidence that it was the Expos that gave me that chance and it would have been nice, but rather than worry about where I was going to play and for who, I was just hoping to get to where I got.”
RR: I know that you did tell The Fan 590 in June 2008 that you’d welcome the opportunity to play in Toronto, a team that apparently made some inquiries about you at the trade deadline. Do you still feel that way?
JB: “I think they made a bigger deal out of that then it really was. They just asked if Toronto would be a place I’d be interested in and I said ‘yes, I would’ as I would a dozen other places in Major League Baseball. And they just kind of ran with the one story that I’d play in Toronto.”
RR: Well, you are a Canadian star and all…
JB: “Exactly. But no, I understand. I would definitely enjoy playing here and I liked coming up here when I was with Boston, and not getting to do it very much I enjoy playing in Canada and obviously I am Canadian, so there’s that pride there too. So it would definitely be on the list.”
RR: I know you’re going to be a free agent after the 2009 season. Have the BoSox approached you about an extension as part of the trade at all?
JB: “Nothing yet. There’s still some time in Spring Training and then we got a full year, so we’ll see what happens, but right now it’s out of my hands.”
RR: I’ve heard you describe yourself in an interview as a small-town guy, but Boston is anything but a small town, especially when it comes to the BoSox. How are you dealing with that?
JB: “Well, it was a little bit of a culture shock, especially coming from Pittsburgh overnight. There wasn’t really a lot of prep time, it was ‘here’s a plane ticket,’ and boom, all of a sudden you’re immersed in a completely different culture. And it took some getting used to, but like anything, you kind of find your way to deal with it. And then once you do it enough, regardless if there are two reporters or 200, it just becomes normal, as simple as that might sound, it becomes a job, and you adjust accordingly.”
RR: I was speaking to Lauren a couple of weeks ago, and she reminded me that when you first started with the Pirates, you got booed your first game and then you turned it into cheers. And you got a standing ovation before your first at bat with Boston. What was going through your head at that point?
JB: “At that time I came into an interesting situation with the whole Manny thing and I didn’t know if that’s just how they welcomed everyone. I knew Boston was a crazy place to play with the fan support and everything and I didn’t know if that was just a ‘hey welcome the new guy’ and the guys assured me later on down the line that it normally isn’t like that. So I had some time to kind of reflect on that and it was pretty neat. And I said the whole time I went into this situation with so many unknowns, but once the game started, you know that baseball is kind of the one thing you know, you go out and do that and then that’s when you feel normal. But to have that little fan support behind you before I even stepped in the box one time, every little bit helps.”
RR: You turned 30 in September. How’d that go down for you?
JB: “It’s just another number right now. Nothing exciting, but I had a baby four days before that. That was pretty much my excitement for my 30th birthday.”
RR: How long do you think you’ll play? Any idea?
JB: “I have no idea. I mean, as long as I’m being productive, I definitely think I’d play as long as I can. But the moment that I might turn into a bench or a role play type guy, I don’t know if I would do that to be away from my family.”
RR: We all know about Manny being Manny, so tell me who is Jason being Jason?
JB: “Jason being Jason is extremely boring. There’s really nothing. I’m very quiet, I like to do crosswords and (am) just introverted I guess you could say. That’s the polar opposite I guess you could say. So the only thing you’ll read about me is you probably won’t read anything.”