Throughout the Blue Jays minor league system are personnel helping to prepare players to move up the ladder. There are Managers and a growing list of coaches at each affiliate, and roving coordinators who stop in for a week at a time to help with skill development. There are also off-field staff who fill an important role in shaping players: training and strength staff, video and statistical coordinators, as well as sport science staff helping players eat, train, and recover effectively. There are even English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers at each level, helping Latin players improve their receptive and expressive language skills. At High A Dunedin, half way up the minor league chain, media relations head Andrew Thriffiley helps players Blue Jays prospects learn to be comfortable in dealing with baseball writers, broadcasters, and bloggers.
Thriffiley was born in New Orleans, went to high school in Baton Rouge, and grew up in a sports-enriched environment. His Dad is the official scorer for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, so it was only natural that the younger Thriffiley headed off to school to study sports management at St Leo’s, a small university about an hour from Dunedin. He graduated with a degree in Sports Business, and in his words, “loved every minute,” of his time at St Leo’s.
After an internship with the Charlotte Hornets in early 2018, Thriffiley landed the job as the Dunedin Blue Jays’ Media Relations Coordinator. He says his main job is to help the players on his High A Florida State League team feel comfortable in their dealings with the media:
At the end of the day, for our players, it’s about getting their games in and giving them a chance to develop, letting them feels as comfortable as possible, given that we’re basically playing every game on the road.
With the demolition of the former Florida Auto Exchange stadium, of course, the Blue Jays are something of a wandering outfit this season. The team uses the training facilities in Dunedin as a home base, then are bussed to Jack Russell Stadium, a short drive away in Clearwater, for their home games. In addition to his media duties, Thriffiley provides regular updates on the progress of the renovations on the D-Jays website.
Thriffiley’s duties are many and varied. He writes game recaps for the website, press releases, works with players on their skills in dealing with the media, and, “anything else that comes up.” No one day is the same, he says, and that’s what makes it both challenging and fun. One of his projects this season to get this players comfortable in front of the camera is a Player of the Game interview, like this one he did with the recently promoted Josh Winckowski:
There’s a reason why his name is WINckowski. pic.twitter.com/hHKGEpIOQj
— Dunedin Blue Jays (@DunedinBlueJays) June 23, 2019
As for this season, even with the D-Jays’ lack of a true home venue, the team has the best record in the Toronto system, and clinched a trip to the post-season by winning the northern division first half title. At the start of the season, Dunedin’s roster was not necessarily loaded with prospects, but Pitching and the coaching staff have largely propelled this team to the top of the standings. “We don’t hit the long ball too much,” claims Thriffiley, “but we find ways to score in bunches, and find ways to win.” He points out the presence of Manager Cesar Martin and Hitting Coach Matt Young, who were with many of the players in Lansing last year, has been important in terms of continuity. Nate Pearson and Riley Adams are now in New Hampshire, but Thriffiley says during their time with the D-Jays they, “set a foundation while they were here.”
Dunedin’s Pitching has been, “up there all year,” observes Thriffiley, even with Pearson’s promotion, singling out the performances of Turner Larkins, Justin Dillon, Graham Spraker, Nick Allgeyer, and Maximo Castillo, as well as Joey Murray. Dunedin’s staff is among the league leaders in several team categories – their league-leading 13 shutouts is a testament to the Pitching staff as a whole.
As Dunedin’s players go through their daily routines of training and recovery, behind-the-scenes cast members like Thriffiley help them prepare for a possible trip to The Show in many ways. But like the players he works with, Thriffiley too is living his dream, and working towards a day when he too might move up.