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Pillar knows first hit may be the toughest

Blue Jays OF stops by MLB Fan Cave before series against Yankees

NEW YORK -- Mike and Wendy Pillar walked the streets of Manhattan with their son Kevin during the Blue Jays' off-day on Monday, and they planned to tour the New York Stock Exchange floor early Tuesday before a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees.

Right now, they are all one hit away from perfection.

They know that first hit will come, and it might be followed by waves of them. They are reminded that Carlton Fisk and Willie Mays were each 0-for-12 in the Majors before homering. Kevin is 0-for-13 since his callup.

"I want to get it done, because I just know what type of hitter I am," the Blue Jays' 24-year-old rookie outfielder said during a visit with his parents to the MLB Fan Cave in Greenwich Village. "Once I get the first one, I get real hungry, the floodgates can open, and I can go off. That's just what the track record says, that's how it's been. In Lansing, I started off a little slow, my first year in Bluefield, even in Double-A, it took me 11 or 12 at-bats to get my first hit.

"It's always magnified a little bit -- one, when you're in the big leagues, two, when it's your first 10 or 12 at-bats. But during the course of the year the same thing happens, so I'm definitely not in any panic mode. I understand that getting here is a big accomplishment, and I'm not letting anyone down at home. My parents are proud. I'm proud of myself. If I never play another day in the big leagues, I know what I accomplished was special.

"But I've got a good feeling that my first at-bat [Tuesday] is going to be the one, and if it's not that one, it's going to be the one after that, and then the one after that. That's just the way I think. I've got that killer instinct, killer mentality. ... Any at-bat can be the one."

Quick memo to MLB Network's "Intentional Talk" hosts: "Kevin Pillar " rhymes with "Kevin Millar" and that is just the start. Pillar is from West Hills, Calif., just north of Los Angeles and a short drive from where Millar went to high school in Newhall. Millar was passed over by every MLB club and got his start after playing independent ball. Pillar had to wait until the 32nd round in 2011, drafted by Toronto out of California State-Dominguez Hills.

So far, Pillar has made good use of that chip on his shoulder. He hit at every Minor League level, even stole a combined 51 bases in 2012. In 123 combined games at Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo this season, Pillar batted .307 with nine homers, 57 RBIs, 74 runs and 23 steals.

"Going in the 32nd round, there was mixed feelings about it," he said. "I thought I should have gone earlier, thought I should have gone the year before. But at the same time, I knew it was an opportunity and the opportunity was the only thing I needed. ... You give me a uniform, you give me a team to play with, I'm going to go out and outwork people, find a way to get myself into the lineup.

"It was just something that fueled me up all the way through Triple-A. It's still something that fuels me a little bit now in the big leagues, but I understand there are other factors now about wanting to stay here and helping teams win and contribute. But 32nd round to the big leagues, it's surreal. All of that in two and a half years -- it's still sinking in."

Just a month ago, Pillar was here in the Big Apple with his fiancee, Amanda, while in the area during the All-Star break. You know what else is sinking in now? It's time to firm up those wedding plans.

"No date yet, but we've now started talking about maybe trying to do it in October," Pillar said. "We're both excited about it. I had said if I made it to the big leagues this year, we'd get married. I didn't understand it was going to be as big of a deal as it was when I said it. She knows it, I know it, a lot of people know it."

Magical moments happen in October, but he adds: "Hopefully, next year, it's postseason." For now, he is on the stage he wanted and is soaking it all in.

"It hasn't gotten much better than this," he said. "I'm here with my parents, about to play at Yankee Stadium. It's kind of like the calm before the storm. It's the cathedral of baseball. Growing up, it's hoping one day I can step into Yankee Stadium. Knowing I'm going to get a chance to do that is pretty exciting."

Ask Wendy what anyone should know about her youngest son -- older son Michael is 26 -- and she immediately replies: "I would say his passion for the game. He ... loves ... baseball."

Here are some other things to know about Pillar:

He has webbed feet, which kind of helped him in wakeboarding. He raced BMX dirt bikes. He was a three-sport standout in high school, a point guard in basketball, and in football a slot receiver, tailback and safety who never came off the field. His father says it probably helped Kevin in that he did not play baseball year-round, finally choosing baseball as his sport toward the end of high school, and Kevin agrees.

"I think it ultimately probably played a huge factor in me getting here, having that hunger for the game and wanting to get better and commit my free time to not only get myself better at baseball, but studying the game as well, watching baseball on TV, talking to other guys, seeing how things are supposed to be done," Pillar said.

Oh, and he loves the Lakers. In fact, Pillar sank three bean-bag tosses to register $1,500 for Sandy Relief in the Fan Cave's Scotts Lawn challenge, and the third one was a sky hook. It was his homage to the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Just imagine if Pillar was a Dodger and on Magic Johnson's payroll.

"My dad, my brother, even my mom -- we're all big Laker fans," Pillar said. "Just growing up with the Lakers. I know Kareem was a little before my time, but my dad did a good job teaching us the history of the Lakers. I remember being 5 or 6 years old, putting in the VHS their back-to-back championships and just watching it, being a huge fan of the Lakers. If I've got a chance to do something on camera like that I'm going to represent my hometown and the Lakers and throw up the Kareem sky hook."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.
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