Rowdy Tellez quit baseball last year.
When his mother Lori lost her battle with cancer in August, the 24-year-old infielder left the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and headed home to California to be with his family. After some time there, Tellez decided that he wanted to stay, so he called the Blue Jays’ brass and told them he wouldn’t be coming back.
But 10 days after he departed, Tellez rejoined the Bisons. Only six days later, he made his Major League debut in Toronto, a clear shift from his plan not to return. So what changed the slugger’s mind?
Devon Travis did.
“He’s always been the one who checks in on me, makes sure I’m OK, tells me he loves me. He’s basically an older brother to me,” Tellez said. “Last year, he was the main reason I came back to play and finish out my Minor League season.
“He said, ‘Hey, I think you should come back, it will help you get your mind off it.’ I don’t know if he knew anything and what their plans were, but every day that I was gone in August, he would text me or call me and see how I was doing, just keeping my spirits up. He’s one of, if not the most important reason, that I came back to play and got to the big leagues last year.”
Travis has been sidelined since Spring Training after undergoing surgery on his left knee, and he has spent a significant portion of his career with the Blue Jays on the injured list, but personal setbacks haven’t stopped the 28-year-old second baseman from having a profound impact around the organization.
“Everything’s positive with him,” Tellez said. “He’s just been so positive with me and keeping me in line. He’s like the older brother who’s nice, not the one who beats you up.
“It’s how he was raised, who he is and what he stands for. It’s hard to find in a person. He’s really genuine, he’s never going to blow smoke up your behind or tell you lies. He’s always going to be honest, whether it’s good or bad. … He’s just one of those people you would call the ultimate teammate.”
Travis has two siblings at home in Florida, but along the way, he’s welcomed many a teammate into his family.
“Everyone who knows Dev knows that he brings so much energy, good vibes and he’s also a great leader,” Bisons outfielder Jonathan Davis said. “Just being around him is awesome. It’s like having a big brother. It’s pretty cool. He’s always positive, regardless of the situation. He has a great outlook on life and he cares about people. That’s hard to find.”
Sharing the sentiment of Davis and Tellez, Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. believes that the person who was happiest for him when he was traded to Baltimore this year -- where the 26-year-old would become a regular on the big league roster after eight seasons in the Blue Jays organization trying to find his way -- was Travis.
“He’s like the big brother I never had,” Smith said. “I can always talk to him about anything, on and off the field. He’s always been that supportive guy. … He’s just a really caring guy with a big heart.”
The 24-year-old outfielder has since returned to form -- though currently sidelined with an oblique injury -- and couldn’t be more grateful to have Travis to turn to.
“He’s treated me like a little brother since I came to baseball full time, because my first camp, we were locker buddies,” Alford said. “He’s definitely played a big part, especially in the down times, because those down times, you feel so isolated. So isolated.
“But in April, he was contacting me every single day and checking on me. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s an awesome teammate and an awesome baseball player and an even better person, because he genuinely cares about people.”
An organizational favourite
David Phelps spent 21 months on the sidelines before returning to a Major League mound on June 17. During his arduous rehab, the 32-year-old right-hander met Travis, who made a remarkable difference in the day-to-day sentiment of all those around him working through their injuries in Dunedin, Fla.
“For what he’s been through and the way he’s able to come into the training room, the weight room, the locker room and just be a positive presence in everyone’s lives is just incredible,” Phelps said. “He’s just such an incredible guy.
“Obviously being new to the organization, I had never met him before, but we really just leaned on each other throughout that whole process, grabbed dinner quite a bit down there, and he made it something to look forward to coming to the clubhouse every day.”
The impact Travis has had during his time with the Blue Jays has been illustrious, extending from the field to the front office and beyond, with a plethora of supporters waiting for him to return.
“He’s one of the warmest human beings I’ve ever been around, and certainly in a Major League clubhouse,” Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said. “He oozes empathy, [it] just comes out of him, and he connects with people across all cultures, all walks of life and is an incredible human being.”