Nickname apropos for Donaldson's journey
Blue Jays slugger named American League's top offensive performer
NEW YORK -- Bringer of Rain. It's a title originally ascribed to the ancient Thracian gladiator Spartacus, one of the leaders of a slave revolt against the Roman Republic a good 2,000 years ago.
Spartacus' story is a heroic one, the stuff of legend. Turns out he defeated a fellow warrior during a time of drought, and once he'd done so, rain finally fell in his homeland.
According to Josh Donaldson, at least.
During a news conference in which Donaldson was presented with the 2015 American League Hank Aaron Award, given to the top offensive player in each league, he took a break from the baseball stuff to answer a question on, of all things, the origin of his Twitter handle, @BringerOfRain20.
"I thought [the name] was pretty neat, so I stole it," Donaldson concluded after filling the audience -- including Aaron, Commissioner Rob Manfred and his own mother -- in on the historical context, which he gleaned from a TV series titled "Spartacus: Blood and Rain."
You could say "Bringer of Rain" applies to Donaldson, who was responsible for 20 game-winning RBIs in his debut season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"This is the kind of player that you dream about," Aaron said of Donaldson.
And the funny thing is, Donaldson isn't even supposed to be here.
After serving as backstop for the Auburn Tigers in college, Donaldson was selected -- as a catcher -- by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 Draft. He bounced around Chicago's Minor League system for two years, then spent most of the next five in the Oakland Athletics' system.
That's when the A's decided to give Donaldson a shot as their everyday third baseman after an injury to projected starter Scott Sizemore early in Spring Training 2012.
Donaldson needed the change. Despite breaking into the bigs as a catcher in 2012, he hadn't found success on a consistent basis.
"[I] struggled. Was demoted a few times. Had to kind of take a look in the mirror and realize I needed to make adjustments," Donaldson said Saturday prior to the start of Game 4 of the World Series at Citi Field.
"Being able to play third base, I feel like, definitely helped stay in the lineup and kind of keep my body a little bit more healthy throughout the season. It really took a lot of studying. It took a lot of acknowledgment and self-criticism and really just trying to seek out knowledge that was going to end up bettering me for the future."
Some would be surprised Donaldson even made it as far as the Minors, given his past. The 29-year-old was raised in Pensacola, Fla., by a single mother, Lisa French. His father, Levon Donaldson, served a 15-year prison sentence for drug-related offenses and domestic violence, starting when Josh was 5 years old.
Luckily, Josh had baseball.
A year after Levon went to prison, Lisa French's brother, Donaldson's uncle Chuck, took his nephew out in the backyard with a Wiffle ball and a plastic bat.
Josh cracked the first pitch over his uncle's head. The rest, it seems, was history.
Donaldson has grown up now, in more ways than one, that trademark intensity channeled in a career that lets him swing a bat at a ball for a living.
He's good at it, too. The best in the AL, in the minds of Hank Aaron and the committee of Hall of Fame hitters that served on the voting committee.
The numbers don't lie, either -- Donaldson finished second in the league in slugging percentage and third in OPS, along with racking up an AL-best 123 RBIs.
"Josh led the Toronto Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, and, I think, was almost responsible in a big part for a revival of baseball in Toronto that's really great for our game," Manfred said.
In other words, Donaldson brings the rain in a big way.