Lawrie: hustle, hunger, heart

LawrieHis line drive to right scored a run against the Rockies, putting the Athletics comfortably ahead in the eighth inning, 7-1, but Oakland’s new third baseman did not let up. Already sprinting, Brett Lawrie found another gear when Colorado right fielder Carlos González stumbled on the play, tore around third and hungrily eyed home plate before settling for a RBI triple in Oakland on June 29.

“Almost an inside-the-parker,” the Athletic says longingly after the game. “I can run a little bit,” he admits.

Hustle has arrived at the hot corner for Oakland, as Lawrie showed repeatedly in the interleague series the A’s won over the Rockies, beating out a ground ball for an infield single, advancing to second on a fly ball, turning a heads-up double play and charging in for multiple bare-handed plays to first.

“I’ve got that energy. That’s who I am and how I do things,” Lawrie explains. “I’ve always been wired a little bit differently.”

Lawrie’s teammates have noticed.

“He’s got Red Bull in his veins. He’s always going 100 mph,” All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt says of Lawrie. “He brings a lot of energy to our team. We wouldn’t be the same team without him.”

Oakland’s designated hitter seconds that notion. “I’ve played with a lot of guys now and he’s the most energetic guy I ever played with,” says Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler. “He’s a stallion running out there, a thoroughbred. It looks like he’s galloping. He’s probably one of the fastest guys in the league.”

Fellow infielder Eric Sogard is especially impressed with Lawrie’s glove.

“His range is fantastic. He gets to a lot of balls you wouldn’t think a third baseman can get to, and when we’re doing a shift and he’s at short, he looks like a natural shortstop. He does it all out there,” Sogard says.

Safe to say, the Athletics are getting all they expected and more from the 25-year-old Canadian they acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason. Filling the shoes of former Athletics All-Star Josh Donaldson, Lawrie has played his best half-season to date, on pace for career bests in multiple offensive categories while playing third base at a level Butler describes as “ten, on a scale of ten.”

Lawire’s all-out style may have attracted the A’s, but hustle alone isn’t what’s gotten the infielder this far in his career. A native of Langley in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Lawrie grew up playing baseball, basketball and soccer, much like his older sister Danielle Lawrie, who became an international softball star.

“There were always other sports that kept us hungry on the drive to be better athletes,” Lawrie says. “I’m glad that I branched out, I feel like I’m a better athlete for it today. My dad pushed us to be the best that we could be, and compete hard, play hard and grind it out. My mom was always on top of it, making sure we had everything we needed. ”

After starring for the Little League team coached by his father and later the Langley Blaze in the British Columbia Premier Baseball League (a conference for advanced Canadian youth players), Lawrie made Canada’s junior national team in 2008. He impressed MLB scouts as he clubbed five home runs in two exhibition games against Seattle Mariners prospects and led the World Junior Baseball Championship tournament with a .469 batting average. Later that year, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him 16th overall, the highest selection ever for a Canadian position player.

Lawrie spent the next three years rising through the Minor Leagues with stops in Wisconsin, Huntsville, Las Vegas and Dunedin. He played in two MLB Futures Games. That period of his career was not as easy as his rapid promotion might indicate.

“That was my first taste of professional baseball and I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Lawrie, who started minor league ball at the tender age of 19. “There are lots of bus drives and a long minor league season. You’re young and by yourself, it’s kind of just on you. I was grinding and trying to make the big leagues.”

After the Blue Jays acquired him in 2010, Lawrie showed he was ready for The Show by hitting .353 for the Las Vegas 51s in 2011. Toronto brought him up for his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 5, and he responded by smacking two hits and an RBI in front of a crowd that included his cheering parents and sister. He was just 21. Lawrie noted the date with a tattoo on his right wrist; both his arms are covered with artistic tattoos depicting meaningful events in his life.

“I was so excited, everything happened so fast for me,” Lawrie says of his Blue Jays tenure. “It was great. It was like a whole brand new school for me and I met a lot of new guys. A lot of positive things that happened for me in Toronto, being Canadian. I had a lot of fun there and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that.”

Lawrie showed flashes of brilliance and plenty of trademark hustle during four years with the Blue Jays, though his playing time was limited by six trips to the disabled list. Apparently, his all-out style of play and Toronto’s artificial turf made for a painful combination.

“His style of play is the reason he’s not been able to stay healthy, because he plays so aggressively and he plays a very taxing position,” says Butler. “He’s diving everywhere. It takes a toll on the body. If you see him after the game, he’s consistently icing his whole body.”

In three-plus years in Toronto, Lawrie hit .265 with 43 home runs and 157 RBIs, despite playing through injuries that limited him to an average of 86 games a season.

“Watching him from the other side, I was always impressed with his his style of play,” says Oakland’s third base coach Mike Gallego. “He does not take a pitch off. Mentally, he’s prepared for every pitch.”

Beyond his stats, Lawrie was embraced by fans in Canada as one of their own—none more so than a six-year old girl from Lawrie’s hometown of Langley named Amelia Lyttle. When Toronto traded Lawrie to Oakland, Amelia sobbed inconsolably to her father, who shared her heartbreak via YouTube with more than 300,000 viewers. One of those viewers was Lawrie who arranged to take her out to pizza to cheer her up.

The touching scene proved that there’s more to Lawrie’s game than hustle. There’s also heart.

“That was really cool to be a part of,” he says. “She was obviously upset and yet so caring, so it was great to do that for her. Now it will be on YouTube forever.”

The Athletics also did their best to comfort Amelia, sending her a care package of A’s swag and a warm note promising to take care of her favorite player.

Since then, Lawrie has done his best to comfort A’s fans as he fills the third base position vacated by the popular Donaldson.

Proof of a good start can be found in his epic, nine-pitch at-bat against Texas reliever Neftali Feliz, who hurled slider after slider at the Athletic with the game on the line in the eighth inning on May 1. Lawrie fouled off pitch after pitch before finally connecting on a fastball, drilling a two-run double into the corner, key to an A’s win in Arlington. Then there was his grand slam against Rangers’ southpaw Wandy Rodriguez, followed by a spectacular basket-style catch even as he stumbled over the bullpen mound against the Los Angeles Angels. His teammates pounded his back after a tenth inning homer against the Yankees in New York lifted Oakland to its first extra-innings win.

“Every day with him is a highlight,” says Vogt. “He’s making great plays at third, he’s getting big hits— he’s a true professional in every aspect of the word and every aspect of the game. I love playing with him.”

Since joining the Athletics, Lawrie has improved his batting average in each of the first four months, nearing the .300 mark by the All-Star break. He’s on pace to set career bests in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.

“Recently he’s gotten better and better at the plate, knocking in key runs for us,” Manager Bob Melvin says. “It’s nice to have a guy like that toward the bottom end of the lineup. He’s a very energetic guy that other guys feed off of.”

Lawrie’s emergence is no surprise, says Gallego. “When he goes to the plate, he’s not just hacking,” said the third base coach. “He’s playing the situation. If we need a ball hit to the right side, he’s driving it over there. When we need an RBI picked up, he’s going to get a pitch that he can hit in the air and get a chance for a sacrifice fly. He’s so focused and he’s got a good approach every single day. When you have that, the numbers will be there, sooner or later.”

Though his teammates laugh that Lawrie likes to blast his “uncomfortably loud” dance music in both the weight room and shower, the pride of Canada is clearly winning friends and fans in Oakland.

“He’s doing an unbelievable job,” Sogard says. “Last year, we had one of the better third baseman in the league. He’s filled those shoes. He’s so full of energy and always positive. That’s a great thing around the clubhouse and rubs off on the other players.”

Lawrie says he enjoys his new surroundings. “In this game it’s kind of good to see how everything is run in a different way, in a different setting, with different people and a different mentality,” he says. “I enjoy my teammates. It’s a new opportunity for me and my family.” The Athletic also gave a shout-out to the green and gold fans: “The aura of the fans is loud and good, no doubt.”

Look for great things from Oakland’s hustling third baseman with heart, who hungers for more than just triples.

Talent runs in the Lawrie family

Brett Lawrie isn’t the only member of his family who knows his way around a diamond. For all his success, the major leaguer in some ways has yet to match the athletic exploits of his sister Danielle, an international softball star.

A collegiate All-American, Danielle Lawrie pitched the University of Washington to its first national championship in 2009. In her stellar career, the Huskie amassed 136 wins, 1,860 strikeouts, 65 shutouts, 149 complete games and six no-hitters. Each of these marks set records at Washington, which retired her jersey number 15. She was named the NCAA player of the year in 2009 and 2010.

Both the Lawries can trace their success to their early years of playing multiple sports, especially against each other.

“My dad pushed me and my sister at a young age to be the best we could be,” Brett says. “We enjoyed sports and we enjoyed competing against one another. Her being a little bit older than me helped as well. She always thought she was better than me. There was always this chip on our shoulders. Whether we were playing basketball or whatever, we always competed against each other and always tried to win.”

When Brett played for Canada’s junior national team in 2008, Danielle was already playing her fourth season for the national team. Canada selected both Lawries to take the field in the 2008 Summer Games, and marching together into Beijing’s Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony ranks as a favorite memory. “That was a lot of fun, especially since it was the last Olympics for baseball and softball,” Brett says.

Danielle went on to play for the Orlando Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League and now stays in the game as a softball broadcaster for ESPN.

Danielle and parents Russ and Cheryl are clearly proud of the family’s youngest sibling patrolling third base for the A’s, and they often come to see his games, either in Oakland or Seattle, which is nearer to the family home.

“It’s been really cool. I’ve seen him grow up, I’ve seen him go through the tough times and I’ve seen him be at the highest level possible,” Danielle said after Brett’s debut in 2011. “Look where he is now. I could not be prouder.”