Catcher fondly recalls excitement of Blue Jays' playoff push in 2015
By Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- Monday's series opener between the Blue Jays and White Sox has some special meaning for Chicago catcher Dioner Navarro.
Navarro, a late addition to Monday's lineup after Kevan Smith was scratched with back spasms prior to the game, spent the past two seasons with the Blue Jays and made his return to Toronto for the first time since signing with the White Sox in the offseason.
While Navarro spent only a couple of years as a member of the Blue Jays, he quickly became a clubhouse and fan favourite thanks to his ability to handle the pitching staff, his kindhearted nature and his penchant for driving in big runs.
The Caracas, Venezuela, native was a major part of Toronto's 2015 American League East championship, hitting .246 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. More importantly, as a switch-hitter, Navarro could be used as both a backup catcher behind starter Russell Martin as well as the DH when needed.
Navarro was vocal about his appreciation for being part of Toronto's Cinderella run to end 2015, with the Blue Jays going 43-18 in their final 61 games and defeating the Texas Rangers in the ALDS before falling to the Kansas City Royals.
"We were a middle of the pack team at the Trade Deadline and then [general manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] went out and made all of those trades, and then all of a sudden we went on those long winning streaks," Navarro said. "And I think everybody started believing that this is where we belong, and it was just great."
When asked to rate his best moments in Toronto, Navarro had a couple come to mind very quickly.
"The one I remember the most is [Jose] Bautista hitting that homer in Game 5," Navarro said. "In 2014, I also got a standing ovation when I stole second base. Things like that I'll never forget. I lived two blocks away so everything was a great experience. I was so glad to have the opportunity to play here, and now we're just moving on."
The opportunity for Navarro to try and win a starting spot is what drove him to the White Sox this offseason. The 32-year-old now has a chance to make his mark with Alex Avila on the 15-day disabled list. With the Sox sitting at 13-6 and atop the American League Central, Navarro says his transition to his new club couldn't be any better, and he's looking forward to a competitive series against his old team.
"Chicago is a great city. Having been here with the Cubs, I know all about the passion to win," Navarro said. "We know what we have to do, and we've been doing it so far. I'm excited to go out there and hopefully win."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.