A cloud of dirt consumed the area around home plate, and out popped Brett Lawrie. It was the 12th inning of the season's second game in Cleveland last week, and Lawrie, streaking all the way from first, was the second runner to cross the plate on Rajai Davis' go-ahead two-run double. Lawrie pumped his tattooed arm in dramatic fashion and then did a full-speed sprint to the Blue Jays' dugout, beating Edwin Encarnacion, who had scored ahead of him, to the top step. This, we've come to learn, is the way Lawrie plays the game -- full throttle, with a little arrogance and a lot of impact.
"I'm not afraid to say he might rub some people the wrong way across the field," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "But in our clubhouse and in our dugout, we love him." From the Blue Jays' perspective, what's not to love? Lawrie is a Canuck with pluck, a tenacious and vivacious source of energy and excitement. He's enraptured a fan base, with the expectations placed upon him (he's been compared to Pete Rose, George Brett and Ted Williams, to name but a few Hall of Famers) after his big league break-in so ridiculously high as to be unfair -- though perhaps not undeserved. Quite quickly, Lawrie is trending toward that short list of guys you'd pay to watch even if the other eight guys on the field were beer league softball stand-ins. "The passion and intensity he brings to this clubhouse is unbelievable," Toronto ace Ricky Romero said. "You never see that kid tight. He's always so loose, and he wants to beat you every inning, every at-bat. That intensity is great for our clubhouse and for our team." But is it safe for Lawrie himself? That's the question that will linger over his first taste of 162. After all, this game is all too often cruel to those who approach it with the most rigor and vigor. Pace of play and preparation is important in the midst of such a grueling schedule. One guy in the Blue Jays' clubhouse who has been a part of 24 such schedules would know. "He's going to realize that not all the time does he have to go 120 mph," Omar Vizquel said. "There are plays and situations that he doesn't have to go that fast. There are times he can slow down the game to do other things. But experience is the only thing that can tell. He's going to realize it himself." This might come as no surprise, but Lawrie doesn't yet see it that way. "[The way I play] may look full bore to you guys, but that's my even keel," he said. "That's how I play the game. I'm not out of control. I'm in control. I may not look like it, but I am. ... When you try and slow things down and get out of your comfort zone, that's when things can go wrong. So I'm going to stick to the speed I'm at." It's full speed ahead in Lawrie's career. His true coming-out party came when he hit an 11th-inning walk-off homer against the Red Sox one month into his Major League career, his tongue wagging as he rounded the bases, en route to a full-body dive into the arms of his adoring teammates. Such enthusiasm from the unestablished runs against the grain of baseball's pay-your-dues culture. But if you're rooting for the Blue Jays or simply a sucker for star power, Lawrie's nothing but fun to watch. And if not, well, he doesn't really seem to care what you think. "I'm not worried about what anybody thinks on other teams," said Lawrie, who is batting .240 with four RBIs through the season's first week. "We've just got to worry about ourselves in here. If we worry about the task at hand and worry about ourselves, we're going to be all right." Lawrie's numbers in his first Major League season were more than all right. He had a .293 average, .373 on-base percentage and .580 slugging percentage, with nine homers, eight doubles, four triples and 25 RBIs in 43 games. As much as this game revolves around repetition and the slow burn of sophistication in development, the great players generally tend to flash their greatness pretty much immediately. Lawrie showed those flashes of greatness last year, and it's had the effect of putting an enormous amount of attention on his sophomore season. If Lawrie wanted to deflect that attention or the expectations, he didn't do himself any favors with a scorching spring camp, in which he hit .524 with a 1.344 OPS. "He impacted every single game that he played in," said Farrell, "whether it was on the bases, in the field or with the bat in his hands." And though far from tenured, Lawrie has impacted his clubhouse, too. Rare is the 22-year-old who would be touted by his manager as "part of the heartbeat" of his team. "To me," Farrell said, "leadership doesn't have an age attached to it." Even the 45-year-old Vizquel has learned something from Lawrie. "I learned," Vizquel said, "that music can help you take the field in a different way." That would be the house music Lawrie likes to blast on the clubhouse sound system before games, amping up himself and his teammates. "Avicii's 'Levels' and things like that," Lawrie said. "Upbeat music that gets your heartbeat going a little bit and gets you ready for the game." Lawrie plays it at full volume. And then he plays the game at full throttle.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.