It’s been a while since a winter trip back home to Fulton County has meant anything for Matt Gage other than a quick stop to catch up with his family.
“Haven’t had a chance to be able to do anything other than see family for a few days here or there during the holiday season,” Gage said. “It’s been going from spring training to summer ball to winter ball, then doing it all over again.”
This winter’s different.
Since being picked by the San Francisco Giants out of Siena College in the 10th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft, Gage’s winters have been a constant grind as he worked to up his pitching game. That’s increased even more in recent years, as the 2011 Broadalbin-Perth High School graduate bounced between minor league affiliates of three different big-league clubs, plus stints in independent baseball and the Mexican professional circuit.
But this winter, while he’s still working hard, the 6-foot-3 lefthander is breathing a little easier.
This past June, in his ninth season of professional baseball, Gage finally made his MLB debut when he was called up by the Toronto Blue Jays. He ended up making 11 appearances as a relief pitcher while spending a total of 31 days in “The Show,” and at the end of the season he was promoted to Toronto’s 40-man MLB roster, making this his first official offseason as a big leaguer.
“As of right now, I still have a job with the Blue Jays and I kind of know where I’m headed next spring training and next year,” Gage said. “It really helps the brain a little bit, just to kind of settle down, then take care of my body and rehab, get ready for next season.”
On Friday, he’ll get a chance to reconnect with some of his fans back home.
From 6 to 8 pm, he’ll appear at the Gloversville Moose at 140 E. State St. Ext for a meet-and-greet sponsored by Mike Hauser and Gloversville’s Parkhurst Field. Admission is free, and all attendees will have the opportunity to get an autograph or personal photo with Gage.
Fans can either bring their own items for Gage to sign, or can purchase a limited edition lithograph or one of Gage’s baseball cards to be signed. Attendees can also register for a raffle to win a Blue Jays jersey signed by Gage.
“It’ll be fun,” he said, “to get to see some people. Especially with making my debut and still being on the roster, it adds something a little more special to it.”
Gage, speaking by telephone earlier this week following a workout at the Blue Jays’ team facility in Dunedin, Florida, can’t help but marvel at how things turned around for his career in 2022.
He’d spent 2021 in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system, and his move to sign a minor league deal with Toronto this past offseason was largely to facilitate a change of scenery and find a team with a Triple-A affiliate in the International League, rather than the Pacific Coast League, where he’d struggled at three different stops since his first promotion to that level in 2017.
“The biggest thing,” he said, “was to get out of the PCL.”
Gage caught on with the Blue Jays, excelled out of the bullpen for the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, and on June 6 his contract was selected by Toronto.
That night, as the clock struck midnight at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Gage strode out of the visitor’s bullpen for the first time as a big leaguer and, in front of a stadium that had been nearly emptied out by rain and a lopsided Toronto lead — “Maybe a couple thousand people in the stands, but I think I had seven or eight people there,” he said — Gage worked a perfect ninth inning with a pair of strikeouts to finish off Toronto’s 8-0 win.
He was officially a major leaguer.
Between June 6 and July 3, Gage made 11 relief appearances for Toronto, with largely impressive results. He finished his first MLB season with an 0-1 record and a 1.38 earned run average in 13 innings. He struck out 12 batters, walked six and allowed just six hits.
He was assigned back to Buffalo on July 4, and while he made one more brief return to the big leagues in August, he was sent back to the minors without an appearance.
But, when the Blue Jays’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League wild-card round, Gage was named to the team’s 40-man offseason roster.
There are still plenty of offseason moves to come, especially for a talented Toronto team with ambitions of unseating the New York Yankees atop the AL East Division, but for the first time in his career, Gage will head to spring training with a strong chance of competing for a spot on Toronto’s opening day active roster.
“Potentially being one of the guys they believe in, it’s awesome to have that kind of confidence behind you,” Gage said. “There’s a lot of good guys in this organization, and there’s a lot of talented free agents out there. … Teams are starting to lock guys up. The next few days are going to be pretty interesting from my standpoint.”