New Blue Jays first baseman Brandon Belt met with the media on Wednesday and explained what went into his decision to pick Toronto in free agency. He also discussed how he's feeling after his surgery, what he expects his role will be in 2023, what type of leader he is, and much more.
KEEGAN MATHESON: You would have had options this offseason. Why Toronto? Why the Blue Jays?
BRANDON BELT: Well, honestly, it starts out with a lot of teams, obviously. And then you dwindle it down there towards the end. I had probably three or four teams there at the end that were really serious. And when it came down to it, I felt like I was just valued more by Toronto than was by other teams.
And I don't mean that as a slight to the other teams or anything. It's just how I was feeling. And I thought about it for a few days and talked to my family. We just felt like that was the best situation for us, the best baseball decision for us.
And I think when I thought about the teams that I had to choose from, I just got really excited about the thought of going to play for Toronto. Great roster, great young group of guys. They were a good baseball team last year. And they got better this offseason. And that's what gets me excited about playing baseball next year.
KEEGAN MATHESON: And when you were in discussions with the Blue Jays with the front office, what did they tell you about the type of role they expect you to have day to day? Where you'll be playing? Where you'll be in the lineup? What you're expecting there?
BRANDON BELT: We didn't get too deep into that. And I don't want to completely speak for them and their decisions they're going to make. But they pretty much told me I was going to be DH most of the time. And I'll be able to play first base as well to give-- to buy him some time off and get off his feet.
I think I'm going to get a really good amount of playing time. And that was something that was important for me. If my knee is healthy, which it is, I feel amazing right now, I'm going to be that same player that I was in 2020 and 2021. That guy is who I am. So as long as physically I'm there, which is how I feel right now, I should be out there a lot.
KEEGAN MATHESON: I appreciate it, Brandon. Thank you.
BRANDON BELT: Definitely, thank you.
- We'll go to Shi.
SHI DAVIDI: Hey, Brandon. Shi Davidi from SportsNet here. Congrats on the contract. Coming from a place where-- I mean, in San Francisco, you were there so long. Obviously, you'd be used to a certain culture, a way of doing things, just a big part of your life. You've had a lot of success there, teams that were very successful.
Just what do you envision? Or I guess, what are some of the challenges you anticipate facing just coming into a new clubhouse, a new culture, a new environment, new way of doing things? What kind of feelings do you have about what that may look like for you?
BRANDON BELT: It's hard to say. I mean, this is the first time I've ever-- I'm doing something like that. But just having new guys come in to the Giants, I think probably the thing that you work on the most is just getting to know the personality of guys and letting them get an idea of what your personality is like and how you fit in to the team and the clubhouse and stuff like that.
So it's going to be all new to me. And it's kind of like-- it makes me a little nervous, but it also makes me excited. I mean, I don't really know what to expect. The unknown makes me a little nervous, but I'm really excited about the new adventure too, especially with this ball club. So I think it's going to be a fun year.
SHI DAVIDI: And as a team that had a lot of success, particularly the early part of the last decade and a couple of World Series rings and things of that nature, just what do you recall about the feeling that a team would have coming into spring training knowing that you guys are expected to be dudes? You guys probably had high expectations of yourself. And what elements of that do you think are important that you hope were replicated with the Blue Jays coming into camp here?
BRANDON BELT: I actually think that helps to know that you're one of the teams that's going to have a target on your back. You have the-- expectations are so high to go out there and win baseball games because you know you have to bear down and get to business early. And you got to be on top of your game every single day because people are going to play their best against you.
So going into spring training right now, I think everybody knows that people are looking at us. And they expect us to win a bunch of baseball games. So I would expect the guys to come in and be ready to play baseball from day one. And it's just a mentality, man. And I think we're going to have it. I think we got a lot of young guys in this team. And that's where the veteran leadership will step in. And they help guide those guys along the way. And I think that's something I'll be able to help with that.
SHI DAVIDI: Thanks for your insights.
- We'll go to Kaitlyn.
BRANDON BELT: Thank you.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: Hey, Brandon. Nice to meet you. I'm Kaitlyn McGrath from The Athletic. You mentioned your knee a couple of minutes ago. I just wondered if you could provide context for us of what the injury was, how it impacted your season, and what the recovery process has been like for that knee.
BRANDON BELT: So what happened with my knee the past couple of years is flaking of cartilage and the cartilage breaking off. I had a microfracture done in 2018 where they fixed a broken off piece of the cartilage. Unfortunately, I had another piece flake off a little bit. And
The problem with that one was is if it had broken off completely, it wouldn't have been a problem for me. You get a little bit of pain and swelling every now and then, but it's not a huge deal. The problem was is that it just flaked off a little bit. So it was just hanging there inside my knee. And every time I strain my knee out or bent it, it was catching on my kneecap and stuff like that. So it created a lot of swelling.
The pain is something that everybody deals with in baseball so that's not a huge deal. It's not something that keeps me out of the game or keeps me from playing good baseball. But the swelling that I had was it was so swollen that my knee-- the muscles around my knee just shut down as the year went on. And it affected me in all parts of the game. I mean, I couldn't-- I wasn't able to swing like I normally could. I couldn't run. I couldn't play defense.
And the reason we didn't have surgery prior to the season last year is because in the past, I have recovered so well from just doing rehab. And last year, it was just a little different because there was just a little bit of flaking and catching in there even though it doesn't look bad on MRI or anything. It was just problematic for me. And we took care of it in September. And I can honestly say this is the best I've felt in probably two or three years.
Just to give you some context around that, the last couple of years, I haven't been able to chase my boys around the yard like that or do too much when I'm playing with them because it would make my knees swell and make it hurt a little bit. But I'm able to do all that stuff now. And it's just completely changed my outlook on the next couple of years. And it gave me a lot of optimism going into this next season.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: So just to confirm, so you did have a surgery in September to fix all that?
BRANDON BELT: Yes, I did. And like I said, it was just to get all that flaking cartilage out of there. And it did a job. And I was a little bit down about it last year I didn't know how I was going to react to it. I didn't know if I was done playing baseball. But just the recovery from it and me being able to know my body and feel my body, I felt great pretty much right away. I knew it was going to be a reason for optimism. And that's why I'm so happy to get back out there right now.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: Great. Thank you for that context.
BRANDON BELT: You're welcome. Thank you.
- You're up, Ethan.
ETHAN DIAMANDAS: Hey, Brandon. Nice to meet you. Ethan Diamandas from Sports Illustrated. You mentioned how you want to bring veteran leadership to this team. Obviously, you've played with some pretty notable veterans, I guess. Who are some of your clubhouse mentors and maybe what you took from them?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, honestly, I've had a lot over the years. And I think when I look back at just those teammates that kind of helped me along the way and helped our team along the way, I think Tim Hudson is a good one. Jake Peavy-- I know these are all pitchers-- Matt Cain, Pablo Lopez, and somebody like Buster, obviously.
Those have been the leaders on the team for a long time and somebody that young guys like me when I was coming up would be able to look to and say, hey, this is how you play in the big leagues. This is how you act in the big leagues. And this is what happens when-- they've just brought some levity to the team whenever stuff wasn't going good. And I think that's something that I can do as well. They
Already got some great veterans over there. It's not like I'm coming to change anything. I'm just stepping in and helping out when I can and just to let people know that when stuff goes awry a little bit, that it's OK. We still got to maintain focus and keep that goal in mind and keep moving forward. And honestly, it starts really at the top and goes to the staff and the veterans. And that's how the organization leads to a championship.
ETHAN DIAMANDAS: Right on. And then for you personally with the success you had in 2020, 2021, your swing at the plate, I guess what do you remember from how your swing felt back then? And then how do you think you can get back to that point?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, so honestly my swing didn't feel a whole lot different than before. What was different was my mentality and my approach a little bit. It's something that I've worked on for 10 years at that point. And then finally, a lot-- even though I had made strides along the way, it really clicked for me in 2020, I think.
And it was more so that how I played in the moments when I didn't feel good, right? So before, I think if I didn't feel good, that would bring me down a little bit in a sense of I wouldn't be as confident playing games and being at the plate and stuff like that. But after-- when I got to 2020, I was just like, man, I'm confident in who I am. I know what I can do. So I'm just going to go out there and stick with that mentality the entire year.
And that's what really helped me take a step forward. And I think that's something I can relay to some younger guys to help them out as well because I feel like I pretty much been through everything in the big leagues so far. So mentally, I'm able to handle a lot of stuff. And I think that's what took the biggest jump back in 2020.
ETHAN DIAMANDAS: Awesome Thank you.
BRANDON BELT: Thank you.
- OK, Mitch.
MITCH BANNON: Hey, Brandon. Nice to meet you. I'm Mitch Bannon from Sports Illustrated. You mentioned a few questions ago that after the surgery, you didn't know if you were 100% going to be coming back. I was wondering what was it like grappling with that? And what ultimately led to the decision to try to play at least another year?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, it was tough. I mean, I'll be honest with you. It was really tough because that's not how I wanted to end my career. But at that point before surgery, I was like, man, I just don't-- I don't know if I can do it anymore. I feel like my knee had finally given out. And it was over for me at one point. But I did continue to tell myself though, hey, this surgery works and I feel good, then I'm going to go back and play again.
So after the surgery, I'm telling you, it was pretty obvious right away that I was going to feel better. And the optimism and the boost I just got from feeling that really got me excited about playing this year because I feel like I have so much left to offer. I can compete at a high level.
Like I said, 2020 and 2021 is who I am. And if my knee allows me to do it, then that's what I'm going to be. And after getting that surgery, I know my knee is going to be good. I've worked in all offseason. I've had zero swelling. I had zero pain. It's been able to do everything that I've asked it to do. So I know that I'm going to go out there next year and be who I am. So that's what really got me excited about playing again.
MITCH BANNON: Thanks, Brandon. I appreciate it.
BRANDON BELT: Thank you.
- Go ahead, Rob.
ROB LONGLEY: Hey, Brandon. Rob Longley from the Toronto Sun. Building on Ethan's question talking a little bit about what makes a good culture and a good clubhouse leader, what makes a guy a presence in a clubhouse? And how did you do that in your years in San Francisco?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, I think a lot of it is just keeping a level head and bringing some-- like I said, bringing some levity to the clubhouse in tough situations. And personally, my personality is I bring-- I'm a little goofy so I bring, I think, just a little bit of a sense of humor. In my opinion, I just try to keep the guys loose because it's a lot of games every year. And that can really wear you down over the course of the season.
So being able to keep a clubhouse's mind on the goal is really important for a veteran. And I think that's what I can bring to the team. And like I said, I'm not coming here to change anything. I'm just coming here to jump in and help the veteran guys that are already there and to help the coaches and do what I can to help this team win. But I've been through enough. And I've played enough seasons that I feel like I have a handle on what needs to be done.
ROB LONGLEY: Thanks, Brandon.
BRANDON BELT: Thank you.
- Go ahead, Mike.
MIKE WILNER: Hi, Brandon. Welcome to Toronto. And congrats on the contract. I wanted to ask you about moving from AT&T Park-- I think that's what it's called now-- to here where you'll have smaller ballparks, easier right field to aim at. How much did playing in San Francisco take away from your power? And how much do you think it could play up in Toronto?
BRANDON BELT: Yes. Well, it's Oracle Park now. Not that it matters, but they changed in 2020. I still call it AT&T, though. But that's how I remember it. But--
MIKE WILNER: I still call Taco Bell half the time.
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, exactly. So I'm with you on that one. But it's hard to talk about that stuff without sounding like making a ton of excuses. But yeah, it's a tough ballpark. I mean, that's just the way it is. It's a tough offensive ballpark.
Early on, it really affects me mentally more than anything because I would hit balls that I felt like should have gone out of ballpark or should have at least been a hit. And those balls that should go out or are outs. So it's tough playing there sometimes. And you really have to be on top of your game mentally in order to continue to play well. And you can't let it bring you down. But it's a fun ballpark as well. I mean, it's obviously beautiful.
And so I enjoyed my time there. I love playing there. But yeah, coming to, I guess, a division with smaller ballparks, it's interesting. I'll be honest with you. That's part of the reason why I felt good about coming to the AL East.
And I was just curious to see, I guess, what it's going to be like over here and if it's going to make a difference. It might not make a difference at all when you're up at the plate. So I have no idea yet. I know I've played here before in the Rogers Centre. And I loved it.
And I felt like it's a neutral field. And I think that's all you can ask for as a hitter is just trying to get a neutral field to give you a chance to play good baseball. So I don't know exactly what it's going to be like. But like everything else I've said, I'm pretty optimistic about it. And I'm excited to see what's going to happen.
MIKE WILNER: And I wanted to ask you about a couple of your new teammates. How excited are you to be reuniting with Kevin Gausman? And what can you tell us about Daulton Varsho as an NL West guy and being on the same team as him now?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah, I'm excited about playing with Gausy again. I mean, I've been texting him a little bit over the past couple of days. So I know my wife is excited to see Taylor again as well. So I mean, those are-- he was a great teammate in San Francisco.
I love being around him. Just a quality human being. And it's going to be fun being around him again. So I'm super excited about that. And I'm glad somebody is here to show me the ropes a little bit early on so that I know what I'm doing. I don't look like an idiot around there.
Daulton, man, he's a-- I don't know him personally, but he's an athlete. He's a good ball player. He's got a lot of pop. And when he puts the bat on the ball, it's just a lot is going to be hit. So I thought it was always fun watching him from my side of the field. And I'm excited playing with him on the same team and seeing what he can offer. I think Toronto fans are going to like him.
MIKE WILNER: All right, thanks very much.
BRANDON BELT: Thank you.
- OK, we'll wrap things up here with Shi. Go ahead, Shi.
SHI DAVIDI: Thanks again. Brandon, just listening to you talk about your knee earlier and then talking about your approach and things of that nature, it struck me that you were probably pretty undermined in terms of the things you wanted to do at the plate a number of ways dealing with the knee.
I'm just wondering now that you have a bit more confidence in your knee and you're feeling better physically, what are the limitations that or maybe the adjustments that you had to make to just grind through it on the knee that now you feel like will allow you to put all those pieces both approach-wise and swing-wise back together?
BRANDON BELT: Yeah. So mechanically, I mean, I just wasn't able to hit against my front side very well. And that's really what-- you got to be able to do that if you want to create some speed rotating. For me, my game has been don't swing at pitches that are out of the zone and swing at pitches that I can drive.
And that's what's really kept me going when my swing doesn't feel 100%, right? I can still find ways to get on base because I'm able to have a good eye and give myself a chance to at least take a walk or get a good pitch to hit or whatever it may be.
So when I had this injury and I wasn't able to rotate and throw my hands as quickly as I wanted to, I had to start a little earlier. I mean, that made me go out of the zone a little bit, maybe swing at pitches I wouldn't normally swing at. And that created a lot of frustration for me. I mean, that's tough. And you can't be yourself when you go up to the plate. I had a solid mentality and approach when I went up there. It's just I physically couldn't do it last year.
That was the biggest thing for me. It's just not being able to-- I really rely on being able to have a good eye. And I wasn't able to do that last year. But that's why I'm so optimistic about this year. I feel great. There's going to be no excuses for me. I'll feel like I can say it right now. I feel like I'm going to be who I was in 2020 and 2021. And if it doesn't end up like that, it's not because of something physically. It's just because I didn't have the year I should have had. But I totally anticipate going out there and having that season.