Staying Strong, Waiting For Call

TACOMA, Wash. Sometimes playing in Triple-A can be a double edged sword. Just ask Jamal Strong. The 26-year-old outfielder in his third season for the Rainiers, is one step away from his ultimate goal, contributing to a major league team. Freed from the injury troubles of the past two years, Strong is working hard to climb the final rung of the baseball ladder.

"The knee feels good," said Strong of the hamstring and knee injuries that have hindered his play over the past two seasons. "I have no limitations, and yeah, I have the green light."

The green light for a baseball player with Strong's talents mean one thing - STEAL.

And steal he has. The centerfielder is tied for fifth in the PCL with 13 stolen bases, despite playing in only 38 games. Strong has been caught just three times.

Strong possesses great natural speed, once stealing 82 bases in a single minor league season, but he is quick to highlight the preparation that goes into successfully swiping bags.

"You can learn a lot when you're not out there playing, just sitting down. I'm always watching the pitcher no matter who is on base, but especially Choo or Santiago because pretty much what they're going to do to them they're going to do to me. By the time I get to first I already know what they're going to do".

Strong made headlines in April when he was suspended ten days for violating major league baseball's policy on performance enhancing drugs. The outfielder voiced his disappointment over headlines connecting him specifically to steroids.

"I'm not on steroids, never was," Strong insists. "The only thing is steroids are the first thing that comes out of everybody's mouth. I was suspended for a banned substance in one of the supplements I took."

While disappointed over the coverage of his suspension and the whispers that followed, Strong consistently has blamed only one person - himself.

"I was careless, I was taking a supplement and I didn't read the label. I let my team down, I let the organization down. I'm just ready to get back and play the type of baseball I'm capable of playing."

Jamal Strong has done exactly that. In the twenty games after his suspension Strong has hit .329 with 10 stolen bases. His range in center field and his speed on the basepaths are valuable assets to the Rainiers, but Strong has his sights set on the next level.

"Everybody needs speed so if I use my tools I think I could help out any team," says Strong. "There's probably a reason I'm still here because I need to iron out some things to be at a major league level. I feel like if I do all the little things I need to do I'm pretty sure one day I'll be there."

To get there, the former 6th round pick needs to avoid injuries, especially ones that could affect his speed, like the hamstring and knee injuries that hampered him last season.

"That's one of my main goals, to stay healthy all year," says Strong. "It was tough the last two years when I got injured watching people play because I was like ‘man it could have been me,' or, ‘I play just as good as that guy.' I was only able to watch baseball once or twice a week. Any more than that and I'd go crazy."

In fact, Strong was so eager to return that he crashed his own team's batting practice on one occasion.

"I'd do my rehab and walk around the complex and see people out there," said Strong I'd try to pick up a bat and sneak in there and they were like no, you can't do that."

Now that he's finally healthy, Jamal Strong is showing that he can contribute at a major league level. It is easy to see how a player with his speed and defensive skills could help a team like the Seattle Mariners, especially with their lack of athleticism off the bench.

Until then, Jamal Strong will patrol center field for the Tacoma Rainiers, waiting for his chance to climb that final step of the ladder.

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