Justin Turner has made a name for himself in baseball and has a NLCS MVP and World Series ring to show for it. However, it didn’t look like that would be the case early in his career.
Turner toiled in the minor leagues with the Reds, Orioles, and Mets before finally carving out a major-league role for himself. He was only a part-time player with New York from 2010 to 2013, but a conversation with Mets legend Jose Reyes helped change that.
Turner joined WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the Audacy Original Podcast “Baseball Isn’t Boring” to share what Reyes told him and explained how he’s paying that forward with young guys in the league today.
“With me, it was a conversation with Jose Reyes. He talked to me about having fun and enjoying the game,” Turner said (20:18 in player above). “You can do all the right things, you can be prepared, you can contribute, but you can enjoy the game at the same time.
“It definitely made me pause and look back at the way I played in Triple-A and how loose and how much fun I had and how much conversation was going on with teammates and umpires and whatnot where I was playing well. When I got up to the major-league level, I didn’t talk at all, and I was serious, and I was trying to lock in for three, four hours, and be so in tune and so prepared that it was paralyzing to me.”
While some younger players may have felt shy entering a big-league clubhouse for the first time (or second, or third after a few call-ups), that wasn’t necessarily the sticking point for Turner.
“It wasn’t because I was intimidated. It wasn’t because someone made me uncomfortable,” he said. “It was because in my mind I thought that I wanted the staff and the people making decisions to know I was serious about being there and I wanted to be there and help the team win when in reality it was making me a worse player.”
Turner eventually figured things out but it wasn’t till he moved on from New York. The utilityman batted .267 with eight home runs in 297 games across three seasons with the Mets.
He nearly matched that home run total with seven in 109 games while batting a career-high .340 during his first season in Los Angeles. That set him on a path to be an everyday player for the foreseeable future.
Turner took the advice from Reyes and made a nice career for himself. The Red Sox infielder is doing the same for younger guys now that he’s a veteran leader.
“So I think my mindset in being a veteran guy and having young guys come up is not so much ‘Hey man, be yourself.’ Everyone says that when the young guys come up, but like actually making sure guys are enjoying the game,” he said. “Actually talking to them like ‘Hey, what were you doing down in Triple-A? What was your day like in Triple-A? Oh, you did crosswords? Let’s sit down a do a crossword.’ Just trying to help guys literally not be themselves but be the same person they were being in Triple-A, which is why they got here.”