top of page

Conversations with the Herd: Blue Jays Designated Hitter Justin Turner

By: Brian Frank

Blue Jays designated hitter Justin Turner has fond memories of his time playing in Buffalo. Turner played in 90 career games for the Bisons when they were the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets.

“We had such an older experienced team,” Turner said of the 2010 Bisons in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles, “but at the same time they weren’t salty or bitter about being in Triple-A. It was fantastic with guys like Russ Adams, Valentino Pascucci, Mike Hessman, Mike Cervenak, just so many guys that had been around, had experience, and made it a great experience. I had a great time there”

Turner’s Buffalo memories actually began before he played for the Bisons. He was playing for the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, at the beginning of the 2010 season. The Tides came into the Queen City in mid-May for a chilly four-game series.

“There was a group of fans that were right behind the visiting on-deck circle and they were wearing us out and kind of heckling,” Turner remembered. “I was going back and forth with them. I ended up breaking a bat against Bobby Parnell in the eighth or ninth inning – and I went and signed the bat for the fans that were heckling. It was so cold. I was like, ‘Thanks for keeping the game exciting and making me forget about the cold’ – or something along those lines. I signed it and gave it to them.”

Later that same month, Turner was claimed by the Mets organization and reported to the Bisons. He ended up getting to know some of the fans who’d heckled him earlier in the season – and he learned what happened to the broken bat he gifted them.

“They took the bat back to a restaurant (Aroma on Bryant Street) and a group of them were taking shots out of the cup of the bat,” Turner explained. “They called them the J.T. bat shots. They kept the bat at the bar. I don’t know if they still have it, but they kept it there for a period of time and were taking shots out of it. I ended up getting to know him (the owner) and going in and eating at the restaurant a bunch. It’s a really good Italian place. A really great spot.”

Turner had a .906 OPS for the 2010 Bisons. Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.

Turner’s manager when he joined the Bisons was former major-league infielder Ken Oberkfell.

“He has all my respect,” Turner said. “He took me down to winter ball twice in the Dominican. So not only did I play for him for the Bisons, I got to play for him for Escogido for two years. What a positive, calming influence he was. I love Obie and I loved playing for him. Him taking me down to the Dominican to play, I think was something that really helped change the trajectory of my career.”

Turner enjoyed the comradery that came with minor-league road trips.

“I think my favorite part was the road trips,” he said. “We had the two sleeper busses. Playing cards on the back of the bus with the guys. Just really getting to know everyone.”

One game that stands out in his time with the Herd was the final contest of the 2010 season at Rochester.

“Everyone was excited to get home, so we actually made a rule, a fine system, that if you took a strike you had to pay a fine,” he said.

The aggressive Bisons batters ended up scoring a season-high 16 runs on 20 hits. Turner doubled in the first inning, homered in the third, singled in both the fifth and sixth, and tripled in the eighth inning to complete the first cycle for a Bisons player since Mark Little accomplished the feat in 2004. He also became the first player in the team’s modern era to go 6-for-6 in a game.

Turner played 90 career games for the Herd. Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.

Turner ended up slashing .333/.390/.516 in 78 games for the 2010 Bisons. The next season, he began the year in Buffalo, where he hit .300 in 10 games before being called up to the Mets, where he’d go on to star over the next three seasons. His manager in New York was former Bisons manager and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Collins.

“Terry is a high energy guy who loves the game of baseball,” Turner said. “He’s a baseball lifer. He believed in me and gave me opportunities and I’m definitely thankful for that.”

After three solid seasons in New York, Turner signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers following the 2013 season. It was in L.A. that his career took off and he became one of the game's best hitters.

“I made a lot of swing changes that offseason,” Turner explained. “Sometimes you make swing changes and they don’t always work out. But I made some swing changes and went in that first year coming off the bench, pinch hitting, and I hit .340. I think that was a confirmation that the swing changes were propelling me in the right direction.”

He played for another Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer in L.A., former Bisons outfielder Dave Roberts.

“Doc was great,” Turner said. “Another high energy guy, who likes to be around the guys and check in on everyone to see how they’re doing. I got to know him and his family really well. I’m obviously happy for all of his success.”

Turner slashed .296/.375/.490 with 156 home runs and 574 RBIs in nine seasons with the Dodgers. He played in nine postseasons with L.A., including three World Series, and became known as one of the game’s best postseason performers. He was named the 2017 NLCS MVP in the Dodgers five-game series win over the Cubs, when he slashed .333/.478/.667 with two home runs and seven RBIs.

When asked to name his most clutch postseason performances, Turner mentioned two big home runs. One came in Game Two of the 2017 NLCS against the Cubs and the other was in Game Two of the 2018 NLCS against the Brewers.

“The walk-off homer in Chicago,” Turner said. “That’s probably number one. The two-run homer in Milwaukee off (Jeremy) Jeffress in the eighth inning is probably number two. Obviously, there were a lot of big games. I hit a few homers in the World Series. Winning the World Series (in 2020) was obviously really special – but as far as big-time swings, and clutch swings, the walk-off homer and the eighth-inning homer to put us up were two of my biggest ones.”

Turner spent last season with the Boston Red Sox, where he put up more big numbers, slashing .276/.345/.455 with 23 home runs and 96 RBIs. Now, he brings his talents to the Blue Jays, providing the team with an experienced, clutch, middle of the order bat.

“I just think it’s a good ballclub,” he said of his decision to sign with the Blue Jays in the offseason. “I think we’re going to compete and play for a championship. It’s really that simple.”


bottom of page