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Conversations with the Herd: Ryan Borucki

Ryan Borucki is very familiar with the Queen City, having pitched at Sahlen Field for both the Bisons and Blue Jays. He’s now in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs, but was with their Triple-A affiliate, Iowa, when they came to Buffalo for a six-game series in April. He spoke with The Herd Chronicles when he was at Sahlen Field.

“It’s definitely a comfortable place for me,” he said of his return to Sahlen Field. “When I got out on the mound, it felt very comfortable.”

“Yesterday I pitched and they even played my walkup music that I used to have when I was with the Bisons (Don’t Look Down by Martin Garrix, featuring Usher). It was cool. It was a very cool reunion.”

Borucki pitched in 25 career games for the Bisons. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

The lefty grew up in Mundelein, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago – but grew up a fan of the team from the south side. Even though he was a White Sox fan, he attended numerous games at Wrigley Field while growing up.

“I definitely went to a couple White Sox-Cubs games, some Cubs games, a lot more White Sox games,” he said. “But yeah, definitely spent some time at Wrigley.”

He also grew up a big fan of Mark Buehrle. Buehrle pitched for the White Sox from 2000 to 2011 before spending a season in Miami and finishing his career with three seasons in Toronto.

“That’s why I wore 56 when I was in Toronto,” Borucki explained. “He was one of the main reasons why I wore that number. When I was a starter he was kind of the guy I based my game around. So a lot of the way I pitched was because of him.”

Borucki first pitched in Buffalo in 2017. After beginning the season at High-A Dunedin, where he had a 3.58 ERA in 19 appearances (18 starts), he was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire, where he had a 1.94 ERA in seven starts. He came up to Buffalo at the end of August to make his Triple-A debut against the Pawtucket Red Sox – and fired six shutout innings.

Talking with catcher Danny Jansen before Borucki's first career start for Buffalo. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

“I was coming off a really good year, started in High-A that year, went to Double-A and did really well there,” he remembered. “I wanted to finish my season with a good exclamation point because I knew it was my last start. Obviously there were nerves, first time being in Triple-A, but when you get out there it’s still the same game. It was a good one to end my season with.”

He returned to Buffalo in 2018 and had a 3.27 ERA in 13 starts (77 IP).

“That was just one of those seasons where – it was up and down in the beginning,” he said. “I knew my position and that I had a chance to eventually make it to the big leagues. I just wanted to get better and make really good quality big league pitches. That season, my last seven or eight starts I really went on a run and was making a lot of really good pitches. I strung together a lot of good outings in a row.”

In late June, Borucki received the news that he’d be joining the Blue Jays to make his major-league debut against the defending world champion Houston Astros.

“I was coming in for a day game,” he remembered. “I was supposed to start. Pat Hentgen was our special assistant. He was in town and he called me and said that (Bisons manager) Bobby (Meacham) wanted to talk to me. I had a feeling because I saw the injuries happen – but I didn’t know. They just said that we’re scratching you from your start and you’re going to be pitching in Houston in a couple days. It was awesome. It was also cool because my family had just flown in to watch me pitch that day. So right after I got done finding out and hugging all my teammates, I was able to share that moment with my parents, which was really, really special.”

He made his debut against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros and their star-studded lineup that featured the likes of perennial All-Stars George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve. Borucki ended up throwing 95 pitches and allowed just two runs in six innings.

“It was definitely nerve racking,” he recalled. “You’d like to not have to face the defending champions in your first start. Luckily, I made some really good pitches and I got out of some trouble a couple innings. I just kind of pitched my game. It was a good way to start my big league career.”

He remained in the Blue Jays rotation for the rest of the season and had a 3.87 ERA in 17 starts.

“Yeah, 2018 was a good season for me,” he said. “It was one of my favorite seasons that I’ve ever had.”

In 2019, he was also with Toronto, but only appeared in two games due to bone spurs in his left elbow. Then, in the truncated COVID season of 2020, Borucki returned to Buffalo – but this time as a major leaguer, when the Blue Jays called Sahlen Field their temporary home due to the closure of the U.S.-Canada border.

“It was one of those things where obviously the world was in a different time than we were ever used to. Obviously we wanted to be playing in Toronto, but Covid didn’t allow us to. I think everyone was grateful just to be playing again. It was a fun experience, but it was weird for everybody.”

“We kind of used this place (Sahlen Field) to our advantage. We knew (visiting) big league teams weren’t going to a big league stadium with all the big league facilities. They had to go in a circus tent out there (in right field) and they had to grind. So we used that to our advantage. We had a really good home record. We just kind of took this ballpark and too advantage of it.”

Not only did the Blue Jays have a successful season – making the playoffs as a wild card team before losing to Tampa Bay – but Borucki did as well. Working out of the Blue Jays bullpen, he had a 2.70 ERA in 21 relief appearances.

“It was a cool experience going to the playoffs,” he said. “We had a really good season. I think we surprised a lot of people. We were only one year into a rebuild. It was a really fun season for us.”

Celebrating clinching a playoff berth at Sahlen Field in 2020. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

He returned to the Queen City in 2021, when the Blue Jays once again called Sahlen Field home as they waited for the U.S.-Canada border to reopen.

“Just that whole year in general in ’21 was a weird year – having to play two months in Dunedin, two months here, and then go to Toronto,” he said. “We tried to make the best of it. People don’t really understand how hard it is to move your family and move everything three times. But it was one of those seasons where we knew what was ahead of us. We couldn’t make any excuses. We were one game away from making the playoffs. We made the best of it.”

The Blue Jays second season in Buffalo had a different atmosphere, because fans were able to once again attend games.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “The fans are great here. (Bisons superfan) Mark (Aichenger) is always right there in the front row. I always loved Mark. This is a great place to play, for sure.”

At Sahlen Field in 2021 with Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

Borucki also saw the full effects of the renovations the Blue Jays made to Sahlen Field, since he’d also played here as a minor leaguer.

“Being able to play here and having the new locker room and the brand new weight room and everything – it was unbelievable what they were able to do in such a short period of time,” he said. “This facility, this stadium, is the best in Triple-A baseball by far. It’s not even close. It’s really, really nice for the home players that have the facility.”

“Even as a visiting player, these are by far the best clubhouse, best weight room, best bullpen, everything that’s here. And it’s not even a close thing. Guys were making comments when we (the Iowa Cubs) drove up. They were like, ‘Man, this stadium is massive.’ I was like, ‘yeah, it was supposed to be a big league stadium for expansion.’”

Borucki throwing in the Sahlen Field outfield in 2021. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

Borucki also experienced the Bisons playing in Trenton, New Jersey, when the Herd relocated to the Garden State to accommodate the Blue Jays using Sahlen Field. He made three rehab appearances for the Bisons when they were using Trenton as a home base. Two of the games were when the Bisons were playing in Rochester and one was in Trenton.

“I played there before when I was in Double-A, when they were with the Yankees,” he said of his journey to Trenton. He added with a chuckle, “I had to do rehab and I drove like six hours and threw five pitches in my rehab start and then I had to drive six hours back.”

He started the 2022 season with the Blue Jays before being traded to Seattle in June. He signed with the Cubs organization last offseason. Now, he looks forward to experiencing some of his Western New York favorites again, as he returns to the Queen City as a visiting player.

“I’ve been going to all my favorite places, my favorite restaurants and stuff here. It’s a fun nostalgic trip for sure.”

“I know the area (downtown Buffalo) really well. I go to Public Espresso (in the Hotel Lafayette), Frankie Primo’s – I already hit that spot up for some good Italian. I went to Vice last night. Yeah, I’ve got my spots. I’ve got a couple more spots – I’ve got to hit Bar-Bill up. I haven’t gotten to Bada Bing yet, but I have to get the Bing Sandwich. That’s a staple. I might get that twice before I leave because that was like an Uber Eats special for me. I’d get it three times a week.”

“I’ve been telling everybody all the good spots. They’ve been coming up to me asking me what all the good spots are, so I’m pointing them in the right direction.”

“You’ve got to find the really good sneaky spots and venture out. There’s not a lot of chains here, so it can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Me and my wife are big foodies, so we explored a lot when I was playing here and we found a lot of really good spots here. So we definitely have to hit those staples, for sure.”

Pitching for the Iowa Cubs against the Bisons. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles

He has nothing but great things to say about the city that he lived in for parts of five seasons.

“This fan base is great,” he said. “They love this team. It’s definitely a sports city. I don’t have a bad experience to share, it was only good here. It’s cool just being back as a visiting player.”

“I was looking forward to this trip since I saw we were coming. My wife came with me just to see all her friends because I was with the Toronto Blue Jays for eleven seasons, so we have a lot of friends over there on that side. It was just a really fun organization to play for. I really cherished all my times here. I really love this city.”


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