CLEVELAND — Guardians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie and first baseman Josh Naylor are at the epicenter of the youth movement at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Together, they are working to establish themselves as valuable pieces for the franchise. They have also bonded over their shared Jamaican heritage along the way.
“Whenever we go on a road trip to a city we haven’t been to before, I always try to find a Jamaican restaurant to eat at. It is a tradition that we share now,” Naylor said. “Growing up, my mother, aunts or grandmother cooked Jamaican food every single day, and that is how I like it.”
Naylor, who is from the greater Toronto area, and McKenzie, a native of South Florida, grew up in homes influenced by Jamaican culture, and each regularly made trips to the island nation as children to spend time with family and friends. The experiences shaped them. In fact, McKenzie inherited his love for baseball from his Jamaican father, Stanton McKenzie, who taught him his curveball and paid for private pitching instruction. Naylor inherited his love of baseball, hockey and Jamaica from his mother.
The duo are on a short list of teammates of Jamaican descent to play together at the MLB level. Chili Davis and Devon White of the 1988-90 Angels are the most recognizable pair. (Davis and White are two of only four players actually born in Jamaica to appear in an AL or NL game).
“It’s an honor to play the game. I have to thank Jackie [Robinson], because without him, we wouldn’t have this chance,” said Naylor. “It is humbling what Triston and I are able to do here when it comes to representing our families and where we’re from.
Cleveland has an illustrious and rich history with Black baseball players that spans back to 1948. They were the first team in the AL to sign a Black American position player, Black American pitcher and the first MLB team to sign an Afro-Latino baseball player. Those players — Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Minnie Miñoso — are all in the Hall of Fame. Cleveland was also the first MLB team to hire a Black manager in Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
Naylor and McKenzie are hoping to make a lasting mark on the franchise, but both know there is still plenty of work to be done.
Acquired by Cleveland in the Mike Clevinger trade in August 2020, Naylor is batting .277/.339/.491 with 13 doubles and eight home runs, bouncing back from a lower leg injury that limited him to 69 games in 2021. He ranks among the top 10 players with at least 30 games logged at first base in OPS and doubles. As for McKenzie, he’s sporting a 4.03 ERA in 80 1/3 innings pitched, and he’s holding opponents to a .214 batting average this season.
Statistics aside, McKenzie and Naylor are aware of what their presence in the big leagues means to their communities.
“I definitely think we’re a part of this new wave of Black talent, we all stay pretty close and connected,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s cool to look around, see more of us and feel represented. To be one of those guys little kids can look up to is heartwarming.”
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