Rene Tosoni has been in the game a long time and has played at every level imaginable. From representing Canada in international play as a teenager to playing the outfield for the Minnesota Twins, his story is one of determination and the never-ending desire to be an expert at his craft.
After eight years of professional baseball, Tosoni has had his fill of success and experienced the ups and downs that go with being a professional athlete. At every twist and turn, there is one thing you can’t ignore: his undeniable ability to adapt and move forward with any situation.
Tosoni was granted free agency by the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of 2013. Since, he has signed on with the Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association.
The GM’s Perspective: Mr. Tosoni, you have done what many people only dream. As a fellow Canadian, what you've done is amazing.
What’s it like putting in years of work and finally getting that chance to play Major League Baseball?
Rene Tosoni: It’s not just the first at-bat that was amazing; it was that phone call from the manager, Tom Nieto at the time in Triple-A. When he called me and told me that Delmon Young was hurt, and they were calling me up to fill his spot until someone was healthy, it was overwhelming, exciting, and I was just full of emotion.
First thing I did was call my wife. She was working in Vancouver, Managing Earl’s at the time. I told her and immediately said you have to be in Minnesota tomorrow. This was at 4:00pm and we had a doubleheader the next day (12:00pm/6:00pm).
I was telling all my friends and family that I had to jump on a 6:00am flight. Obviously, I didn’t have a lot of sleep, but fortunately my wife and her sister caught a red-eye from Vancouver-to-Toronto-to-Minnesota. They made it just in time for the first pitch.
You can’t really explain the feeling when you step on to that major league field.
GMs: Everyone I speak to has the same comment. It’s a surreal moment when you realize everything you have worked for has come to fruition.
RT: Everyone says the minor leagues are a grind, it's fun at times, but if you have a losing season it’s miserable. It’s really more fun winning.
I had to battle through injuries. I broke my foot in 2008 and missed half the year. All I wanted was to get healthy and get back in the line-up. It took longer than I wanted it to, unfortunately. It took 16 weeks to return to health instead of 10-12.
In 2010 I hurt my shoulder. I battled through spring training. An MRI revealed a torn labrum and my rotator cuff was frayed, so I spent most of 2010 DHing. I think I played 50 games in 2010 mostly in April or May. And I probably played about 10 on the field, and DH’d most of the time because I couldn’t throw the ball.
I finally had to tell the Twins I couldn’t do this anymore, it hurts me to swing. I ended up getting my shoulder fixed while in Double-A. Luckily in 2011 I had a great spring and made the Triple-A roster even though I only played in 50 games the year before. Not even 20 games into the season, I was in the big leagues.
It’s been a whirlwind getting there, but the toughest part people tell you is staying there. I’ve learned that pretty quickly. I’ve had my shots; my opportunity and I didn’t do very well. I didn’t make the team out of spring training in 2012, got hurt the third game into the season and it snowballed from there.
As hard as you work to get there, it can be taken from you in a heartbeat.
GMs: You hear all the time that there’s always someone waiting in the wings to take your spot.
RT: It worked out for me the first two injuries, and I healed pretty well and moved on, but 2012 was a different story. They sent me to Double-A placing me in the leadoff position to get more at-bats. Approximately three weeks in, I swung at a pitch and separated my collarbone. I battled through that the rest of the year. My numbers just weren’t there due to the lack of power. At the end of the year I got an MRI and found out that I had a slight tear in my pectoral muscle.
I became a free agent at the end of the year and the Twins decided to go another direction. The Milwaukee Brewers picked me up. I had a fun year with my manager, Darnell Coles. He was laid back, and he made it fun. He made us get our work in and didn’t give up on us.
My year went OK. I started off slow, honestly I felt healthy all season long, but the numbers didn’t go my way. If I hit it hard it was caught, I hit anything soft it was caught. My best month (when I felt the best) was August, but statistically it was my worst.
GMs: What is the caliber of baseball when you compare it to the different levels in the minor leagues? What is the deciding factor that keeps someone up at the big league level?
RT: Being consistent! In the big leagues the guys have the control over each pitch. They know where each pitch is going and consistently hit their spots.
Hitters have a plan. They sit one pitch and if they don’t get it they tip their hat to the pitcher. I’m a good buddy with Justin Morneau. He always said it’s a chess match between him and the pitcher.
Everyone will have a slump, you just have to make it as short as possible.
It’s all about taking advantage of your opportunity.
GMs: As you may or may not know, Thunder Bay has recently received the winning bid to host the 2017 18U World Cup. Can you describe you experience during your time with the 2004 Canadian Junior team?
RT: I was on the team in 2003 and 2004 when I was 15 or 16. Playing for your country and traveling is really fun. My first year we had spring training in Orlando and did a short trip to Georgia to play Team USA, and then went on to Cuba to play a couple games against them.
Lots of travel to places I’ve never ever been to in my life. I’m from Vancouver, so getting to see palm trees and sun was a blast when compared to the rain I was used to!
From that, I got recruited to play at my junior college, Chipola College (Marianna, FL). These games were a chance for colleges to watch Canadian baseball players. My brother played with Adam Loewen and Cole Armstrong and they went to Chipola also. They put in a good word with the coach about me. It’s how I got my foot in the door.
It’s always a blast putting on the Canadian jersey.
GMs: What has your experience playing with the Canadian National team been like? You are surrounded by some of the best players our country has ever seen.
RT: You don’t see these guys for years and probably only played against them, but once you put that jersey on and get in the locker room it’s like you’ve known each other since you were 10 years old.
You see guys like Morneau, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders on TV, but once you get in the locker room they act just like one of the guys. They are great people. You’re also surrounded by great coaches like Larry Walker, Ernie Whitt, and Greg Hamilton who make it fun. They’re there to win. Even if you go 0-4, it’s not that worst feeling in the world because the rest of the team is successful. That’s what it’s all about.
GMs: The World Baseball Classic has quickly become a favorite of baseball fans. You were right in the thick of things during bench clearing brawl that started between Canada and Mexico. Players from all teams take this very seriously if I’m not mistaken?
RT: Exactly. In minor league baseball you want to win and want to enjoy it, unfortunately it’s more of an individual game. The goal is to get to the big leagues. If you do well you help the team out, but you want to do well personally. With Team Canada, you want to put Canada on top, and we want to win to make sure the world knows who we are.
You might see certain plays made in these tournaments that might seem too risky to attempt in the minors because it might cost you a run. With international play, it’s all out, and very exciting for the players and the fans.
I played quite a bit in the qualifier, but spent a lot of time on the bench in the actual tournament. Despite that, it was as if I was on the field with them every play. You’re totally into the game at every turn.
GMs: After the 2013 season the Brewers granted you free agency. Now you are in the your first year with the independent Sioux City Explorers.
Did you reach out to them, or did they call you?
RT: This offseason was my second as a free agent. Last year I waited until December. Thank goodness the Brewers reached out to me just before Christmas. I was stressing out. You can just imagine how stressed out I was this offseason considering how long it took last year.
I actually did a couple tryouts for a few teams and it went really well. Things didn’t work out so I started reaching out to independent ball teams on my own.
I talked to my wife, I wasn’t sure if I should hang them up, so to speak. I love baseball, but at some point you have to think about other things. I was in a tough spot. You can only sit around for so long. Finally, my wife and I sat down and we decided that I should keep going. The thought was “you quit when you’re ready”.
When I was at those tryouts I was on the borderline of quitting, but when you’re back on the field it just felt right. I hit the ball well, and I started enjoying the game again.
Obviously, I want to make it back to the big leagues, but I also enjoy being on the field. I’ve been involved with the game at every level, and I like talking to the younger guys and listening to their questions. Certain situations come up where I can help.
GMs: Are you familiar with the success stories of players who've used the independent game to vault themselves back into the professional mix ie…Daniel Nava?
RT: I’ve played against him a long time. He’s a great dude. Seeing what he’s done, he’s a great player and deserves the recognition.
And my buddy Chris Colabello, he spent seven years in independent baseball. He reached out to every organization himself and the Twins took a chance on him.
When I got hurt in 2012 and the Twins sent me to Double-A, he was there and actually in a tough spot. I think he was hitting .215. And being new to the organization, he wanted to please everyone and do the right thing. After a while, he relaxed and ended up having a great year. Last year he won the International League MVP and Rookie of the Year.
GMs: You have played at every level of baseball and you have represented your country at the highest level. What's been the highlight of your impressive career?
RT: Making it to the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins. I came up with the Twins; I know the organization really well. Just to be able to have the opportunity to make it to the big leagues with the team that built me as a player is a real honour.
My first game I was so nervous. I was more nervous in the outfield than I was at the plate. Usually I’m in the outfield running around having a good time, but I have never been in a stadium filled with that many people.
I didn’t do as well as I would’ve hoped. I made my first error right before my first at-bat!
GMs: What advice can you give other Canadian players looking to follow in your footsteps?
RT: Enjoy the game. You can get frustrated and you start hating yourself and hating the game a little bit. It’s gonna be tough. It’s the hardest part trying to overcome all that. I teach a lot of kids and they don’t understand that getting three hits in 10 plate appearances is really good.
Just enjoy it and have fun. You can make a life playing baseball.