Rex Peters coached right-hander Joe Biagini for only one season at UC Davis, but he saw the potential.
Not just for Biagini reaching the majors one day – though there were signs of that, too – but for getting noticed for his wry, irreverent sense of humor.
“He is quirky, a little bit strange,” Peters said of the Toronto Blue Jays’ rookie reliever. “A very intelligent kid. But yeah, it doesn’t surprise me he’s getting a reputation for that. He’s a smart kid, but also a little off the wall, so to speak.”
Asked during the Blue Jays’ visit to San Francisco this week about the best part of the big leagues so far, Biagini quickly answered, “The pants.”
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“The pants are very comfortable,” said the 6-foot-5 Biagini. “They come in many shapes and sizes. That’s one of the things that I appreciate, struggling through the minor leagues finding pants that were comfortable and fit correctly, so I would always show off my ankles, which I’m super proud of but not maybe on the baseball field.”
Biagini, a Menlo Park native who was drafted out of UC Davis in 2011 by the Giants and taken by the Blue Jays in December in the Rule 5 Draft, surprisingly made Toronto’s roster out of spring training and had a 0.90 ERA through his first eight major-league appearances.
He earned his first major-league win on May 3, then held a memorable postgame interview session that teammate and reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson later tweeted a link to with the recommendation, “Please take time today and enjoy this.”
Among the highlights, Biagini described the traditional beer shower after his first win as “an incident with the team in the bathroom,” and said he hadn’t been able to text family yet “because you guys (reporters) are bothering me. Just kidding.” He said his pregame routine involves “finger-painting exercises. I’m just kidding – sort of.”
Biagini is the third player from UC Davis to reach the big leagues, along with infielder Daniel Descalso and pitcher Eddie Gamboa.
“It means nothing to me,” he said Wednesday. “Except for all the things it does mean.”
Biagini, who attended the King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, transferred to UC Davis from the College of San Mateo and was coming off Tommy John surgery in the season he played for the Aggies.
“I think the opportunity there was (what) I needed at that time in my life, to try to grow and improve,” Biagini said. “I didn’t feel super-confident about my abilities when I was there. But I was grateful to get the roster spot, and honestly there was a lot of growth that happened when I was there.”
Biagini pitched in just 13 games for the Aggies in 2011 with a 7.47 ERA. But the Giants saw enough to draft him in the 26th round.
“(It was) a surprise in the sense that he didn’t have much of a track record to go off of,” Peters said. “But not surprising because of the potential. He had a major-league body with a major-league arm, and it just needed time to develop.”
Biagini mostly started in the minors and went 10-7 with a 2.42 ERA last season at Double-A Richmond, Va. But he was left off the Giants’ 40-man roster and nagged by Toronto. If the Blue Jays cut him from their major-league roster, they’ll have to offer Biagini back to the Giants, but right now he appears to be a valuable addition.
Biagini said finding out he’d been taken by the Blue Jays was “a nice little surprise.” The biggest difference about relocating to Canada?
“Probably the money,” he said. “The people are super nice. For the most part. Not that they’re not nice around here (in San Francisco).”
A Giants fan growing up, Biagini returned in a Blue Jays uniform last week to the stadium where he watched “so many games” as a kid. He called it an “odd familiarity.” When the Blue Jays got to the Bay Area, Biagini visited his family in the South Bay and discussed the feeling with his father.
“We were saying to each other, ‘We’re just going to another Giants game,’ ” Biagini said. “We came to all these games, and he’d say, ‘You could be as good as that guy, just do this and that.’ And then here I am. It’s kind of ... ‘surreal’ doesn’t even do it justice.”
Biagini was serious at that point, and also when he said he spent part of last offseason in Davis, taking classes toward a communications degree. He said he needs only about 20 units to finish.
“If I take another full quarter of five classes, I’ll be done,” Biagini said. “But I’m kind of hoping I won’t have time for that for a while.”