They fight hard, they love hard and they play hard. They're the fighting Lawries.
It’s a family creed that presents a dichotomous balance epitomizing the type of player and person Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie has become.
Lawrie, the highest-ever Canadian position player chosen in an MLB draft (16th overall in 2008 by the Milwaukee Brewers), believes the family motto instilled by his father Russ paints an accurate picture.
“In my family, we love hard, we fight hard, we play hard,” Brett said in a phone interview with CBCSports.ca. “I mean pretty much everything we do is to the max. Our family’s pretty competitive.
“We’re always one big family at the end of everything, but we do everything hard and we’re very respectful of one another and we’ve got each others’ backs — our whole family does — and we love hard and we play hard just the way it sounds.”
While competitiveness has been a key cog in Lawrie’s life, the ardent, motivated and fiery competitor Jays fans are familiar with is infused with a lighter side as well.
His older sister Danielle, 24 — a well-decorated softball pitcher — can appreciate her brother’s ability to lighten the mood.
“He’s extremely funny, he’s one of the funniest guys I think I’ve ever met,” she said. “He can just memorize lines in movies and just crack them off, he knows like every single YouTube video that’s funny out there and he can keep watching it until he’ll say the line that’s going to happen before it happens...so just that funny guy and he’s always been like that.”
It’s a sentiment proudly echoed by his father, a first-division rugby player for more than 20 years.
Ability to mimick
“He drives me insane man, he’s a beauty,” said Russ. “I love him to death, he’s a funny guy. He’s just got this incredible ability to mimick people and to retain information that he wants to retain.”
The 22-year-old Brett takes pleasure in reciting dialogue from some of his favourite movies, like Dumb and Dumber (starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels), Step Brothers (starring Will Ferrell) and enjoys watching sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and shows like Entourage.
In fact, the Langley, B.C. native has been infatuated with movie quotes since he was five years old. While he and his family were on a camping trip to Mara Lake, near the Okanagan Valley in B.C., Brett was standing under an apple tree by the lake while his Aunt Donna was strolling by about 30 yards away. He got an idea.
“I grabbed an [apple] and I crow-hopped it off the back of her head,” he remembered. “I always knew how to throw things hard when I was little, I could throw stuff pretty well and I hit my auntie in the back of her head and she turned around like she was going to kill me, and I said, from the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, I said it was ‘a run-by fruiting’, from the movie when [Robin Williams] throws the fruit and hits Pierce Brosnan in the head. I said that to my auntie and she couldn’t get mad at me because she was laughing.”
'Playing video games, he still wants to be the best at it. ... He just wants to win at everything he does, which is not a bad thing.'— Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia on Brett Lawrie
While the former Olympian — and basketball and soccer player — has an innate ability to mimick people and create smiles, his teammates know just how much he exemplifies the will to win.
J.P. Arencibia talks about how far that drive extends off the field.
“He’s a joker, but he’s still intense,” said Arencibia. “Playing video games, he still wants to be the best at it, I mean that’s just his personality. He just wants to win at everything he does, which is not a bad thing.”
The 26-year-old Jays catcher said that Lawrie takes pleasure in beating him at video games – even when they’re on the same team.
“I’ll be trying to catch up to him and he’s just dragging me along the screen and lets me die into the lava,” Arencibia said with a chuckle. “And he thinks it’s funny so I always let him know he’s the most selfish Super Mario Bros. player in the world.”
Healthy sibling rivalry
Lawrie’s intense desire to win was fuelled at a young age by his dad, who would create a competition out of everyday household chores between him and his sister Danielle, fostering a healthy sibling rivalry.
Russ would start up games where he and his kids would compete for whoever had to do the dishes. They would take buns, for example, and try to toss them into a bucket and whoever was least successful would find themselves over the sink scrubbing the leftover pots and pans. Or, he’d ask them to name all of Canada’s capitals and whoever got one wrong would have to dry the dishes or do another chore.
“My sister and myself always competed,” said Brett. “My dad would always take everything on the fly, like ‘whoever can touch that ledge or whoever can do this or whoever can do that, gets a slurpee, gets candy, gets this.
“There were these little things that we would just compete against one another with stuff around the house, like ‘who could jump up and touch the roof with two hands, who can do this, who can do that,’ just little things that [created competition] for me and my sister.”
Russ, who is currently recovering from a hip replacement surgery, comes from a competitive background himself. The 56-year-old has participated in everything from rugby, to basketball, to winning high school track and field competitions, so the focus on excelling comes naturally to him.
“You’ve got to play for something, right?” he said. “We just don’t play just for the fun of it, unless it’s declared that’s all it’s going to be and nobody cares but that’s not often the case around here.”
Danielle, whose impressive softball resume includes winning back-to-back collegiate player of the year awards (2009, 2010) while attending the University of Washington, credits her upbringing for putting her in a position to succeed.
“Everything was a competition,” said Danielle. “Whether it was training for sports, or school or for this, I think [my dad] just instilling that competitive nature in us kind of put that competitiveness in our attitude daily … I still hate, to this day, losing. I hate losing and I hate losing to anybody and I think that’s kind of put us in the place that we’re in right now for sure.”
Russ’s influence on his children’s lives extends far beyond his actions. In fact, it’s some fatherly advice he gave Brett that really stuck with the Jays slugger, creating in him the hard-nosed player he has become.
“My dad always said to me ‘You can’t go around it, you’ve got to go through it,’” said Brett. “And that’s pretty much how I live my life; you can’t go around things you’ve got to go through them.
“It’s hard to dodge things in your life because they’ll always come back to haunt you. I think the easiest way is to man up and kind of go through it and that goes for a lot of things too. You can go through every day life and if you mess up, you’ve got to be able to say ‘hey I messed up’ and not make excuses for yourself, and that’s what my dad’s always said to me: ‘No excuses.’”
While Russ helped instill in his children the feistiness they exude on the field, he thinks their winning attitude and ability to joke around has helped shape who they are today.
“The one thing anyone could ever say to me or about my family is they’d like to be on our team, I guarantee you that,” he said. “When it comes down to a competition or a sporting event, or even just having fun, because we have a lot of fun, I mean we really do, but people would never ever say they didn’t want to be on our team, I’ll tell you that."