By Darci Miller | April 26, 2017, 6:43 p.m. (ET)

 

Each month, the Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Marcus Stroman won Male Athlete of the Month and Team of the Month for March 2017, during which he won MVP honors as Team USA won its first ever World Baseball Classic title. In Stroman's Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, take a look at the pitcher behind the trophy and what has fueled his success.

 

In March, Team USA earned its first World Baseball Classic championship in the history of the event. It was led by starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who pitched to a 2.35 earned run average in a tournament-high 15.1 innings across three starts. Stroman’s efforts in the championship game, in which he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, earned him tournament MVP honors and a spot on the all-tournament team.

But there’s much more to Stroman than a gold medal and an MVP trophy, including a lifetime of staring down adversity. Here are five reasons Stroman deserves everyone’s admiration.

Download the Team USA app today for breaking news, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, videos and more.

 

1. He never let his physical limitations get in his way.

Stroman might have a huge presence on the pitcher’s mound, but he stands only 5-7 – small for any position on the diamond, especially pitcher. He was told he was too short to do much of anything in baseball, but has continuously proved people wrong. After high school he attended Duke University where, despite all the naysayers claiming he couldn’t make it as a starter, compiled a 15-13 record in 48 appearances and set the record for career strikeouts, 290 in 222 innings pitched. He was drafted in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Since making his major league debut in 2014, he’s pitched to a record of 26-18 with a 3.85 ERA and was the Blue Jays’ 2016 Opening Day starter. All the talk about his height served as motivation to succeed and prove everybody wrong, and he created his personal brand to say as much: “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.”

 

2. He turned his biggest setback into an opportunity.

After the 2014 MLB season, Stroman looked to be on the fast track to success on a Blue Jays team with the postseason in its sights. But in March 2015, he tore his ACL while running drills in spring training. Many assumed he would miss the entire 2015 season, and Stroman was forced to watch from afar as the Blue Jays made their postseason bid without him. But instead of focusing solely on rehabbing his knee, he used his time away from baseball to his advantage, returning to Duke University to finish his degree. Not only did he complete his rehab in time to join the Blue Jays for their September push for the playoffs, he earned his degree in sociology, finally walking at graduation in May 2016.

 

3. He doesn’t let bumps in the road slow him down.

Despite his dazzling performance in the WBC final, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Stroman. In his second WBC start – his last start prior to the final – he surrendered four runs in the first inning after giving up six consecutive singles to open the game. The opponent? Puerto Rico. Stroman found himself staring down the same lineup less than a week later in the championship game. This time he locked it down, holding Puerto Rico’s formidable hitters to just one double in more than six innings of work.

 

4. He shines under the brightest spotlights.

In his still-young MLB career, Stroman has built a reputation for elevating his performance when the games matter most. After returning from his ACL injury in September 2015, he went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA as the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason berth in 21 years. He made three postseason starts in 2015, getting the ball in winning efforts in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division series against the Texas Rangers and in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Royals. The Blue Jays returned to the playoffs in 2016 and gave the ball to Stroman when the stakes were at their highest: the win-or-go-home American League Wild Card Game. He turned in six innings of two-run ball on the way to a Blue Jays win over the Baltimore Orioles. Four months later he put the world on notice with his MVP performance in the WBC, proving that no stage is too big.

 

5. He follows his heart.

Stroman is not one to hide his emotions. He could be seen shimmying on the mound during the WBC championship game and routinely celebrates with gusto after big outs. He frequently tweets messages of support for his teammates and recently posted a photo of the new car he bought his mother. His bond with his mom runs so deep that, in 2013, he tweeted his desire to play in the WBC for Puerto Rico, where his mom was born. But when his time came, Stroman decided to follow his heart and play for Team USA. It was a choice that drew the ire of Puerto Rican fans, but Stroman never backed down from it, and it ultimately earned him a world championship.