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BUFFERY

Hopefully this won't define me: Kevin Pillar's penance chase is on

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after scoring a run during an MLB game against the Seattle Mariners at Rogers Centre on May 11, 2017. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after scoring a run during an MLB game against the Seattle Mariners at Rogers Centre on May 11, 2017. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Standing at his locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards, Kevin Pillar shook his head and stared off into the distance.

It’s like he’s living a bad dream and searching for some light, for some normalcy to return. Rejoining his teammates on Saturday following a two-game suspension was a huge mental lift, but the anger and disappointment is still out there and Pillar understands it will be for some time.

Of course, the Blue Jays’ centre fielder hopes sooner rather than later the controversy he sparked last Wednesday by directing a homophobic slur at Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte will become just a memory though, not from him running away from what he said.

Pillar plans to continue being proactive in expressing his penitence. Since the incident, he’s reached out to people in the LGBTQ community and hopes to turn his hurtful outburst into something positive.

“I always ask myself why. Why did it happen?” said Pillar, his voice breaking at times during an interview with Postmedia.

“There’s definitely been a reflection period, but at the same time I’ve reached out to some different organizations and some different people and had some phone calls and really educated myself better.”

Pillar released a statement following the incident at SunTrust Park in metro Atlanta, saying: “I’m completely and utterly embarrassed and feel horrible to have put the fans, my teammates, and the Blue Jays organization in this position. I have apologized personally to Jason Motte, but also need to apologize to the Braves organization and their fans, and most importantly, to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I displayed last night. This is not who I am and will use this as an opportunity to better myself.”

That’s what Pillar still has trouble comprehending: Why he would say something so hurtful, something so out of character. People who have been involved in pro sports for an extended period time know that the homophobic F-word has for years been a common expletive vented by professional athletes in the heat of the battle. You’d have to be naive to think that hockey, baseball and football players wouldn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel when firing verbal insults at each other. Fortunately, that’s changing. In any event, Pillar said that doesn’t excuse what he said and the incident still bothers him greatly.

“I’m 28 years old and I hear grown men use (ugly) language all the time, whether it’s in a clubhouse, on the field, in the streets, on a subway, on a plane. The language isn’t dead and gone," he said.

"But, for me to use that type of language is not something that my wife, who I’ve known for close to 10 years now, has ever heard me use. My mother, it’s something she’s never heard me use. That doesn’t mean I don’t hear it and I guess if you’re in that moment and ... I don’t know, subconscious has a way of working sometimes and hopefully this is the last of it.

"Hopefully, this won’t be a defining moment (of my career). Hopefully it will be a learning experience for me and my teammates.”

Pillar is hesitant to say it, because it’s so cliche and sounds like a cop-out, but what really bothers him is the fact that he and his wife Amanda do have friends in the LGBTQ community. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and grew up in a liberal atmosphere. He has talked to the president of his old high school, Chaminade College Prep, and plans to talk to the student body, and at a nearby middle school about his experience and how damaging and hurtful words can be.

Pillar said the majority of people who have reached out to him via social media following the release of his statement last Friday have been supportive, though he admitted that some of the very ugly messages he received were shocking.

“It was definitely tough to read some of these things,” he said, without going into detail.

“Any time somebody attacks your credibility, your character, those are hard things to read. But once I was able to come out with my statement and my apology, the support became even more. There was actually a lot of support from the community, from fans, from strangers ... I think a lot of people felt my apology was sincere and honest and true and heartfelt, which it was, and the support was there."

“I felt horrible about what I said," Pillar continued, "but I already started the next steps on what I do now so it’s more than just lip service and more than just an apology and how there’s things I can do to really turn this into a positive thing, not only for myself but for the Blue Jays organization, for Major League Baseball, for all professional sports. Because I think when something like this happens, I think athletes even more so get a negative stereotype about them. How they’re egotistical and narcissistic and uneducated, and that’s not really the case with a lot of these athletes, including myself.

“So I’ve started my journey and I’m going out there and talk to the right people and see how and where I could fit in making a difference. I don’t know if you’ll see me grand marshalling a parade, but there’s opportunities for me to go out there and more than anything my impact is going to be mostly with young people, whether it’s talking about the use of certain language or just bullying in general.

"I’m going to do my best to put this behind me because I know it was an isolated incident and it’s not a reflection of who I am and my character and the way my parents raised me and the way this organization feels about me.”

At times during the interview, Pillar paused and looked over at his teammates lounging on a couple of couches in the middle of the clubhouse.

He calls them “his second family” and chokes up when talking about how they helped him get through the past few days and how he feels he let them, his family and the organization down.

“I’m going to go out there every day and try to make difference,” he said.

SLUGGERS SET TO BEGIN REHAB STINTS

The Blue Jays can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The club reported that both shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and third baseman Josh Donaldson would play Monday night for the Dunedin Blue Jays on a rehab assignment at Fort Myers, Fla.

Unfortunately, the Jays rotation is still hammered by the injury bug with J.A. Happ (left elbow), Aaron Sanchez (finger) and Francisco Liriano (shoulder) still on the DL.

What that means is that triple-A callup Mike Bolsinger, who has started three games for the Jays this month, will get at least one more on the weekend against the Texas Rangers. Bolsinger is 0-2 with a 6.32 ERA in his three starts. Toronto pitching Pete Walker, however, believes that Bolsinger will rise to the challenge, despite his limited success so far.

“He had a tough start his last one (a May 15 loss to the Atlanta Braves), but he kept us in the game (Saturday) night (against the Baltimore Orioles) and got some ground balls against probably one of the best lineups you’ll face in baseball. And I think he did a good job,” said Walker.

“I thought he was more aggressive, I thought his tempo was better and he gave us a chance. And I think he can be better than that to be honest with you from what we saw (Saturday) night. He made a few mistakes that hurt him but he’ll definitely get the ball again. We need him to step up.”

Joe Biagini starts Tuesday in Milwaukee — the first of a two-game set against the Brewers — followed by Marcus Stroman on Wednesday.

sbuffery@postmedia.com