Jon Jay says time at UM prepared him for big-league attention on Cardinals

JUPITER — Jon Jay likes to compare the “aura” that surrounds the two teams on which he has spent the majority of his baseball career.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ center fielder says there is a prestige attached to the University of Miami and dismisses any notion that the Hurricanes have been tainted by the ongoing NCAA investigation and ties to a more recent performance-enhancing drug probe.

The Cardinals tradition and popularity, he says, speak for themselves and is something that he was prepared for after spending three years at Miami.
“Any little thing that happens at Miami and they’re under the microscope,” Jay said. “Just like here.”

But that microscope on Miami is sharper than ever.

Jay has followed the Nevin Shapiro scandal and the recent reports that former Miami baseball players — including Brewers All-Star Ryan Braun, who was a teammate of Jay’s — received PEDs from a now defunct clinic that was operating not far from the Miami campus.

But Jay believes his alma mater gets unfairly singled out.

“It’s a combination of everything, being in the city of Miami everybody knows it’s a party town, the stuff that happened in the ‘80s,” Jay said. “Things come up all over the country and I think they kind of pick and choose where they come out. I just say, ‘be fair.”’

Jay, 27, calls the day he was offered a scholarship from Miami as “one of the top moments of my life,” one that undoubtedly includes the day he won a World Series.

“I wanted to go to UM ever since I could remember,” Jay said. “When they called it was a no-brainier. I said, ‘yes, I’m coming.’ I don’t even have to take a visit.”

That’s because Jay, who graduated from Miami-Columbus High, spent his youth attending games at Mark Light Stadium and the Orange Bowl and, more recently, has been a regular at the BankUnited Center to see the Hurricanes resurgent basketball program.

Jay became a star at UM, twice earning All-America honors (2005-06). Miami advanced to two College World Series in Jay’s three years.

Jay was selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by St. Louis and made his big-league debut in 2010. But it wasn’t until a year and a half later, when the Cardinals traded Colby Rasmus, a former first-round pick, to the Blue Jays that Jay was handed the center field job.

“I talked a lot last year about how he grew as a player and grew into the role of center field,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He made huge strides, and over this winter he’s taken that further as far as realizing he’s in that next generation of guys coming along. I think he’s as good as any center fielder in the game.”

Jay hit .297 in 2011 and solidified the Cardinals outfield on their way to winning the World Series. But it was last year that he took charge, anchoring an outfield that included Carlos Beltran in right and Matt Holliday in left, and finishing with a .306 average and .373 on-base percentage while hitting leadoff most of the games he played.

Rasmus? He hit .223 with a .289 on base percentage.

Beltran, a 15-year veteran, including 11 in center field, lauded Jay for his leadership skills. He also believes Jay one day will join him as a Gold Glove winner.

“He’s all about learning,” Beltran said. “Every day he comes to the ballpark he comes with the mentality of getting better. I know how demanding center field is. The kid has the desire. He’s going to be a good one.”

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