If you look around the Dodgers’ clubhouse you can identify a number of leaders. Veterans such as David Freese, Russell Martin, and Justin Turner that bring life and experience to the younger players. You’ll find examples of passion, fire, and determination in the likes of Clayton Kershaw or the cool and collected demeanor of A.J. Pollock. Then, there’s Kenley Jansen.
Kenley Jansen exudes a different kind of leadership with the Dodgers. It’s not flashy, nor is it demanding. It’s not pep talks or motivational speeches. That’s not to say he isn’t capable of such things, in fact, he very well might be, but that’s exactly my point. Jansen is a shadow leader that gets his message across by action and example. His leadership is subtle and humble. He’s not seeking the accolades of being recognized with the “Leader” title, but he is one.
Jansen has given his heart to the Dodgers, both figuratively and physically. Shortly after his call up to the Dodgers in 2010, he began battling heart ailments. Ultimately he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat that sidelined him for parts of 2011, 2012 and 2018. He has been on medication, received shock treatment and undergone two off-season heart surgeries in order to continue playing in a Dodger uniform.
He could’ve opted to end those seasons early and get the heart surgery immediately. No one would’ve second-guessed that decision or questioned his dedication. Instead, he put a band-aid on it and rejoined his team to compete.
Not only has Jansen given his heart to the team, but he gave up money to stay with the team. In 2017, Kenley became a free agent. He was one of three top-tier closers on the market and poised to sign a record contract. Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today Sports quoted him as saying,
"“I probably would have beaten (the record) with Washington, but the best thing for me is to be here,’’ said Jansen, a career-long Dodger. “It’s the best thing for my family. I’m happy to be here, I’m excited to be here. We’re playing for one thing here. We’re playing for winning a championship. It would mean a lot to me to win a championship at home.’’"
He ended up signing a five year $80 million contract with the Dodgers instead of the Nationals, who allegedly offered around $85 million. What’s $5 million less when you’re making $80 million, you ask? It’s still 5 million dollars and possibly more considering California taxes. Five million more to do the same job on another competitive team.
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Jansen wanted to be a Dodger and his decision to stay for less sent a message to the younger players. Money’s not everything and that this team, his family in blue, was worth the monetary sacrifice.
Now in 2019, Kenley Jansen is once again leading by example. He showed up to camp 25 pounds lighter. Yes, the same man that had his second heart surgery in the offseason, also worked hard to drop weight in four short months. He chose diet over comfort food. Working out over relaxing. I witnessed it myself by means of his Instagram, he was dedicated.
Sure he took time to vacation a bit, but I saw a lot more workout clips of him and his wife crushing it in the gym than I saw of umbrella garnished cocktails at the beach. Again, leading without preaching. Showing what it takes to succeed, what you must sacrifice to be the best. 30 years old and he came into Spring Training in as good of shape as any; sending a message.
Vin Scully once said, “a man really determines himself by what he does.” Well, Kenley Jansen’s actions are so much more than that of just a closer, he is a true leader. He takes ownership of his performances, good or bad, he holds himself to a high standard, and he’s always working to improve. He knows the importance, the pain of sacrifice, and it’s on display. The heart of this leader is anything but broken, the only irregularity is that he’s a dying breed.