Phillippe Aumont spent a good chunk of the last few years wondering if baseball was still a viable career choice.
The Canadian right-hander received some affirmation on Monday when the Toronto Blue Jays announced they had signed him to a minor league contract.
Aumont, a former MLB first-round draft pick, last appeared in a major league game with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. He retired briefly the following season before spending two of the last three years playing independent ball with the Can-Am League's Ottawa Champions.
"It's been up and down, it's been a grind," Aumont said of his career path since 2015. "There was a point where I just had enough of baseball and I wanted to get away. The game was driving me nuts.
"And that break, it felt good, but at the end of the day I knew I had to go back. I didn't want to give up."
The 30-year-old Aumont credits his turnaround to two things — his fiancee, Frederique, who helped him see his career from a different perspective, and his now five-month-old daughter, Gabrielle.
"Not knowing who I was and who I wanted to be, that was tough, but the big thing that really anchored me down was finding out (Frederique) was pregnant," Aumont said in a phone interview from his Gatineau, Que., home. "When my daughter was born, I was like 'OK this is Day 1 of fatherhood and I've got to get this right.'
"Every day I want to make sure my little daughter has everything she needs and she's happy. It drives me and it gives me something to really work for."
Aumont, a mainstay on the Canadian national team, said he garnered a "surprising" amount of attention from overseas leagues after a stellar outing at Premier 12 last month in South Korea, when he shut out a talented Cuban team through eight innings in Canada's lone win of the tournament.
Suddenly general managers in Asia and Mexico started sending him constant messages via text — and even social media.
"I've performed at a lot of tournaments and attention would always follow, but this time around it was like 'wow, OK,'" Aumont said with a laugh.
He said he decided to accept Toronto's offer, which includes an invite to major league spring training, after going back and forth on details of the deal over the last two weeks in an effort to make sure he can explore those overseas options if things don't pan out.
This contract marks Aumont's second official stint with the Blue Jays. He also signed with Toronto late in 2015, making five appearances at triple-A Buffalo while the major league team was clinching a playoff spot for the first time in 22 years.
Toronto announced four other minor-league signings on Monday — fellow pitchers A.J. Cole and Justin Miller, second baseman Andy Burns and outfielder Patrick Kivlehan. They all also received invites to major league spring training.
The Blue Jays non-tendered catcher Luke Maille and pitchers Derek Law and Jason Adam, making them free agents.
Aumont, the 11th overall draft pick by Seattle in 2007, made 18 starts with the Champions last season, finishing with an 8-4 record and a 2.65 earned-run average with six complete games and 145 strikeouts over 118 2/3 innings of work.
He also served as the pitching coach for the Ottawa team last year, a role he said helped him further develop his own game.
"If I'm teaching these guys something, that means I have to apply it myself when I'm on the mound or I'm pretty hypocritical," Aumont said. "The things we were talking about I had to put them in action and not just that, I had to really focus on the mound.
"I'm out there and I'm like 'I can't slip, these guys are watching me.' I have to minimize every mistake to show them the things that we're working on are actually working. So yeah, those guys really helped me without even knowing it. They all helped me get better each day."
Aumont and Frederique have tentative plans for an autumn 2020 wedding, but that could change depending on where his career takes him next year.
He said he's been grateful to have that level of understanding and support from his fiancee, especially as he struggled to find his place over the last few seasons.
"She's my light, she's my world," Aumont said. "She helped me to see (baseball) from a different view and now I go about it a different way.
"I'm having fun (with baseball) again. I finally feel like I found my identity and I'm feeling good about it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2019.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press