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Jays relief pitcher Neil Wagner opts for a good book during baseball's down time

DUNEDIN, Fla. – While some players in the Blue Jays clubhouse are usually engrossed in their phone or an iPad, Neil Wagner can always be found in front of his locker with his nose in a book.

On Wednesday morning, the relief pitcher killed time ahead of a Grapefruit League game against the Houston Astros by reading “The Roman Forum” by David Watkins.

The book is a history of the Italian landmark. According to Amazon.com, it offers “a remarkable and engaging new vision of a well-visited, if often misunderstood, wonder.”

Wagner, 29, is an avid reader. And as a relief pitcher, he can have time on his hands.

“Part of baseball throughout every level, in addition to all the work you have to do, especially as a bullpen guy you have a lot of down time,” he explained. “So when you’re not watching video or doing your physical work, you have to have something to occupy your time to keep you from going crazy.

“So I like reading and (I) just pick up whatever I can find.”

Watkins, his latest find, came from a visit to Barnes & Noble — “my favourite place.”

“I just happened to see it and it was like ‘Ah, that looks interesting,'” Wagner recalled. “So I just grabbed it and there you go.”

Inside his locker, Wagner also has a copy of “Good Poems” by Garrison Keillor. The Minneapolis-born pitcher, who saw six games of major league action with Oakland in 2011, says he has enjoyed poetry since taking a course on it in high school.

Of course, Wagner isn’t the only Jays bookish type. Knuckleballer/author R.A. Dickey — “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball” — sits across the aisle from him in the clubhouse.

But manager John Gibbons isn’t much of a bookworm, it seems.

Asked if he did much reading during his time as a player, Gibbons replied: “What would your guess be?” and then roared with laughter.

“Actually I like history, war stuff, I do read some of that,” added the Jays manager, who likes to play up his good ol’ boy image.

“But I can’t remember many books I actually finished. (Maybe) USA Today.”