The face of a lion. It’s what Irv Carter IV pictures before every start.
Towel draped over his head, Carter closes his eyes, calms his mind and searches for the visual. Sometimes the trance lasts five minutes, sometimes five seconds, but when it’s done, he’s face-to-face with the king of the jungle. When the beast’s hypnotic yellow eyes come into clear focus, he knows his mind is ready.
“Once I see that, I feel that I'm locked in and it's time to go,” Carter told Inside the Blue Jays.
Like a lot of athletes, Carter has a meticulously calculated routine he follows before every outing. The lion is the last of many steps.
First, about an hour before game time, the 19-year-old put his Beats headphones on and listens to music. Lately, though, the tune has changed.
Carter’s usual rap ensemble of Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Gunna, and others has been bumped down the queue in favor of something much more unorthodox.
“I actually go on my playlist and I put on Michael Myers, just the killer soundtrack, over and over and over again,” Carter said. "I really get into that mentality of just being an assassin on the mound.”
Carter sits isolated in the clubhouse as he listens to the eerie, suspenseful theme song from the ‘Halloween’ horror movie franchise. He said he got the idea from a YouTube video of late NBA star Kobe Bryant—whom he studies often—talking about listening to a similar track before competition.
Now the sinister music is an irreplaceable part of Carter's routine, followed by stretching, then long toss, a 10-pitch flat ground session, and, finally, a 20- to 25-pitch bullpen. After that, the towel goes over his head and the right-hander does his mental prep before entering the game.
The pre-game rituals offer a glimpse into the mind of one of the Blue Jays’ newest and most dynamic pitching prospects. On the mound, the six-foot-three, 210-pound power pitcher is ferocious, like a lion. In his mind, he’s a killer, like the villain in a slasher movie.
But when his day is done and he steps over the chalk and off the field, the machine powers down. Killer Irv disappears, replaced by a young man so full of charisma and humility that his influence has already reached the city of Toronto, years before he’s set to arrive.
Born in Freehold, New Jersey, Carter moved to Boynton Beach, Florida at six years old. He played both basketball and baseball until age 11, when he dedicated his talents solely to the diamond. By eighth grade, Carter was already playing with a high school team near Lake Worth. He eventually committed to the University of Miami, his dream college, at 14 years old.
As Carter tore up the high school ranks into his senior year with Calvary Christian Academy, Miami was always the plan, but that didn’t stop pro scouts from showing interest in him.
“You had 50 to 70 scouts that are at a game every time he pitches,” said Gil Morales, Carter’s coach at Calvary.
Calvary was one of the best high school teams in the country, Morales said, and Carter’s teammate, Andrew Painter, an eventual first-round draft pick of the Phillies, also helped draw a crowd. Still, Carter made sure to put on a show of his own.
Morales remembered one of Carter’s outings in a 2021 game against Florida’s prestigious IMG Academy, which boasted a stacked lineup of high-end hitters including Elijah Green, a projected first-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft.
“He went in there and straight dealt, with emotion, and under control,” Morales said with a chuckle. “When he gets on the mound it’s like a switch goes off, and he is just fun to watch.”
A high school and college baseball coach for over 20 years, Morales could tell Carter had what it took to reach the big leagues, the same way he saw that spark in some of his former players, such as Blue Jays-turned-Twins prospect Austin Martin.
Come July, Carter hoped to hear his name called as early as the late first round in the 2021 MLB draft. The day was nothing like he expected.
Close to 100 people crammed into the Atlantis Country Club for the draft party, which was catered by Olive Garden at Carter’s behest. Servers whizzed by, bartenders poured drinks, and local media snapped photos as the guest of honor anxiously awaited his name to be called on day two of the MLB draft.
Carter munched on a chicken and shrimp carbonara as more and more players flew off the board. By the third round, he still hadn’t received a phone call. In the fourth round, Carter received a text from a friend.
“What’s your plan? What are you doing?” the message read.
“Man, I’m good. I’m going to UM,” Carter texted back.
Carter immediately opened the Notes app on his iPhone and started drafting a letter, thanking scouts and pro teams for their interest, but letting them know he was going to play for the University of Miami.
“And I'm probably like mid letter, and I look up and I see my dad on the phone,” Carter said.
His dad called him over to say two teams were on the line with Carter’s agent, Kent Matthes, going back and forth on financials. Once the terms were set, Carter had to make a massive life decision.
“It's like, ‘Wow, I have a minute to decide my future,’” he said.
Carter conferred with his family and made a clear choice—he wanted to become a Blue Jay. When his name was finally called, in the fifth round, 152nd overall, all the pent-up emotion just overflowed.
Carter shrunk towards the ground, tears in his eyes, as the country club cheered and his family mobbed him with hugs.
“Everyone going into chaos was an amazing moment and an amazing feeling,” Carter recalled. “So I think my emotion from that day was a happy moment, but it was really just looking back at all the times that got me to that place.”
A week after the draft, Carter officially signed with Toronto. He received an $850,000 signing bonus, well above his $350,030 pick value and second most among 2021 Blue Jays draftees, behind only first-rounder Gunnar Hoglund’s $3,250,000 bonus.
Carter joined a select group of prospects to report to the Blue Jays’ fall instructional camp in August. There, at the newly renovated player development complex in Dunedin, Florida—which Carter called "a Ritz-Carlton, but baseball”—he got a taste of his future.
The youngster met his new coaches, teammates, and even some current Blue Jays players, including Teoscar Hernández, whom Carter jokingly called “an animal.”
The encounter with Hernández splashed a bit of reality into his dreams of playing with Jays stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, or pitching in a rotation alongside Alek Manoah. Even a notable former Blue Jays player took a liking to Carter, too.
One day during rookie camp, as Carter lifted weights at the Jays’ Dunedin complex, he received a text from one of his close friends in New York who was at a separate baseball training camp run by Marcus Stroman.
“Stro’s about to call you,” his friend told him.
Carter ducked out of the gym and the former Jays ace FaceTimed Carter a few minutes later. The two players "chopped it up," with Stroman encouraging Carter to stay in the moment, have fun, and hit him up with any questions.
"I’m really glad he’s been in connection with me,” Carter said.
That interaction meant a lot to Carter, who idolized Stroman in recent years.
“Seeing the way that he controls his body and just seeing how he's so mentally stable upstairs is really just an inspiration for me,” Carter said.
It was Carter’s stone-cold mound presence that first caught Stroman’s attention. Carter shared a video to Twitter of himself hop-stepping and calmly strutting off the mound after a strikeout in a high school game, and Stroman retweeted the video, leading to a conversation via private message.
Both Stroman and Carter are unapologetically flavorful on the mound, and, despite obvious differences in physical stature, their pitching profiles are similar, too.
Like Stroman when he was initially drafted by the Jays, Carter boasts a heavy fastball—he worked it up to 97 mph this fall—and a sharp slider in the low-80s as his primary one-two punch. Both guys also love to shimmy, twist, or slow down their delivery to mess with a hitter’s timing.
Carter’s third pitch, the circle changeup, is coming along, but his makeup has already impressed those within the Blue Jays organization.
“Irv has maintained his velocity and has shown makings of an above average slider during his short time in the organization, which has been encouraging,” Shane Farrell, Toronto’s director of amateur scouting, said in an email.
Farrell said Carter’s size and quality of his pitch mix first attracted Blue Jays scouts. Since then, the organization has learned more about what makes Carter special.
“In addition to his stuff,” Farrell said, “I think what has been most fun to see is how competitive he is and how high his compete level gets each time he steps on the mound to face a hitter.”
The compete level. Everyone you talk to about Carter mentions it. And if you’re stepping into the box against the tall righty, expect a war.
“I'm a nice guy off the field. I like to be loose and crack jokes and be the best teammate I could possibly be,” Carter said. “But when it's time to go on the mound and pitch and face that batter, it's all seriousness.”
When you speak with Carter, it’s easier to see his mellow side. As he talks, he smiles. He has kind eyes; he’s thoughtful and excited to share his story. It’s hard to believe a fiery temperament and deep desire to win is buried somewhere within him, but as the conversation evolves it becomes clear the kid has layers to his personality.
Sure, Carter has plenty to offer on the baseball diamond, but his off-the-field decisions have arguably already made a greater impact.
When Carter finally first arrived in Toronto in mid-December, he was excited for several reasons. First, he got a closer look at a city that showed its rabid passion for baseball during the Blue Jays’ near-playoff run in 2021. He also got to blast one of his favorite artists in a more fitting environment.
“As soon as I landed and we're driving by the CN Tower, and I was bumping Drake, I was like, ‘Mom, it feels different bumping Drake in Toronto than back in Miami,'” laughed Carter.
On his first morning in Toronto, Carter awoke from his bed at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel and gazed at the snow falling outside his window. The Canadian winter weather inspired Carter to leave the hotel, cross the street, and grab breakfast at a nearby Tim Horton’s for the first time.
“It felt good, just being in the city and just absorbing the energy and the love over there was just amazing,” he said. “Everyone’s very nice. It's a lot of nice people. They're very calm, and they're super welcoming.”
But it wasn’t just the Tim’s breakfasts that brought Carter to Ontario’s capital.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Carter’s family contacted Christine Hill, a manager at Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital, expressing interest in stopping by for a visit. The Carter family dropped off annual holiday gifts at hospitals in Florida and wanted to continue that tradition in Toronto.
Over the years, the Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts, and the Maple Leafs have visited Holland Bloorview as a team, Hill said, but it’s rare just one player would take the time.
“Having an individual player come is very special,” Hill said, “because it allows for a level of intimacy and personalization.”
The patients were ecstatic—and most excited of them all was Katie Suggitt, a 17-year-old Holland Bloorview client and Blue Jays superfan. Suggitt greeted Carter at the door and gave him a tour of the hospital. The two chatted about Suggitt’s favorite Blue Jays players before moving into the hospital’s gym space for some baseball activities with other kids.
The hospital staff had high praise for Carter, noting he took the time to speak to every child and employee individually, as well as connect with clients, like Suggitt, on social media.
It’s now an ongoing relationship, Hill said, and Carter is expected to stay involved—he’ll soon be promoting Holland Bloorview’s ‘Capes for Kids’ initiative.
“We were absolutely thrilled with the results,” Hill said. “This is a gem of a human being.”
For Carter, the trip to the hospital meant more. His sister Gia has a condition called venous malformation—where veins in the body don’t develop normally—which required multiple surgeries and trips to different hospitals over the years.
“Seeing [Gia’s experience] and then seeing the effect on my family and I all when we would give gifts back, it just felt fitting to do that in Toronto,” Carter said.
Carter is years away from playing for the Blue Jays. As a teenager, and Toronto’s 15th best prospect, MLB.com estimates he won’t reach the big leagues until 2025. Yet here he is, putting in work in his future community, and he knows why that’s important.
“At the end of the day, you're playing a game,” Carter said. “And you’re playing a game that is an amazing game, but [giving back] is bigger than baseball, always. We have a platform, and we have a job to use the platform the right way.”
Make no mistake, Carter still has dreams of dominating the league. He said he wants to be a Hall-of-Famer—a lofty goal, but an unsurprising one for an athlete with a vicious mindset like his. The next realistic step is to progress through the minors and shoot for a major-league debut.
So, when Carter makes his first appearance at Rogers Centre and struts around the mound after his first strikeout or pumps his fists while 50,000 people scream in celebration, Blue Jays fans should understand the love is mutual.
Carter feeds off the fans’ thirst for victory, and he’s already started laying the groundwork for a long, healthy relationship with the city of Toronto—a union that ideally ends in a championship.
“The biggest goal of them all is bringing the World Series back to Canada,” Carter said. “I feel that all the single-hand accomplishments are great, and they’re there for a reason, but I feel the ultimate goal is to bring a championship back.”
Carter carries the championship mindset everywhere he goes, and he understands success takes time and relentless dedication to his craft—meaning when the 2022 season ramps up, Carter will take it one pitch, one out, and one inning at a time.
Before he can do any of that though, he must first slow things down, close his eyes, and picture the face of a lion. That’s how he’ll know he’s ready.