Vizquel is baseball royalty
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays camp invitee Omar Vizquel watches a batting practice at the club's spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
DUNEDIN, FLA. - He’s a 44-year-old infielder trying to coax just one more season of baseball out of his old bones, but to the young players in the Blue Jay clubhouse, Omar Vizquel might as well be royalty.
In many ways, he is royalty. His career accomplishments are many, but his calling card is pure class.
“During the early days of his playing career, he set the bar in terms of shortstop play,” said manager John Farrell of Vizquel, who will be in his 24th MLB season if he makes the club.
“You don’t win all those Gold Gloves by happenstance. His awareness within the game — handling the bat, stealing a key base — are all part of what makes him one of the greats.”
Of all the shortstops in MLB history who have played at least 700 games, Vizquel has the No. 1 fielding percentage. He also has accumulated 2,841 base hits. He has 11 Gold Gloves and is particularly proud of the last two, won at the ages of 38 and 39.
As great as he has been as a player, he has been equally good at mentoring young players. Former Blue Jay John McDonald credits Vizquel with teaching him much of what he knows about playing defence. Elvis Andrus of the Rangers sings his praises.
Here at Blue Jays spring training, it is not a coincidence that Vizquel is lockered right next to Adeiny Hechavarria.
“They have put me in a situation,” he said, “where I was more or less kind of like in Texas, where they had a young shortstop (Andrus) that needed some help, some guidance, a guy that hasn’t been in the big leagues, a huge prospect and stuff like that. I thought the situation was almost about the same. So it’s a great chance.
“(Hechavarria) has a barrier there with the language and I’m going to have his back all the time, trying to guide him into the right steps.”
While Vizquel may be an inspiration to the Latin players in the game, his presence has a similar effect on everyone he comes across.
“I’m really excited that he’s here and to be around him,” said second baseman Kelly Johnson. “Just having a chance to play catch with him today was exciting.”
Vizquel indicated that this will be his last season, assuming he makes the team.
“I was going year-by-year, then I started going down month-by-month and now I’m week-by-week,” he said with a smile.
He has every intent to be a manager when he’s done with playing and, in fact, turned down an offer to manage in Caracas this winter because of his commitment to the Jays.
It is not a fait accompli that he will win a job as a utlity infielder. The Jays will pay careful attention throughout the Grapefruit League to make sure he can still be good enough defensively at three different positions, despite his obvious assets as a mentor.
“In Omar’s case, certainly those intangibles are going to be factored in, but he knows nothing is being given to him,” said Farrell.