Vizquel still has passion for game
Veteran ready for next challenge as member of Blue Jays
Omar Vizquel would very much like to have "utility" next to his name on the Toronto Blue Jays roster. Right now, he's the front runner to get it -- and to become the oldest active Major League position player.
He turns 45 on April 24 and, with a record 2,699 games at shortstop and 11 Gold Gloves, is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires -- whenever that might be.
"Right now, I think this is my last year," he said, adding with a smile. "I've been saying that for the last three years. My motivation is to challenge myself to play another year. I know every year it starts to get a little harder for yourself, and it's always a challenge to be on a Major League team at an older age."
Only pitcher Jamie Moyer, 49, is older and, like Vizquel, is a non-roster player. He underwent Tommy John surgery after the 2010 season and missed all of 2011, but never formally retired. Now, he is trying out for Colorado.
"If I didn't try this, I might be thinking for the rest of my life, 'I wonder if I could've,'" Moyer told USA Today.
Some players consider "utility" pejorative, defining themselves as mere bench-warmers. Vizquel, who hasn't missed a season in a record 23 consecutive years, thinks of it more as a badge of distinction -- a player who can handle several positions and a bat about as well as the starters.
"I consider it an honor," he said. "Would you rather be at your house because you have the pride not to play any other position because you're not going to have an everyday job? ... I don't feel any of that."
During 2009-2011, he was Mr. Utility with the Rangers and White Sox. And while he has averaged 660 plate appearances per 162 games over his career, he had 568 in those past three seasons combined.
"Those who have watched the game for the last 20 years have a clear picture of what Omar has been throughout the course of his career," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "And included in that are the last three or four years when he's transitioned into a role player and performs that role very well."
Vizquel is competing with Mike McCoy, 30, and Luis Valbuena, 26, for the utility role. They are on Toronto's roster but they are mere babes compared to one of the game's seemingly ageless wonders.
Look at it this way: When Vizquel debuted as Seattle's starting shortstop on April 3, 1989, McCoy was playing Little League ball. And Valbuena probably was just learning how to read. And not the signs from a third base coach. He was 3 years old.
"I know my role," Vizquel said. "I know what I can do, and I hope that they know what I can do. I know that I'm not going to be playing the outfield. I know the only positions I can play are third, short and second."
He can do more than that. He can mentor the younger players.
Farrell said he and Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous "talked to him about it. We made it very well known that that was part of the interest in him, but not the sole interest. The ability to go out and play was the main ingredient, the main need.
"But along the way we can add that influence and that experience and veteran leadership to the group," Farrell said. "That's what makes what he has to offer that much more attractive."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.