Every year is a good year for Vizquel
In his 23rd big league season, veteran still plays major role
To give you an idea of how long White Sox infielder Omar Vizquel has been around Major League Baseball, consider this: He has been around it longer than some of today's players have been around -- period.
Starlin Castro (Cubs), Mike Stanton (Marlins), Tim Collins (Royals) and both Braves Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward were born after Vizquel debuted at shortstop for Seattle on Opening Day, April 3, 1989.
Then there's this: With the retirement last July of pitcher Jamie Moyer, another ancient former Mariner, Vizquel assumed the mantle of oldest active Major Leaguer. He turned 44 on April 24.
His career began about the same time as his second day of workouts with Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League when the late Marty Martinez, a Mariners scout, offered him a contract.
"We got together in my family's house -- because I was 16 years old I needed permission from them to sign -- and we made the deal. I had a $4,500 bonus," Vizquel said ruefully. "It was terrible.
"Some of my friends signed for three times more than that. Even a $100,000 bonus was given to some of the great prospects. I was just another one in the bunch, just another body."
So, all these years later, just how old does he feel?
"Depends on the people I'm talking to," Vizquel said, smiling. "If I'm talking to young guys, like from 25 to 30, yes, I feel old. If I'm talking to someone in his 60s or 70s, I feel pretty good about myself."
He said he goes to the gym regularly and exercises throughout the year, believing that regardless of one's age there's always room for improvement.
He's surprised he's still on a big league roster, "not because of my physical condition -- I'm not surprised at the way I feel -- but because I never thought I was going to be in this game playing this long."
Nor is he surprised that after five seasons with the Mariners and 11 with the Indians he was still in demand, playing for the Giants (2005-08), the Rangers (2009) and the White Sox (2010-11), signing as a free agent in each case.
"They take a look at the numbers and say, 'Well, he can still play.' I might have the same numbers as a guy 27 or 28," Vizquel said. "And some teams like to have players that can help younger guys. That was the case with Texas," where he tutored shortstop Elvis Andrus.
He's not exactly tutoring White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who has been around since 2008. But having a veteran teammate to talk a younger player through -- and out of -- a slump can be invaluable.
Vizquel calls this the best part of his life, just as last year at this time was, and the year before that. "Every year, every month, every week that goes by, I never take it for granted. Every day I wake up, I thank God for the chance that I have."
And next year?
My body's going to tell me if I should be here or not," he said. "The day that I wake up and don't feel the enthusiasm and the strength to put a uniform on, that will be the day I say, 'OK, my body can't take it anymore. I'd better pack it in.'
"But if I think I can still play the game and have some good numbers I'm going to give it a shot to play another year. I play because I still have a passion for this game. There are no records that are keeping me in baseball. I think I have accomplished just about everything I wanted to."
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.