Vizquel hoping to latch on with Blue Jays
Veteran impresses at third base, drives in two runs against O's
DUNEDIN, Fla -- At age 44, Omar Vizquel has been around long enough to know his place. On Monday, it was at third base.
"I was expecting something like that," admitted Vizquel, who was not at all surprised to see his name in the Blue Jays' starting lineup, playing third base for the first time this spring.
"I know they haven't seen me in that position. They don't know what I can do there," admitted Vizquel, who won 11 Gold Glove Awards, including nine in a row (1993-2001) at shortstop, where, over 23 seasons, he has earned his reputation as one of the slickest fielders in the history of the game.
His .985 lifetime fielding percentage (in 11,931 chances) at shortstop is the second highest in Major League history behind only Troy Tulowitzki's .987 (3,411 chances).
Vizquel, the second-oldest player ever to appear at shortstop in a big league game, signed with the Blue Jays as a Minor League free agent and is a non-roster invitee to camp this spring.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell plans to carry five outfielders, which means, if Vizquel is to make the team, it will have to be as an extra infielder.
"I know I'm not going to play any outfield," Vizquel said. "I know my only positions are shortstop, second base and third base."
In Monday's game against the Orioles at Florida Auto Exchange Park, Vizquel threw out runners in each of the first four innings, gunning down Scott Beerer in the second with a particularly strong throw, leaving little doubt about his ability to play that corner position.
Vizquel also drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the fourth.
"He's so efficient with everything," Farrell said after Monday's 4-1 win, the Blue Jays' eighth victory of the spring. "There's a lot going in his favor.
"I don't know if it's a marvel. He comes into Spring Training every year determined to prove he can still play the game at this level, whether he's 25 or 45."
During his big league career, Vizquel has played 2,699 games at shortstop, 132 games at third base, and 52 at second.
If Vizquel makes the team, he will replace another veteran, John McDonald, who was the Blue Jays' utility infielder for several years. Ironically, it was Vizquel who mentored the then-young McDonald when the two played together in Cleveland.
"I know what my role is," said Vizquel, who has played in two World Series (1995, '97) and three All-Star Games (1998, '99, 2002). "I know what I can do. I hope they know what I can do.
"I know I have to earn a spot here. I have to show I can play," added Vizquel, who will turn 45 next month and could become the oldest shortstop in Major League history, breaking the record set by St. Louis' Bobby Wallace (44 years, 295 days) in 1918.
"Third base was always part of it," said Farrell, explaining Vizquel's spring debut at the hot corner. "But he'll get more opportunities at shortstop as well.
"Those who have watched the game for the last 20 years have a clear picture of what he's been throughout his career. This last three or four years, his role has changed. And he has performed that role very well."
Vizquel, who played for five different teams before joining the Blue Jays, has also emerged as a mentor and role model for Toronto's starting shortstop, Yunel Escobar, and promising young Adeiny Hechavarria, who has been drawing rave reviews this spring.
"No doubt they have talent," Vizquel said. "I see a lot of talent on the whole team."
"We did talk to him about [mentoring Escobar and Hechavarria]," Farrell said. "We made it known that was part of our interest in him -- but not our sole interest. That's what makes him so valuable to the makeup of this club."
Vizquel spent the last three seasons mentoring Elvis Andrus in Texas and Alexei Ramirez in Chicago.
Last year, Vizquel appeared in 58 games with the White Sox, batting .251. He has a lifetime average of .272 in 2,908 games, the most ever played by a foreign-born player. Vizquel is a native of Venezuela.
Vizquel, who began his professional career at Class A Butte Copper in the Pioneer League in 1984, believes this may be his final season as a player.
"Right now, I'm going year by year," he said. "I keep saying, 'This is going to be my last year.' But I think this might be my last year as a player."
Then Vizquel hopes to stay in the game by landing a job as a coach or manager. Certainly, over the past two decades, he has accumulated enough contacts, playing for the Mariners, Indians, Giants, Rangers and White Sox.
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.