Every team needs veteran leadership to be competitive over the stretch of 162 games. Omar Vizquel adds plenty of veteran experience to the Chicago White Sox, 22 years worth to be exact.
Vizquel donned a sweatshirt and stocking cap on a cool morning in Arizona and headed out early to Chicago’s batting cage.
Just two months shy of his 44th birthday, he arrived early in White Sox camp to prepare for his 23rd major league season.
“My father played softball until he was like 62 years old. That was a great role model for me,” Vizquel said. “I think the metabolism we have in our family is good. We don’t have obesity or something like that. It has been a pretty fit family. We eat well, and we entertain ourselves with recreational activities.”
Vizquel isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play – he’s 201 hits shy of 3,000 – and said he’d like to try managing once those playing days end.
But not likely to make it as player to age 49, like Julio Franco did.
“Julio played a position that was easier for his body. He played first base, DH, pinch hitting,” Vizquel said. “I’m not going to be able to do those kinds of things. My job is on the field playing second, third, short. My hands are the ones that keep me in the game for a long time. I said that a hundred times.”
With third baseman Mark Teahen sidelined for all but 77 games last season because of a broken finger, Vizquel’s versatility was crucial. He became much more than a utility player.
The 11-time Gold Glove winner made 62 starts at third, 19 at second, eight at shortstop and one as the designated hitter while batting .276.
He’ll be back in that utility role with a healthy Teahen and Brent Morel hoping to win the job a third. And early on it’s likely he could see more action at shortstop – where he made his mark as one of the best fielders in the game – especially if starter Alexei Ramirez struggles like he did last April.
“If Omar plays every day, I don’t say we’re in trouble, because Omar plays very well, but I think it’s better having Omar playing shortstop, second base and third base,” said manager Ozzie Guillen, who is 47.
Vizquel enjoys studying the game from the bench when he is out of the lineup, critiquing managerial decisions and – when asked – offering advice to younger players.
“It’s nice when they make a play and they talk to you and say, `Hey remember when you told me this last week, it really worked out,’” Vizquel said.
Vizquel, who wears No. 11 to honor fellow Venezuelan and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, is a career .273 hitter in 2,850 games with Seattle (1989-1993), Cleveland (1994-04), San Francisco (2005-08), Texas (2009) and the White Sox.
He’s realistic about his chances of reaching 3,000 hits.
“I’ve given it a thought, but it’s going to be really hard. It all depends on what I’m going to do this year,” he said. “Maybe if I get 80 hits this year, maybe I can push it for another year if I feel good, but I’m not thinking about it, really.”
Vizquel acknowledges that spring training games can get monotonous after you’ve played in so many. But what doesn’t get old is how he feels about the profession that’s been part of his life for so long.
“Inside I’m still the same kid that likes to dive for balls and play with dirt and be fooling around with the kids,” Vizquel said.
NOTES: RHP Jake Peavy threw 40 pitches against hitters Monday as he continues his comeback from surgery to repair a detached muscle in the back of his right shoulder. Peavy said he was throwing about 75 percent, tried a couple of breaking balls and was encouraged by the progress he has made without pain. His season ended after he was hurt during a start on July 6. He’s wondered if he would be able to make it back to where he is. “You certainly think about it when you’re sitting down with surgeons and they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to do surgery,” he said. “What if I come back and I’m never close to the same? … But I think we’re passed all that now and I’m looking forward to trying to get back to being what I know I can be.”
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