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03/02/09 5:33 PM EST
Old friend Vizquel adapting to new role
Longtime Indians shortstop in running to be Rangers' backup infielder
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- He's no longer the slick-fielding, sharp-hitting, wide-smiling face of a franchise. He's won the last of his many Gold Gloves, and he's already amassed all the credentials by which he will be judged for Hall of Fame candidacy.
Omar Vizquel is a Texas Ranger now -- and not even on a full-time basis. He signed a Minor League contract with the Rangers over the winter, the thought being that he can serve as a tutor and backup to shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus.
But the thought of Vizquel, who turns 42 next month, in a bench role is a difficult one to swallow for those who watched his wizardry on the field in 11 years in Cleveland.
It's a tough one for Vizquel to swallow, too. Before facing the Indians in a Cactus League game Monday -- a game in which he drove in one run with an RBI single and scored another after a walk -- he was already talking about this potentially being his last go-round.
"I'll see how I feel this year and how I play," Vizquel said. "If I have another disappointing season [like in '08 with the Giants], I don't know if I want to play again. I don't know about my role as a backup player."
The word "retirement" crosses his lips, and the thought of managing crosses his mind.
"Sometimes I think about retirement," he said, "but then I get to the field, and everything changes."
Indeed, the flashes of a younger Vizquel still exist from time to time. On Sunday, for example, a sharp shot to short took a bad hop and skipped over his head. Vizquel, displaying the grace and reaction speed that made him an 11-time Gold Glove winner, grabbed the ball with his bare hand and fired to first for the out.
"You guys have seen a few of those," he told a group of reporters from Cleveland. "The Rangers haven't."
It remains to be seen how much of Vizquel the Rangers will see this season. An infield utility job is considered his for the taking, but the looming question is how much he actually wants it.
Is Vizquel, the man who has played more games at shortstop (2,654) than any other, really going to be content to play the occasional game at short or second base? Vizquel is asking himself that very question. But he hopes to still be with the Rangers in August, when they visit Progressive Field, because he'd love the opportunity to play in front of the Cleveland fans one last time.
Last year, when the Giants came to Cleveland for Interleague Play, Vizquel started at short and was treated to a video tribute and a standing ovation every time he came to bat.
"I never had that kind of ovation in any other ballpark," he said. "I got goosebumps and a little tear in my eye."
This year, he knows the situation might be a little different if he makes it back to Cleveland.
"I'll be on the bench now," he said with a laugh.
Vizquel hopes to be on the bench in a different role in the not-too-distant future. He wants to become a Major League manager, though he has no interest in paying his dues in the Minors first.
"I'd rather start in the big leagues as a coach," he said. "It depends on what kind of relationship you have with a general manager. But I feel I'm ready [to manage] right now. If you play 20 years in the big leagues, you should be ready to manage."
After battling a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last year and batting a measly .222 in 92 games for the Giants last year, Vizquel knows his playing days are winding to a close. But aside from a little back soreness, he feels great, and he hopes to contribute to his new club.
"I've got to play because I feel good," he said. "I still have a passion for this game. When I lose that feeling, that's when you know it's time to quit."
When Vizquel does finally pack it in, he'll be five years away from Hall of Fame eligibility, and his career will begin to be compared against the all-time greats at his position. The voters will discover that he has played in more games and turned more double plays (1,700, entering this season) than any other shortstop, and won the second-most Gold Gloves of any shortstop (Ozzie Smith ranks first with 13), all while amassing more than 2,600 hits.
Vizquel doesn't know if the voters will side with him, but he knows for sure which cap he'd wear if he makes it in the Hall.
"I'd want to go in as an Indian," he said.
In the meantime, he's going out as a Ranger.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.