Ageless Vizquel maintains youthful enthusiasm

Ageless Vizquel maintains youthful enthusiasm

Ageless Vizquel maintains youthful enthusiasm
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even after 22 Major League seasons, Omar Vizquel's love of baseball has never wavered.

The motivation for the game is where the soon-to-be 44-year-old finds his greatest challenge, especially with his spot on the team secure as it has been for more than two decades.

"Your roles change, but you've been here for a long time and you know what to expect," said Vizquel, who turns 44 on April 24. "Sometimes Spring Training games get kind of boring for you so you have to find that different drive to get over the hump and say, 'OK, what can I do to motivate myself?'

"Is it going to be maybe a great play? Is it going to be maybe stealing two bases in a game? You have to do something out of the ordinary every day to kind of push yourself."

Vizquel certainly can be excused if the Spring Training routine has become mundane with 25 of these preparatory runs under his belt. But there was Vizquel on Saturday at Camelback Ranch, reporting three days early to get ready for his second season with the White Sox.

That 2010 debut effort for Vizquel in Chicago stood out as a rousing success. An argument could be made for Vizquel as the team's Most Valuable Player, with the White Sox taking off once his Gold Glove took over at third base.

Seventy-seven of Vizquel's 89 starts came after Mark Teahen's middle finger injury on May 31, and it was a period of 36 games running from June 9 to July 20, with Vizquel in the lineup for 27 of those, in which the White Sox put together a 28-8 run to move from 9 1/2 games back in the American League Central to 3 1/2 games in front.

Putting the weight of the club's early struggles on Teahen would be unjust, but it's not unfair to give a large share of credit to Vizquel for the turnaround. His .286 average with 26 RBIs posted after Teahen's injury, not to mention his .292 average produced while playing third, nicely complemented his airtight defense.

There was no original intent on the White Sox part for Vizquel to get 344 at-bats when he signed on as the team's primary utility infielder. This extra workload didn't cause any troublesome side effects for one of the game's greatest defensive shortstops.

"Not at all," Vizquel said. "There were some days obviously, day games after night games, where your body still needed a little more time to recover. But I think that I didn't have any problems. I didn't have any complaints.

"I'd go in the training rooms and get massages and go in the Jacuzzi and loosen up my body. It was great. I didn't surprise myself because I know the kind of training I do to play 162 games. You have to treat your body like you're going to play every day and I did that."

If Vizquel is playing every day in 2011, then it probably means someone is injured or not living up to preseason expectations. Vizquel came back to the White Sox via a one-year, $1.75 million deal, announced on Nov. 2, and said he wanted to play another season even if the White Sox didn't show interest.

A question was posed to Vizquel on Sunday about his chances for reaching the Hall of Fame, which Vizquel basically placed as a decision left to the voters and too hard to decipher while he's still playing. With 11 Gold Gloves and six postseason appearances to his credit, Vizquel's body of work certainly appears to be worthy.

Adding 3,000 hits to that resume would help Vizquel's cause. He enters 2011 well aware of the 201 hits needed to reach this illustrious plateau, but Vizquel doesn't seem quite sure his career and playing time will extend out far enough to pick up the necessary amount.

"Maybe if I get 80 hits this year, maybe I can push it for another year if I feel good," Vizquel said. "But I'm not thinking about it really."

As a veteran of 11,668 plate appearances and countless innings in the field, Vizquel has made adjustments to offseason workouts in order to compensate for a move to his mid-40s. It would be hard to label Vizquel as anywhere near that age by watching him move around the clubhouse or watching him in action on the field.

He might be getting older chronologically, but as Vizquel stated earlier, the youthful enthusiasm for the game still resonates like a second- or third-year player.

"Inside, I'm still the same kid that likes to dive for balls and play with dirt and be fooling around with the kids," said Vizquel, who will continue to have a profound influence on the double-play combination of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.

"Obviously biology tells me something different. It's like your conscious is telling you that you can't do the things you were dong 10 years ago. But as long as your spirit is up and happy and you have the desire to come every day and do this for another seven months, I think that I have a good part of the war won.

"My job is on the field playing second, third, short," Vizquel said. "My hands are the one that keeps me in the game for a long time. I've said that 100 times. As long as my legs are able to reach and jump and do the crazy stuff that the infielders do, I have a chance to make the team."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.