OMAR VIZQUEL BELIEVES that one must know how to dance the salsa and the merengue in order to field a ground ball. This serves as a convenient handle to this breezy profile: Omar Vizquel — artist, musician, stand-up comedian, dancer, mentor, baseball magnet, seemingly great guy — dances through life as he does across the infield. Currently serving as the Blue Jays’ super-utility infielder, Vizquel — 45 years old, playing his 24th big league season — steps nimbly across time.
They sometimes call him Little O, this Venezuelan who has spent his Major League time in Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas, Chicago (AL) and, now, Toronto. He used to be an everyday shortstop, but now he steps in where you need him. If you need a shortstop he will take the position and capably impersonate Ozzie Smith. At third, he’s like a tiny Brooks Robinson. If you plug him in at second he’ll dazzle with Alomaresque acrobatics.
He has never swung a big stick. He’s hit 80 career home runs in 24 seasons. His career average is a respectable .272 and he’s gotten on base at a .337 clip. Decent numbers, and yet no one will remember Omar Vizquel for his bat. Put a glove on his hand, though, place him on an infield, and watch his smile disappear, his twinkling eyes narrow. His focus grows sharp. He’s going to get to any ground ball you hit to his side.
(It is tempting to imagine Vizquel as a boy, fielding balls of tape or twine as they bounce haphazardly along the cobbled streets of Caracas.)
He was an integral part of that great ‘97 Indians team that lost in game 7 to the Marlins when Edgar Renteria, the great Columbian shortstop, laced a ground ball by Vizquel to score Craig Counsell in the bottom of the 11th. How heartbroken Vizquel must have been.
HERE ARE TEN THINGS that did not yet exist when Omar Enrique Vizquel González made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners on April 3, 1989:
- A unified Germany
- The iPod
- Terror alerts
- The Batman movie franchise
- Tyler, The Creator
- The Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays
- Bryce Harper
HERE ARE TEN THINGS that existed in April of 1989, but have since been expunged from the face of our planet:
- Hypercolor t-shirts
- The Charlotte Hornets
- Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn
- “Joseph Anton,” the alias of Salman Rushdie
- The Los Angeles Raiders
- The LaserDisc
- The Stasi
THE LESSON: Times change, but Omar Vizquel does not. Long live Omar Vizquel!