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Jays' Vizquel ends 24-year career with hit in final at bat

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The Canadian Press
10/3/2012 8:10:33 PM
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TORONTO -- Omar Vizquel looked for some devine intervention in his final game in the major leagues.

After going hitless in his first two at-bats Wednesday, the 45-year-old laced a single to centre in his final big-league plate appearance as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1.

"The last at-bat I took in the big leagues, I wanted to go out with a hit somehow, you know, a bunt or something, I wanted to get on base," said Vizquel, a three-time all-star and 11-time Gold Glove winner who has indicated he intends to retire. "God helped me out. I said 'God I haven't talked to you too many at-bats in my career but this is the time you're going to have to come through for me.'

"The first two at-bats it felt like somebody was holding my bat behind me. And I was so nervous I didn't know what was going through my mind."

Vizquel received a standing ovation for the 2,877th and final hit his career to move past Mel Ott into 40th on the all-time list.

The veteran infielder, who broke into the major with Seattle in 1989 and also played with Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas and the Chicago White Sox, started at shortstop and was cheered each time he touched the ball or came to the plate.

"To tell the truth it was a little bit surprising," Vizquel said. "There were a lot of Venezuelan people here with flags, pretty loud, and I think the rest of the fans picked up the things and they started cheering. It was surprising but very nice to see everybody supporting me in my last game."

Then with two out in the ninth, Vizquel was removed from the game and received another standing ovation before being hugged by teammates.

"It's a mixed emotion," he said. "You don't know how you're going to take it. You wake up this morning, my legs were shaking, my heart was pumping 100 miles an hour. You don't know if you really wanted to go to the ballpark or stay home."

Vizquel said the final game of his 24-year playing career was a sad day.

"Of course it is," he said. "I would say that it is sad. A lot of people tell me 'No, it should be the happiest day of your life.' I believe it's the other way around, it is one of the saddest."

Vizquel, one of the best shortstops to play the game, took the field for his 2,968th major-league game surrounded by friends.

Another great shortstop, Luis Aparacio, the only Venezuelan in baseball's Hall of Fame, was at Rogers Centre. So were two players who played second base beside him with the Cleveland Indians, Carlos Baerga and Hall of Famer and former Toronto Blue Jay Roberto Alomar. They were joined by former Montreal Expos great, Andres Galarraga, who is also from Venezuela.

Vizquel would not talk about the possibility of being elected to Cooperstown to join Aparacio one day.

"I really do not like to talk about that too much," he said. "I think there is still a long way to get there. I think my numbers will try to speak by themselves."

Those statistics include a career batting average of .272 with 80 home runs and 951 runs batted in and a .336 on-base percentage. But what set him apart was his fielding wizardry.

When Vizquel was signed in 1984 by the Seattle Mariners there was no indication he would be so good for so long.

"When I was 16 years old when I signed my first professional contract, I weighed 165 pounds and I didn't know how to hit at all," he said. "All of a sudden, they asked me to hit left-handed. I think that could have been a minus in my career. If you got through double-A and triple-A and you just hit .220, you're probably going to be released.

"But with dedication and hard work and trying to be smart about listening to what other guys have to say, trying to improve every day I became a better ball player, and every year was a challenge for me to try to stay on the team and try to make the team."

Now years later, Vizquel's next goal is to be a manager.

"I don't know where destiny is going to take me," he said. "I would like to be a manager some day and try to apply all the things I learned in the game and see what are the chances."

The 2012 season was his only campaign with the Blue Jays but will leave him with lasting memories.

"This team is pretty close," he said. "I love this team. Like I've been saying from the beginning, we have a very enthusiastic team, a lot of energy."

He was impressed by the adaptability of Adeiny Hechavarria, a shortstop who was called up from triple-A late in the season and played mostly at second and third base. The talent of third baseman Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., also made an impression.

"I think one of the players who surprised me the most was Hechavarria," Vizquel said. "He was in triple-A almost the whole year , he got the call up and he started playing positions he wasn't used to playing.

"Obviously Brett Lawrie is one of those players that you only see once in a lifetime. He's got a lot of talent and it was a pleasure working with him too."

Vizquel batted .235 with seven RBIs in 60 games for Toronto this season.

"Today I'm looking back and feeling small," he said. "I realize that I have been a fortunate guy and had the opportunity to be here for a long time."

Omar Vizquel (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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