Vizquel closes out storied career in style

Vizquel closes out storied career in style

Vizquel closes out storied career in style
TORONTO -- Omar Vizquel was inserted into the lineup for the last time of his storied career on Wednesday, the final game of the 2012 season, at shortstop, the position where it all began for him.

The Venezuelan native first took the field as a 22-year-old with the Mariners at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in 1989, and he finished it at Rogers Centre as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, the sixth different team for which he has played.

Vizquel said one thing that never got old as he kept growing older was the amount he learned each year, including his final season in Toronto.

"This game made me grow up like a man. There is no other thing in life that I wanted to be, but just be a baseball player," said the 45-year-old.

"All that I know is just being a baseball player. I'm feeling really fortunate that I've been playing this game with dignity."

Vizquel fittingly ended his 24-year Major League journey with a seventh-inning single in the last at-bat of his career, to a roar of applause from the 19,769 in attendance.

"The base hit on the last at-bat I was going to take in the big leagues, I wanted to come out with a hit somehow," Vizquel said. "I wanted to get on base and God helped me out. I talked to him on that at-bat and I said 'God, I haven't really talked to you in too many at-bats in my career, but this is a time you have to come through for me.'"

Vizquel finished the game 1-for-3, and said he battled nerves each time he stepped to the plate in Toronto's 2-1 win over Minnesota.

"I think if you can write a script and finish it that way, you wouldn't believe it. It came out perfect -- we won the game, I got the hit, I made a play and we are all going home happy," Vizquel said.

Manager John Farrell pulled Vizquel in the ninth inning to a standing ovation, and he was greeted by his teammates at the top of the dugout as he came off the field.

"It's another way to show an acknowledgment for an accomplished career, and rightfully so," Farrell said.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has fond memories of Vizquel, and thought his career ended the right way.

"I've seen him do it for an awful lot of years. He's a great glove guy -- one of the best ever -- and has always been very acrobatic," Gardenhire said. "He makes it look really easy. I thought they did a really nice job here with him tipping his cap and the fans cheering for him to send him off."

Vizquel signed his first professional contract as a 16-year-old and said at the time he didn't know how to hit, yet he went on to amass 2,877 in his career, placing him 40th on the all-time list. He was asked to bat left-handed in order to become a switch-hitter, and was then taught by a coach named Bobby Tolan, who worked with him while he was with the Mariners in the instructional league as a 20-year-old.

He didn't get the large signing bonus, he didn't have the size, and he doesn't think many people thought he was going to amount to much.

"But it worked out great. I feel lucky that I had my parents to guide me through the whole process," Vizquel said. "Obviously, you have to have a good family to succeed."

On Wednesday, the Blue Jays treated the veteran like family. Vizquel, who threw out the first pitch, was honored with a video tribute prior to the game. Fans then greeted him with a standing ovation during each at-bat and he donned the customary No. 13 jersey, which Brett Lawrie willingly gave him, that he wore through his prime years. As for getting one last chance to play shortstop, left-hander Ricky Romero thinks Farrell did Vizquel right.

"It's awesome, it's a good gesture and something that he deserves," Romero said.

Former players Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Andres Galaragga and Vizquel's hero Luis Aparicio were in attendance for Vizquel's closing ceremonies, and that meant a lot to him.

Vizquel played with both Alomar and Baerga as a member of the Indians, while Aparicio is the only Venezuelan to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"We became friends a long time ago, and maintained the friendship, and I can't tell you how excited I feel to have him next to me tonight," Vizquel said.

Vizquel doesn't like talking about his own Hall of Fame chances and feels that his numbers, such as his 11 Gold Glove Awards, can speak for itself.

Three-time All-Star Jose Bautista would like to see Vizquel join Aparicio.

"Omar is a guy that I really respect. I'm hoping that he gets into the Hall of Fame," Bautista said.

Vizquel said a lot of people told him that his final game should be one of the happiest days of his life, but his feelings were the exact opposite.

As someone who says he put 100 percent onto the field each and every time he stepped foot on it, saying goodbye is a difficult thing.

"It's one of the saddest [days], because I'm going to leave what I used to do for all my life," Vizquel said.

"It's a mix of emotion. You wake up today, this morning, my legs were shaking, my heart was pumping 100 mph. You don't know if you really want to go to the ballpark or stay home. It's so many things that go through your mind that it's just a really hard thing to express how I feel today."

Romero, who said Vizquel offered him guidance and was always willing to answer his questions about the game, experienced similar feelings as Vizquel did. The 27-year-old Romero said his heart has been pounding over the past few days in anticipation of Vizquel's final chapter.

"I'm just glad and happy I was able to be a part of it, and be his teammate," Romero said. "To be able to share the same field and be pitching on that mound and to look back and have Omar Vizquel playing behind you is something I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren. It's just awesome."

Vizquel closes the book as a true professional, harbouring no regrets.

"I leave this game with my head really high, very happy about everything that has happened in my career. Made some great friends, had some great moments," Vizquel said.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.