Will Rhymes(notes) probably rests a little easier now that Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland named him the starting second baseman on Tuesday — at least until Carlos Guillen(notes) returns from an injury. Rhymes might even have allowed himself to celebrate by dining at his favorite burrito joint (at least away from his hometown of Houston), Chipotle.
Rhymes is such devotee of the Chipotle franchises that the home office recently sent him a certificate — suitable for framing — which makes it appear he has earned a doctorate in burritos. And perhaps he should. It's a little shocking that Rhymes remains the size he is (5-foot-9, 155 pounds) after downing as many Chipotle burritos as he admits to.
During a recent Answer Man session at Tigers camp in lovely Lakeland, Fla., the soon-to-be-28 Rhymes went into fine detail about his Mexican food preference (and we threw in some baseball at the end).
David Brown: What exactly did you do to earn your burrito certificate? Is that a four-year degree?
DB: Did you send away for it?
WR: No, I put up some stuff on Twitter. I'm always talking about going to Chipotle. So, my love for Chipotle is out there. They sent me a little package with a T-shirt and some burrito gift cards and ... an ambassador gift certificate.
DB: Is that on the off-chance that you'll say more nice things, maybe grease the skids a little bit?
WR: I think they know by now that I'm going to talk well of Chipotle, every time I go there. It was just a good gesture [on their part]. I was just kidding around on there when I was asking for a deal. It's pretty cool that they'd follow through and send me some stuff.
DB: Being a chain, all of the Chipotles kind of look alike. But how many have you been in and is it true that, like snowflakes, no two Chipotles are exactly the same?
WR: Obviously, there's a little variation, but you know what you're getting when you go there. It's pretty standard and consistent. I've been to a lot of different ones, but they all treat me well.
DB: Have you thought about blogging — like on a Tumblr — all of your encounters?
WR: There was one up in Troy [Mich.] I always used to go to, but so far we're keeping the accounts to Twitter.
DB: Is that your "home Chipotle"?
WR: Oh, no. My home Chipotle is the one in Arlington, Va. I hit that one pretty frequently.
(Editor's note: There are three Chipotles in the Arlington area.)
DB: Do you have a good enough relationship with your home Chipotle that they'll give you, like, a free chips and salsa, or a free drink?
WR: Not to that extent. But I'm happy to pay. I'm happy to be a paying customer. I think they know that!
DB: Every time you go in, do you have a burrito or do you mix it up with tacos?
WR: I have a burrito about 90 percent of the time. I'll mix it up with a burrito bowl, like, one in 10.
DB: Is that if you're feeling heavy and you don't want the carbs?
WR: If I'm feeling I just want something light, go with the burrito bowl.
DB: Let's pretend that I'm "Dave from Chipotle, and I'd like to take your order, Mr. Rhymes, again. What can I get you this afternoon?"
WR: Yeah, it's always a chicken burrito with rice, black beans, guacamole and hot sauce. Cheese, too.
DB: Would you like to try the carnitas, sir?
WR: I've heard it's good, but I've actually never tried it — because the chicken's too good. I can't pass on it.
DB: So, how often do you go?
WR: Offseason? Definitely twice a week.
DB: It's not every day?
WR: No, no, but there have definitely been times I've gone more than twice a week. But I'd say, on average, twice a week.
DB: Twice in a day?
WR: I would do that, although it's never happened.
DB: Do you like to have a beer with your Chipotle?
WR: No, I drink one of those Nantucket Nectars — the peach-orange. It's delicious. And it combats the hot sauce that I get on there. It's the perfect combo.
DB: All of the Chipotles have that kind of Nectar?
WR: Yes! All of the ones I've been to.
DB: Can you guess how many you've been to?
WR: [Pauses]. No, I can't speculate there. I've been in a lot of towns in America, and every time I see one, I stop [laughs].
DB: But do you also go on the Internet and triangulate where's the nearest one?
WR: Well [laughs]! Usually, if I'm in a minor league town, it's only helpful if you can walk to it. I'm usually not driving all over town. If I'm on the road with my car, yes.
DB: What has being in the major leagues meant to your ability to visit Chipotles?
WR: It's definitely increased my ability to go out to lunch [laughs].
DB: Do you usually lunch alone, or is there someone else who shares this obsession?
WR: I mean, there are a lot of people in the world who have this attachment to Chipotle, but on the team I usually go by myself. I have a buddy in the offseason who goes with me a lot. We take turns picking up lunch. In Arlington, Va., I'll go under any circumstance.
DB: How did you learn of Chipotle in the first place? Did you happen upon one yourself?
WR: Probably after they opened, it took me a few years to visit one. But then it was on [laughs].
DB: Would you call it "fast food"?
WR: Yeah, I don't feel like it is. I really feel like it's so much better quality — which is why I like it. If you're on the road, you've got to get food and you need something that's quick and convenient, and I feel like it's much better quality. I don't feel like I'm eating fast food.
DB: Now, the calorie counts ... have you ever bothered to look that up?
WR: No, I don't care [laughs]! If weight ever becomes an issue ... I don't know. I figure it can't be too bad for you. Chicken and rice?! And beans?! I don't usually worry about what I eat; I'm usually looking for ways to get extra calories with every meal I eat. That's not a real concern of mine right now. In a few years, it might be.
DB: Does it put a few points on your OPS?
WR: Oh, for sure. Look for increased slugging this year as a direct result of offseason Chipotle visits.
DB: What did you do before Chipotle? Did you find other kinds of burritos?
WR: Before Chipotle? [Pauses.]
Well, I grew up Houston and I'd eat Mexican food constantly. Every day, more or less. When you're not in Houston, it's hard to for me to get good Mexican food. Or anything that kills that urge to get Mexican food. That's probably why I first started going to Chipotle, because it was the closest thing to decent Mexican food you can get in Virginia, or wherever I was. Ohio. I mean, I'm the guy who will eat breakfast tacos in the morning, then burritos for lunch, then enchiladas for dinner. I mean, I love Mexican food.
DB: Do you go to other Mexican places now?
WR: I'll go to other Mexican restaurants but it's hard for me because the bar is pretty high from Houston. It's kind of hard for me to eat at just any random Mexican place.
DB: I'm from Chicago and Chicago has good Mexican places.
WR: Compared to Texas Mexican places? Everything's relative!
DB: I know, but there's a big Mexican population and there's this one place.
WR: I'll check it out. I'll give anything a try.
DB: I wanted to ask you some baseball questions, but Chipotle is more fun.
After 5 1/2 seasons and nearly 2,900 plate appearances, Rhymes got the call in July. And he produced, hitting .304/.350/.414 in 213 plate appearances. He played OK defense, too.
DB: I came [into the clubhouse] earlier and you weren't here. Were you at the batting cages?
DB: Would you call it a healthy paranoia about doing everything you can to make the team.
WR: Yeah, but it's not just to make the team. People who know me know that I'm constantly working on my swing, constantly in the mirror, taking dry hacks, looking at things. I am ... very into making my swing as good as it can be. I feel I have to because, at my size, I'm not going to get away with anything less than that. So it's been a mission of mine to try and improve my swing. And I'm pretty routined with how I work before practice. It's not to make the team, but it's to get my swing where I'm happy with it.
I'd do the same thing if I was in Toledo, or when I was in Oneonta. Same thing.
DB: There was a story about you where [former Tigers coach and minor league manager] Larry Parrish played a big role and was mentioned as a reason for you deciding to not quit baseball. Was that accurate, was that how you felt?
WR: Yeah, more or less. Definitely, when you get to a certain point and you haven't gotten an opportunity and you're getting close to 30, you start thinking about, "Is this something I really should be doing?" Because you don't want to be the guy that just sits there in the minor leagues forever with no chance to get in the big leagues. That's not what I want to do.
I mean, if that's what people want to do, I think it's totally fine. It's just, for me, that's not what I'm interested in doing. So it definitely came to a point last year where I was just trying to figure out if I could get some input as to what path I was on. If I was on the one path [to never making it] then I didn't want to be on that path.
And then, as it turned out, L.P. was great to me and I owe him a lot. He stuck with me, and he was encouraging, and he put me out there and played me, was supportive. He helped me with my hitting — with all aspects of the game — and then the next thing I know, he's calling me to tell me I'm going up. I'll be forever indebted to him for that.
DB: So what do you think it was that was keeping you from getting a chance? Was it even something like bad luck?
WR: I don't know. I felt like there were times when I was close. In the past, we had [Placido] Polanco here for much of my career and there was no urgency to move anyone through the system. Even though I put up good numbers, I went through each level — pretty much everywhere you can play, in the Fall League — and always put up numbers.
But it's like people are always looking for guys with a huge upside. They're always looking for the next big thing. And that's not me. I mean, I can go out and put up really good numbers, and be really solid, but I'm not going to hit you 20 home runs. And it's like everyone's chasing that rainbow, that pot of gold at the end. And that's not me. If you want someone's whose going to put up solid numbers, that's me. But the upside isn't there. At least that's my perception.
People are going to make you prove yourself over and over again if they don't think you're one of those guys they think is going to have a crazy year. Me, I'm a fan of people who are solid.
And if you're my size, that's the roll you have to play.
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