Omar Vizquel turns 45 with a chance to become the all-time elder statesman among shortstops

TORONTO – When Omar Vizquel made his major-league debut on April 3, 1989, George H.W. Bush was president, "Rain Man" was the No. 1 movie at the box office and three of Vizquel's current teammates were not yet born.

The Toronto Blue Jays infielder turned 45 on Tuesday. He has played in four different decades with six different teams, has 11 Gold Gloves, 2,842 career hits and is a three-time All-Star. He is in the 24th season of a remarkable major-league career that has no end in sight.

"It's been a long, fortunate career," Vizquel said. "I haven't taken anything for granted. Every year, every week, every month has been amazing. I'm living my dream.

"I keep saying this is my last year but I don't know when that will happen."

When the end will come is anyone's guess, including Vizquel's, it seems. The not-ready-to-say-goodbye major leaguer takes the game, his role and his conditioning seriously. In fact, the only sign of his advancing age may be the prominent bald spot on top of his head. He has averaged just 80 games played over the last four seasons, but his experience makes him a valuable role model to young players and he can still play when called upon.

The next time Vizquel plays shortstop in a regular-season game he will become the oldest to ever play the position, surpassing Bobby Wallace, who played short with the 1918 St. Louis Cardinals, two months shy of his 45th birthday.

Rather than look back at his accomplishments and contemplate life after baseball, Vizquel continues to focus on today and tomorrow. He is the elder statesman on an up-and-coming Blue Jays team full of 20-somethings, closer in age to his manager and coaches than most of his teammates. But he relishes his role as a mentor to the young stars.

"I'm just glad I'm here on this young team that has a lot of energy. And it feels like we have a pretty good chance to do something," he said. "I see myself doing the same thing I was doing in Texas with a younger team. I want to be a mentor to a couple [of] younger kids and maybe get a chance to play every once in a while."

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Vizquel is seen as a valuable resource for starting shortstop Yunel Escobar, Cuban minor-league prospect Adeiny Hechavarria and the entire Blue Jays' infield.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie, just 22 and in his first full season in the big leagues, laughed and shook his head when reminded Vizquel's career is older than he is. And he's not the only one. Pitcher Henderson Alvarez and recent call-up Drew Hutchison were also born after Vizquel made his major-league debut with the Seattle Mariners.

"Think about all the opportunities and situations and everything he's been through in his career," Lawrie said. "For myself playing this game, you learn something new every day and it's exciting to have a guy like that in the clubhouse who's been through so much."

From afar it would appear to be a strange contrast: the veteran Vizquel, old enough to be the father of some players, playing and working with the inexperienced youngsters. But the players, coaches and Vizquel agree that he fits in perfectly.

"He seems like he's young; it doesn't feel like he's as old as he is," Lawrie said. "He just blends in real well. He puts a smile on his face and looks like he enjoys every day."

Like many of his younger teammates – particularly Lawrie, catcher J.P. Arencibia, and pitcher Ricky Romero – Vizquel is even a regular Twitter user. He often answers questions from fans, in English and Spanish, and tweets his thoughts about television programs like "The Apprentice."

"I think I fit in all right. They see me as an example, as a role model and I want to do as much as I can to help them out," Vizquel said. "The younger the players get, the more excited I get because it's awesome to see a kid 20 years old – that I can be 25 years older than him is just something really cool."

Lest it sound like Vizquel is nothing more than a glorified player-coach resting on his laurels and easing into retirement, make no mistake – he can still play the game at a high level, too.

"His hands are just ridiculous," Lawrie said. "I've never seen anybody with hands like that. You can just tell he's played 23 or 24 years because of his hands. … It looks like he's almost doing nothing, like he's just messing around, but that's his pace."

"He's still got great hands," said Blue Jays third-base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield. "But the thing that really impressed us coming out of spring training was how good he is offensively. So there's a lot of things you can do with him – he can bunt a ball, you can hit-and-run with him. He's an outstanding bat handler; he doesn't try to do too much; he knows what he can and can't do; he'll draw a walk.

"He's always been looked at as a defensive guy but he brings an awful lot offensively, too. He's still an outstanding baserunner; he can defend on a bunch of areas on the field. So there's going to be a place for him and he will help us."

That "utility infielder" status has been evident early on this season. While he's yet to play shortstop – the position where he won his 11 Gold Gloves – he has started at second base, played first base and for the first time in his career was listed as a left fielder. That unique stat line came in the opening game of the season when he was used as a mid-inning replacement for Eric Thames as the Blue Jays employed a five-man infield to get out of a jam in the 12th inning of a game they eventually won in the 16th.

Nearly 1,500 miles west of Toronto, another old timer is making headlines for his recent accomplishments. Earlier this month, Colorado Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer, at 49 years, 150 days, became the oldest player to ever win a major-league game.

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Vizquel is impressed by the record, but doesn't see himself lasting until 50.

"At my position it's very hard to play at 45," Vizquel said. "I take my hat off to Jamie. He's obviously still got it in order to get a spot in the rotation. I'm really rooting for him because I know how hard it is – I know there's a lot of people rooting for him because they know how hard it is to stay in this game for that long."

Vizquel, like Moyer and others who played successfully into their 40s, attributes his longevity to everything from luck to just being good.

"Having fun and taking things seriously … be responsible, be on time, respect others, respect the game, eat well, stay fit. There's so many keys for staying in this game for so long," he said.

"And I still have passion for the game, which is something a lot of people lose when they start making millions of dollars. I still feel pretty good about that."

The day Vizquel finally does decide to call it a career will kick-start the countdown to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His teammates and coaches think he's a safe bet.

"He's going to be in the Hall of Fame as one of the best shortstops ever," Lawrie said. "He's just a pleasure to watch."

"Without a doubt he's a Hall of Famer," Butterfield said. "Anybody who can play shortstop like he has and win [11] Gold Gloves is a surefire Hall of Famer. At such a critical position on the field, he's been unbelievable."

Vizquel won't look that far ahead. For now, he simply wants to continue playing the game he loves.

"I'm happy that I'm still around and that I wasn't pushing for something I wasn't really fit for. I wanted to be a baseball player since I was 14 years old. My dream came true and I want to hold onto that dream as long as I can."

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