Omar Vizquel adjusts to coaching after retirement
Omar Vizquel is in the cramped workout area near the Los Angeles Angels' weight room shortly after the sun comes up, repeatedly slamming a medicine ball into a concrete wall with insistent, two-handed throws.
The determination and work ethic necessary to play nearly a quarter-century in the major leagues don't just disappear. Although the 45-year-old who played more games at shortstop than anybody in baseball history has started a new career as a coach, Vizquel is still grinding away in early-morning workouts by himself before he teaches a few things to the Angels' prospects in spring training.
''The baseball world is the best work that a man can have,'' Vizquel said. ''I love it here, and I think that I'm going to die being a baseball player.''
Indeed, Vizquel couldn't even stay away from baseball for an entire winter after ending his playing career with Toronto last fall. He's in his first weeks as a roving minor league infield instructor for the Angels, teaching the finer points of fielding to youngsters who hadn't been born when he broke into the majors.
''I don't know, I just needed something to do,'' Vizquel said. ''I want to be close to the game. I want to learn my new career, what it's going to be - being a coach or, my final goal, which is being a manager someday. I don't really want to take the time off and do anything in my house. I want to do what I love to do, which is here. Baseball.''
Vizquel had earned the right to a few months of relaxation in Seattle, his family's adopted home. He won 11 Gold Gloves, posted the best fielding percentage by a shortstop in major league history (.985) and became the sport's top Venezuelan hitter between his April 1989 debut with the Mariners and his Oct. 3 finale for the Blue Jays, with lengthy stops in Cleveland and San Francisco in between.
And it's not as if Vizquel has nothing better to do. He is a prolific oil painter, sculptor and photographer who once had a gallery show in San Francisco, and he famously keeps a menagerie of animals.
But after running into former Indians teammate Paul Sorrento, the Angels' minor league hitting coordinator, at a poker game organized by Edgar Martinez, Vizquel connected with the Angels. They were looking for somebody to teach infielders, and Vizquel seemed eminently qualified.
''I said, `Well, I must be the guy,''' Vizquel recalled. ''So I got in touch with (assistant general manager) Scott Servais, and Scott gave (general manager) Jerry Dipoto a call. I also played with Jerry in Cleveland, and he knows me from those years. The communication was really quick, and they put it together, and I was here two days later.''
Even during a chilly Arizona week in February, Vizquel can't contain his famed energy. After a morning workout that would leave manager Mike Scioscia and even a few players gasping, he flits distractedly through the Angels' clubhouse with his cap on backward, nibbling at breakfast and lounging on the floor while talking to players with his back resting on a door frame.
''I still go through my program,'' Vizquel said of his morning work. ''Not as intense as it was before, but I want to keep in shape. I want to be able to run with my kids and do drills and be on the field, so it feels pretty good.''
Vizquel didn't consider a managing career until six or seven years ago, when his playing career began to wind down. He knows the idea will surprise some people who know about his myriad interests outside baseball, but the sport is his first love.
''I knew that somehow I have that in me,'' Vizquel said. ''I have good communication skills - I speak so-so English - and it's all about communicating with the guys and knowing about the game. Playing in winter ball gave me the ability to know the Latin players and have an idea of what they want, how they feel.''
Vizquel's acumen for the little things in baseball should serve him well as a coach. He was a defiant small-ball specialist in a generation featuring steroid-swelled power hitters, getting more sacrifice hits and turning more double plays than anybody in the live-ball era.
He's grateful to fill whatever role the Angels require this summer, with an eye toward bigger responsibilities and challenges.
''I think it's awesome, man,'' Vizquel said. ''I think it's just like going back to high school, when you had to be a teacher or a leader and a good role model for them. You are there for them, to help them out. I love to teach. I love to pass my knowledge to other people, so maybe they can be a solid major league player someday. I think that would be the greatest satisfaction.''