A 45-year-old man came to town last week to talk about his Major League Baseball career, which ended way back in ... 2012.
Omar Vizquel might not have located the magical waters sought by Ponce de Leon, but he has been an inspiration to washed-up old guys everywhere, most of whom, by the time they were Omar’s age, were whining about arthritic shoulders, aching backs or popcorn-popper knees.
Omar has always seemed two decades younger than he actually is. To see a perfect example, go to YouTube and punch in the words “Vizquel” and “rain delay.” (For those of you who are computer illiterate, he is shown busting some impressive dance moves in the dugout last summer at Fenway Park.)
If it’s humanly possible to be both carefree and extremely conscientious, that’s Vizquel. He flashed more smiles per inning than anyone in baseball — but only because he was always prepared, always in shape, always anticipating what might unfold.
The irrepressible Gold Glove shortstop was in West Akron to speak at the Shaw Jewish Community Center, which each year stages a fancy dinner and silent auction to raise money for various JCC programs. About 230 fans showed up on a rainy winter night.
The admission charge at these bashes is not for the faint of wallet — $185 — but the speakers are legendary among sports fans. The previous three: Jim Tressel, Byron Scott and Archie Griffin.
I wasn’t at any of those affairs, but I’d wager heavily that Omar was more entertaining than the rest of them combined.
Of course, I might be a bit biased, seeing as how he and I teamed up a decade ago to write his autobiography (Omar: My Life On and Off the Field), which ended up on the New York Times bestseller list.
He mentioned the book less than a minute into his half-hour talk, blaming Yours Truly for subjecting him to the wrath of Albert Belle, who went on a national radio show to say Omar lied about Belle corking his bat, and Jose Mesa, who drilled Omar with the ball each of the first three times they faced each other after publication of the book, which described how Mesa choked in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
Actually, the root problem was that Omar will tell you just about anything you want to know. And usually he’ll tell you with a quip, a grin and complete candor.
Little wonder, given his personality and his talent, that he became one of the most popular players in the 112-year history of the Cleveland Indians.
At the JCC, he regaled a rapt crowd with self-deprecating tales about growing up in Venezuela (including the coach who told him he was too small to play pro baseball and should be a jockey instead), his adjustment to life in America (where his first stop as a 17-year-old who spoke no English was Butte, Mont.) and the colorful characters he encountered in the clubhouse (Manny Ramirez appropriating a shirt from one guy, underwear from another guy, pants from someone else).
Off the field, Vizquel is the rarest of superstars: a person who is less interested in what he has to say than in what others have to say — no matter who they are.
Some millionaire athletes play for the same team for years and never even learn the names of the clubhouse employees catering to their every whim. Vizquel counts among his close friends Indians clubhouse attendant Frank Mancini and long-ago batboy Pat Romanini, both of whom drove down from Cleveland to hang out with him.
And Vizquel could play a little, too. Although revered for his defense, he was no stiff at the plate, hitting .272 during his 24 years with the Tribe and five other teams. He actually chalked up more career hits than the most famous baseball player of all time, The Babe.
And who could forget the year Omar broke Ruth’s single-season home-run record with 80 dingers. Oh, wait — make that 80 homers for his entire 2,968-game career.
That’s one every 37 games.
OK, a power hitter he was not.
However, the world has not seen many — if any — better shortstops. Just look at the 11 Gold Gloves in his trophy case. Or watch the incredible highlight video put together by the Indians that was shown immediately before his speech, drawing waves of oohs and aahs.
Omar’s next goal is to manage in the big leagues, and he has taken his first step in that direction, landing a job as a roving infield instructor for the Los Angeles Angels. Each month during the season he’ll travel for two weeks and get two weeks off.
Somewhere along the way, he wants to take perhaps six months and do something completely different.
While kicking back afterward at the Hilton hotel across from Summit Mall, he said he dreams of buying a nice camper and taking his time while driving across the top of the country from his home near Seattle, down the East Coast, across the bottom of the country and back up the West Coast.
He wants to see things he hasn’t seen and talk to people he hasn’t met. He still has a lot more listening to do — and a lot more people to charm.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.