Brad Rock: Salt Lake Bees Gil Velazquez, Jeff Baisley don't mind playing on their day off
So there really are players who answer to the phrase "Play ball!"
Major League Baseball's All-Star Game was a watered-down affair, Tuesday night, with nearly a fifth of the invitees skipping the "midsummer classic" for one reason or another.
A classic? Only if you consider "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" classic comedy.
Meanwhile, most everyone seemed happy to be playing in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday at Spring Mobile Ballpark. For instance, Gil Velazquez of the Salt Lake Bees. It was his first All-Star appearance on any professional level, over 14 seasons.
You think he wants the night off?
"I'm excited to be here. It's a special thing for me, 14 seasons, my first All-Star Game and I want to take advantage of it," he said.
Yeah, but what about those too-cool-for-school guys in the majors who didn't play in their All-Star Game?
"I guess they see it in a different way, but it's special for me," Velazquez said.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," said the game's MVP, Russ Canzler of Durham, whose 3-run homer in the second provided all the scoring in the International League's win over the Pacific Coast League. "But it's a little different game up there."
It's fairly easy to see why Derek Jeter — a 12-time MLB selection — would opt out, saying he was rehabbing an injury. They don't get paid for their appearances, though there can be incentives in their contracts. And they rarely get days off during the long season.
With the game focused on production (and money), why risk it on a goof-fest like the All-Star Game? (Don't get me started on the farcical NBA All-Star Game.)
At the same time, down here in the minor leagues, there are people dying to play, even though they could have a few days off to go fishing.
"I don't fish," smiled Velazquez, noting that he wouldn't have skipped the Triple-A game. "We all enjoy time off and resting, there's not many days off, but you want to take advantage of every opportunity you can. I'm excited to be here."
Likewise, Bees slugger Jeff Baisley said he was glad to be part of the Salt Lake extravaganza, even though he understood some of the MLB moves.
"Some of those guys have been in 15 All-Star games," Baisley said, "so it's just another day to them, but it's an honor to be in this All-Star Game."
Velazquez and Baisley didn't take Wednesday's game for granted. Velazquez has played just nine games in the majors, the rest in the minor leagues. At age 31, the odds of him returning for an extended period aren't great. A career .238 hitter, he is batting .361 this season. Baisley, 28, spent 14 games in 2008 with the Oakland A's, getting 11 hits in 43 at-bats. He entered the All-Star break leading Salt Lake with 17 homers.
On Wednesday neither Bees player did much to enhance his resume. Baisley registered a ground-out to second and a strikeout and committed a second-inning error that opened the way to a three-run inning. He later settled down, smoothly throwing out a couple of hitters from third base. Velazquez replaced Baisley in the seventh but grounded out and struck out himself. No problem.
"If I start or don't start," Velazquez said earlier this week, "if I play or don't play, I'll be ready."
So while both Bees have played at all levels, they haven't spent enough time in the big leagues to get jaded. It was neither their brightest day, nor their biggest stage. Still it was an All-Star Game. There are worse places to be in July.
"My biggest thing," said Velazquez, "is that I'm going to play baseball 'til they tear the uniform off my back."
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