The Unbelievable Streak of Gil Velazquez
Here are the four most remarkable streaks in baseball history (in no particular order):
Cal Ripken’s streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Orel Hershiser’s run of 59 straight scoreless innings.
Gil Velazquez’s streak of never having complained in 13 minor league seasons.
(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
OK, I’ve only been around Gil for the last three years but I’ve never heard him gripe about anything.
You have to understand – minor league baseball players (and announcers) complain a bunch. The travel can be brutal . . . the schedule is unforgiving . . . and even though you are only one step from the big leagues, it can feel like you are light years from the show.
And yet, after playing 1077 games in the minors and only 9 in the majors, Gil Velazquez is always upbeat.
Consider his reaction to spending the first six weeks of this season at extended spring training recovering from a broken left thumb.
“It was tough, but I enjoyed working out with all of the young guys,” Gil told me. “Hopefully, I set a good example for them that hard works gets you to higher levels and pays dividends in the long run. I had a good time being there.”
Velazquez might be the first player in history to say he had “a good time” at extended spring training, where the Monday through Saturday schedule consists of an early-morning workout followed by an exhibition game at noon.
“It can be a grind, but I didn’t take time to think about how hard it would be because I was focused on trying to get ready to get back over here,” Velazquez said. “One of the hardest parts is playing in one of those games and not having anybody there to see you play. It’s really fun when you take the field in a nice big ballpark and there are fans there to watch you. It gets the adrenaline flowing and it feels great to be out there in uniform. It’s especially fun when you do well, but even when you have those tough days it’s still a privilege to come out and play in front of a nice crowd.”
Perhaps that comment makes it easy to understand why the Red Sox re-signed Gil after a tough 2009 season. While he is solid and versatile defensively, Velazquez struggled at the plate, batting .193/.240/.269 in 93 games with Pawtucket. Two years ago, Gil batted .260 with 10 HR in 350 at-bats.
“I’ve been swinging the bat pretty well since spring training – the ball has been jumping off my bat,” Velazquez said. “I think my biggest problem is that my swing was long. I was drifting and getting out in front of a lot of pitches instead of using my lower half and staying short and through the ball. I worked hard in the off-season and so far, so good. I feel really good and hopefully I can do some damage at the plate this year.”
Gil’s biggest hope is to get called-up to Boston for the third consecutive year.
“One of the most important days of my life was that first call-up in ’08 at the end of September,” Velazquez said. “It’s the best experience I’ve had in baseball. I spent 10 years in the minor leagues before I finally got to the big leagues and it’s the best feeling I’ve had in baseball. I’m happy I stuck it out and got to accomplish my goal.”
A goal he accomplished without complaint.
* * * * *
While Velazquez has escaped extended spring training, Jed Lowrie remains in Ft. Myers recovering from the severe case of mononucleosis that he was diagnosed with in mid-March.
“Jed is doing better,” Gil said. “He’s starting to take ground balls, hitting, and getting his running in. I think he still has days here and there where he feels a little weak, but it’s all going to come back. He was pretty sick and lost a lot of weight and strength so he’s just trying to get back to where he was. Hopefully, he’ll be back to 100% soon and can get back to playing on the field and helping the Red Sox. I just wish the best for him because he’s a good ballplayer.”
* * * * *
Chalk up Sunday’s doubleheader in Durham as one of the most unusual things I’ve seen in minor league baseball.
The PawSox were outscored by 16 runs . . . and still managed to split. They dropped the completion of a suspended game 18-1, but rallied to win the second game 1-0.
The second game marked the Triple-A debut of 22-year-old LHP Felix Doubront who got off to an impressive start by pitching a perfect first inning with 2 strikeouts. Unfortunately, there was a downpour in the 2nd inning and Doubront did not return to the mound after a 1:32 rain delay.
Chad Paronto (4 IP) and Fernando Cabrera (2 IP) did a tremendous job in relief and Gustavo Molina homered for the game’s only run.
For the second straight year, the PawSox were the opponent on Negro League Night in Durham and wore vintage gray uniforms representing a variety of teams from that era. Here are a few of them, courtesy of Bulls’ photographer Ashley Yarber:
Ramon Ramirez in a House of David uniform.
Josh Reddick in a Cleveland Buckeyes uniform.
Scott Atchison in a Baltimore Elite Giants uniform and Dustin Richardson in an Indianapolis Stars uniform.
* * * * *
Torey Lovullo was saddened to learn about the passing of former All-Star pitcher Jose Lima, who died of a suspected heart attack on Sunday at the age of 37.
Lovullo said he had just been thinking about Lima a couple of days ago when the PawSox were in Norfolk, as he remembered a funny story about facing Jose at Harbor Park when he pitched for the Tides in 2006.
Lovullo was managing Buffalo at the time, and one night, Lima was dominating the Bisons as he allowed 1 run on 4 hits in 6 innings. It was vintage “Lima Time” as he celebrated his strikeouts and the final out of each inning with fist pumps and other emphatic gestures.
Torey was growing increasingly annoyed until the 5th inning when Lima surrendered a solid single to Buffalo’s light-hitting shortstop Jose Flores. As the runner stood at first base, Lima stepped off the mound and tipped his cap toward Flores for getting a hit off of him.
When Lovullo asked Lima about it the next day, the veteran pitcher claimed he had intentionally grooved a pitch right down the middle to give Flores a chance. According to Torey, Jose then uttered this classic line:
“I wanted the kid to be able to call home and tell his Mama that he got a hit off of Lima Time.”
* * * * *
The PawSox figure to have their hands full on Monday at 7:05, as they face the International League’s only 6-game winner – Durham stud Jeremy Hellickson (I wrote about him here).
Pawtucket will counter with Kris Johnson who tossed 6 scoreless innings in his last outing and is 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter this year.
I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
I’d love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard