Ballantini: Happy Easter and happy...49th?

Ballantini: Happy Easter and happy...49th?
April 24, 2011, 5:45 pm
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Sunday, April 24, 2011
Posted: 12:46 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

DETROITBaseballs Peter Pan, Omar Vizquel, will celebrate his 44th birthday with a start at second base in the Chicago White Soxs series finale at Comerica Park vs. the Detroit Tigers.

Or, maybe its his 49th? After all, the white board outside of the White Sox clubhouse carried two messages on Sunday: Happy Easter and Happy 49th Omar!

Vizquel, who just yesterday was dancing through the clubhouse with headphones on, slappin the bass while doing a box step, even cutting in on Gordon Beckham and dancing with the good ol boy from Georgia, remains young at heart and sound of body.

Ive been fortunate and lucky, and Ive been doing whats necessary to stay in the game a long time, Vizquel said, sitting still for a moment during a morning of bounding in and out of the clubhouse. I feel fortunate to be here still playing this game. Its been amazing. I would have never believed it. I believe the workouts and training are what brought me here.

Manager Ozzie Guillen, retired for 11 years yet just three years older than Vizquel (and, as he does with everyone, refers to him as this kid), remains in awe of his utility infielder.

He still produces because of commitment, discipline and love and passion for the game, Guillen said. Thats all you can put together for that guy to continue playing the way hes playing. Thats amazing. When you look at a guy with that age, most of the guys are pitchersand they really look old. But this kid, the way he plays, the way he goes about his business. He was blessed by God.

A future Hall-of-Famer who can still roam successfully at shortstop is merely blessed?

Omar is not the type of guy who was gifted with talent, Guillen said. Ive known him for a long, long time, back when he was 16 years old. He worked his way out of Venezuela. Obviously, in the process, he got better and better and better, to place himself as a Hall of Famer.

Guillen described Vizquels fundamentals as poorhe crouches, bends, and fields with a narrow base, contrary to how young players should be trained. But Vizquel has known no other way, working out with great intensity each offseason.

Well, my workouts change every year, he said. You have to work on your resistance, your core, your power. Every year has been an adjustment to how your body is feeling, and the things you need to do to accomplish a goal. Normally, I do an hour or maybe one and a half hours of exercises for three or four days a week. Thats what has kept me in the game.

The main thing for Vizquel, and a reason why the veteran is a good match for the White Sox, is that he still finds the game fun.

It is, he acknowledged. Its crazy, but every Opening Day, I still have the chills every time. This year was special because it was in Cleveland where Vizquel made his fame. Every year on Opening Day I am happy and excited. I am grateful and still have fun thats the main thing.

The last few years when I saw him, hes had more fun in the game because he goes out and plays and laughs, Guillen said. He plays each game like its going to be his last.

Thus, Vizquel sees no reason not to keep playing. A year ago at this time, the veteran was sizing up 2010 as his swan song. But after hitting .276 and playing all three infield positions but first base, Vizquel had a change of heart and in an offseason of prime free agent signs by Chicago, he came first. The infielder has paid off the teams faith, hitting .348 through his first six games and spelling both young, faltering infielders Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham.

As long as my body is OK, performing and doing what I ask it to do, right now theres no reason I cant keep playing, Vizquel said. I am going to keep trying to play. I dont need to be on a table getting massages, or a Jacuzzi, or need a personal trainer with me on the road trip. I dont need any of that stuffI feel I can still do the same things Ive been doing for all these years.

Guillen, por supuesto, is a bit more blunt about Vizquels value.

He saved our ass last year, big time, and continues to do it, he said. I need to put him out there, because starters need a break and he shows up to perform well the way he does. Thats not an easy thing to do.

So, will Vizquel become the majors first 50-year-old utility man?

Vizquel smiled. Who knows?

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.