Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not the End of the Line: Omar Infante for Tigers Opening Day Center Fielder

Danville, Kentucky -- It's easy to forget what a marvel trains are. Before Al Gore's internet, before Dwight Eisenhower's interstate highways, before Henry Ford's Model-T, only railroads connected Americans to one another. America's system of rail transportation has roots dating back to the First Transcontinental Railroad of the 1860s, a marvelous but loose network of train tracks that connected the country's breadbasket to the western frontier and the still fledgling settlements on the Pacific coast. Before the dawn of the railroads, America didn't have time-zones. Life was isolated, parochial, and pastoral. The emergence of railroads made every corner of the continent accessible and revolutionized our way of life.

Folks, in the summer of '75, there was nothing better than hopping aboard a train and seeing how far it would take you. One hot, smothering day in July of that summer, I was feeling particularly defeated. The bitter taste of the Watergate scandal was still depressing my spirits. An oppressive tax code and restrictive land use ordinances were hindering my dream of opening Danville's first ever combination sports bar and daycare center. I needed to see the world beyond my humble Danville abode. I longed for the sense of adventure that my ancestors must've had as they broke fresh ground in the New World and explored the vast and uncivilized frontier lands. So I headed down to Louisville's historic Union Station. I took a train to St. Louis. Then Fort Worth. Then El Paso. I took train after train after train till I ended up in Salt Lake City, Boise, and finally Reno.

Several hundred dollars worth of train tickets and a few weeks later, there were no more trains left to ride. No more sights I hadn't seen. Unlike my ancestors who were lured out west by the promise of unexplored land and new challenges to conquer, by 1975 all the blank spaces on the map had been filled in. I didn't find adventure or new beginnings out west; all I found was a gang of bikers that jumped me and left me for dead in the desert after a misunderstanding over gambling. I can still feel the coarse sand in my beard and the midday sun beating down upon me as I laid there in Nevada's barren wastelands, my face in the dirt. I can still smell the scorched dusty earth. I can still taste the sand. It tasted like the end of the line.

Many folks are saying that Omar Infante has reached the end of the line as well. The thirty-five year old second baseman from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela certainly seems to be past his prime, a relic of a bygone era of baseball, an anachronism like the idea of riding trains in 2017. He has had a storied career. Since making his debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2002, he has played every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base. He's been an AL Champion four times: with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012, and the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and 2015. He's had a 7 RBI game, been a postseason hero, spun gem defensive plays, and done everything else under the sun. But last season he was unceremoniously cut by Kansas City, seemingly marking the end of the line for him.

But it wasn't to be the end for Omar. Al Avila's Detroit Tigers have brought Mr. Infante's career full circle by giving him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, and one last opportunity to prove he belongs in the majors.

Omar has risen to the occasion, folks. He sports a massive .400 batting average so far this spring. Earlier today he netted a pair of doubles and RBI while turning several eye-popping defensive plays in the field. Omar's efforts to revive his career haven't gone unnoticed.

In spite of Omar's monstrous spring training output, the Tigers won't commit to giving him a roster spot for the regular season. That's a mistake, folks. The Tigers need to think outside the box. Mr. Infante is thinking outside the box. He suggested that he'd like to play center fielder for the Tigers.
The organization should take him seriously and give him a chance. Their season depends on it.

The Tigers' infield is set: future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is a fixture at first base. Gold Glove winner Ian Kinsler will be the starting second baseman. Defensive specialist Jose Iglesias will be the starting shortstop, while up-and-coming slugger Nick Castellanos mans the hot corner.

The Tigers' center field situation is much less clear. Anthony Gose struggled in Double-A last year after being demoted for a clubhouse incident with Toledo Mudhens manager Lloyd McClendon. Tyler Collins has had unfortunate incidents of his own, and has not set himself apart in spring training. Recent acquisition Mikie Mahtook has had an abysmal spring training, sporting a .074 batting average. Youngster JaCoby Jones holds the most promise but probably needs some more seasoning in Triple-A.

Omar, on the other hand, is major league ready right now. Omar's offensive explosion in spring training has laid to rest fears that his bat won't play. His glove will play in center field too. He has a total of 609 major league innings played in the outfield under his belt, including 182.2 innings in center field. Even the most ardent stats-lover would have to acknowledge Omar is the man for the job:


He's never committed an error in center field. His fielding percentage in center field is a perfect 100%. Folks, that's a track record that none of the Tigers' other center field options have.

Omar is the center field solution the Tigers didn't even know they had. Omar's veteran presence, playoff experience, smooth glove and hot bat would solidify the Tigers' center field situation and give the team certainty heading into the regular season. Louisville's Union Station has laid dormant for several decades, but it's clear that this is not the end of the line for Mr. Infante. It's up to the Tigers to let Omar aboard, lest he ride off into the sunset with one of their competitors.