Thursday, May 21, 2015

In Defense of Omar Infante

Danville, Kentucky -- OMAR COMING!!!! Some men are born winners. Other men, by the grace of God Almighty, learn how to win by making the most of the situations that come their way. Omar Infante, who gallantly patrols that ninety foot-long stretch of grass between 1st and 2nd base every night for the Kansas City Royals, falls under the latter category. In Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, everything is earned. Nothing is given. Omar Infante is a man who has conquered adversity numerous times to get where he is today, by sheer willpower manning 2nd base even as his body fails him like a vigilante that jumps off a six-story building. Omar has suffered grievous injuries that would’ve hobbled a lesser man. Yet, every day he walks onto the field with his head held high, defying the cruel physical deterioration that the uncaring passage of time inevitably brings.

I’ve been watching his career from afar since his days in the Senior Circuit on the Florida Marlins when he’d pester my Cincinnati Reds. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the injuries that Mr. Infante has overcome. You thought Brett Lawrie’s slide at Alcides Escobar was dirty? Let’s flash back to 2013, when Colby Rasmus of the Toronto Blue Jays slid cleats up at Infante’s shins, taking the sturdy Omar out of commission for weeks:

And who, other than me when I black out after accidently mingling Robitussin® with Kentucky Deluxe, could forget the time Omar took an errant pitch to the face, just last year?

This is but a mere sample of the abuse his body has taken, abuse more unrelentingly painful than the time I missed Homer Bailey’s no-hitter because I got dragged to my step-daughter’s dance recital by my third wife. Yet, did Omar falter? Did he call it quits? No. A man’s got to have a code. Like me after the time I spent a night in prison for selling cassette tapes of my no-hitter in the parking lot of Danville’s Applebees, Omar persevered and is stronger for it. And thank goodness for the Kansas City Royals that he did.

I can’t remember seeing such a solid player more unfairly maligned than Omar Infante. Almost as bad as the physical abuse is the emotional abuse Omar suffers. Listening to most Royals fans, you’d think Omar Infante had cut them off in traffic or egged their houses:

Let’s not forget what Omar has already achieved in a Royals uniform.

This is a man who drove in 6 runs in the 2014 playoffs, including a 2-run jack that sealed the deal in Game 2 of the World Series vs the San Francisco Giants.

Yet, in spite of everything Mr. Infante has already contributed to their team, there are ungrateful nerds who grumble about replacing him with some kid named after the organ that stores waste material, referencing arcane statistics like WRC+ and WAR.

If the nerds want to talk numbers, I’ll give them a few numbers:

2011: The last time an American League Championship Series didn’t feature Omar Infante.

100%: The percentage of American League Championship Series that Omar has appeared in from 2012 to 2014.

2 out of 3: The number of World Series Omar Infante has appeared in since 2012.

3: The number of times Omar Infante has been an American League Champion, including his appearance in the 2006 World Series with the Detroit Tigers.

0%: The percent of the time you can miss if you come at the King. 

This whole debate reminds me why geniuses like Ned Yost and Dayton Moore call the shots, and not nerds. Ned and Dayton wouldn’t dream of benching a three-time American League Champion in favor of a utility infielder who probably needs to grind out a few more at-bats in the minor leagues. Telling the guy with the most playoff experience on your entire team to ride the bench would be suicidal, especially given the departure of James Shields and Raul Ibanez. The team cannot afford to take veteran players off the field or out of the clubhouse.

Before Omar Infante took his talents to Kansas City, the team had a revolving door of 2nd basemen, burning through a total of 6 in 2013. That year, the Royals went through 2nd basemen like I go through frozen Digiorno’s Pizzas when I feel too depressed to leave the house or use a phone. Omar has given the Royals stability at a crucial middle-infield position that was more chaotic than the time my second wife became my fourth wife at the TGI Fridays in Lexington.

Omar coming to Kansas City was destiny; just look at his last name, Infante, which is a title bestowed to Spanish Royal children. A time may come when Christian Colon is ready to assume the role of everyday 2nd baseman, but until then, you’ll want Omar Infante there to mentor him like some sort of line-drive slapping, double-play turning Obi-Wan Kenobi. Omar Infante is not a superstar; he was eclipsed by Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander on Detroit’s roster, just as Eric Hosmer and Yordano Ventura are beginning to cast a long shadow upon him, even as he reliably flips ground balls to his trusty double-play partner, Alcides Escobar. Yet, every team needs players like Omar, even if they don’t hit 20 dingers, and even if they sometimes do things like this:

Omar provides benefits to this team that WRC and fWAR can’t measure. And for that reason, he’s here to stay; like taxes, divorce, alcoholism and the A.M. Crunchwrap.