We look at spring training as a sign of renewal and a herald of the approaching baseball season. But it is also a time where handwriting appears on the wall. There are always going to be long-time Major Leaguers experiencing the workout ritual for the last time. Some of them know it going in. Others won’t realize until October that they have played their final season and they must get on with their lives using skills other than a strong arm or a keen batting eye.
Retirement eventually comes for every player. Some of them are blindsided. Some of them have planned for it. As fans of certain players whom we have become familiar with, enjoyed, or simply admired from afar during the course of their playing lives, we experience mixed emotions with the passing of a career. Some players we will miss dearly, like old friends moving on. Some we will miss more generally like a relationship that has run its course. And some we really won’t notice that they are gone.
This week I was thinking about who is revving up for the 2012 season whom we might see the last of. Yankee relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, who has pretty much indicated that he is going to retire after this one last year, is at the top of the list.
This is the Panamanian thrower’s 18th season with New York. He starts the year with 603 saves and he will end the year with the clock starting to tick on his eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rivera has been poison for the rest of the American League, but has earned every baseball fan’s admiration for his talent.
After his shenanigans of the last couple of years, Manny Ramirez amazingly found a team to sign him. The once sure-fire Hall of Fame slugger, who has jeopardized his place in history by failing drug tests, belongs to the Oakland A’s now, but it’s hardly a sure thing that Ramirez will be on the roster at the end of the season, never mind next year.
Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is coming to the end of the line, t0o. Jones will probably wrap up his career after 2012–unless he enjoys a tremendous hitting resurgence.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez is scrambling to keep his career alive right now. He doesn’t want to retire, but he might be thrust out of the game he has loved. He may or may not play this summer.
Omar Vizquel has been hanging around as a utility guy for the last couple of years. He has 23 years in the big leagues, but he turns 45 on April 24. It’s a matter of counting the days for Omar and the hour glass may have run out.
Slugger Jim Thome, one of the most prolific home-run hitters of all-time, is going to primarily be a pinch-hitter for the Philllies this year. He is over 40, has had a great career, and just wants to play for a World Series champ before he retires. This is likely his last best shot.
Is this the last go-around for Ichiro Suzuki with the Mariners? Or even in the United States? As he pushes 40, maybe Suzuki will want to finish out his career back home in Japan.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen hang up his spikes after his 17th year in the bigs. Rolen has had considerable trouble getting through a complete season without injury in recent years, but he seriously hopes to play injury-free this year in a season that promises big things for the Reds.
Also injury-plagued (and unless I missed it, still looking for work), outfielder Magglio Ordonez has 15 years of service time in on his resume, but may not even play this year.
There are others, who have played 15 years or so, who are trying to stick with clubs this spring or who are gradually realizing that their time is up. Will we see Bartolo Colon on the mound again? He has fooled us more than once. Will sore arms abruptly steal away other pitchers? No way of knowing that, but it is bound to happen to at least one thrower.
It would be wonderful to see some of these players sip from the fountain of youth and find their old strength again this summer. It would be a treat for all of us before they wave goodbye.