Doing whatever it takes to play

10/8/2010 - MLB

If you looked at the San Francisco Giants' postseason roster going into their National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, you would not find Barry Zito or Jose Guillen. Considering that they are both highly compensated and established veteran players, this state of Giants affairs is somewhat of a surprise.

I can venture to say that I know what they are thinking right now, or at least what I would have thought had I not made the postseason roster in 2003. For the October 2003 playoffs, I was whisker-close to wearing a parka with a hot cocoa in hand instead of being an active player on the roster. An injury to infielder Tony Womack sealed the deal that I would be one of the 25 to contribute to the Cubs' World Series hopes.

Of course, I didn't even think there was any question I would be on the roster before my meeting with manager Dusty Baker. When the Cubs dealt for me at the trade deadline in July, I was one of the hottest hitters in the American League. For the Rangers, I had hit close to .400 in July and I had some key hits in limited starts after the trade. In my mind, I was back to the form that made me the everyday starting center fielder for the Phillies for so many years. But when the Cubs made the move to acquire me, they were thinking about adding depth and insurance for a beat-up Kenny Lofton, whom they had just acquired.

All during our run to October, I was used primarily as a platoon player. I started against most lefties, made the occasional pinch-hit appearance, played defense for Moises Alou from time to time. But at the very least, I told myself, I would do the same for the NL Central Division champs, the playoff-bound Chicago Cubs. Then I actually listened to what Baker was asking of me.

"You played a little infield before, right?"


In more than 1,000 major league games, I never even thought of playing the infield, let alone actually doing it. But as I listened more and more to Dusty, I realized this was my only ticket to making the postseason roster, so I'd better be open to it or else someone else would be the emergency utility infielder.

Maybe because I hadn't had any postseason experience beforehand, I had never thought how tough it is to pare down a roster for the playoffs. Dusty had taken full advantage that the Cubs carried close to the maximum 40 players in September. We had Tom Goodwin, Troy O'Leary, Lenny Harris -- a lot of lefties -- and myself, among others, and we comprised just the extra outfielders. So when our roster needed to be cut down to 25, tough calls had to be made and it probably wouldn't have been as tough had Womack, with his history of playoff success, been healthy.

But Womack had torn a ligament in his elbow while sliding into home plate, and even though I knew he was still a better infielder than I was with only his non-throwing arm working, I had to be enthusiastic to "do whatever it takes" to help the team win. As I looked around the locker room, I wasn't alone in wondering about my role. Left-hander Shawn Estes was in a similar spot, as was utility infielder Augie Ojeda and backup catcher Josh Paul.

After dancing with words, clarifying to Dusty that I "would play infield" not that I "could play infield," I became the ultimate extra man. I carried two gloves, one of which was Ramon Martinez's backup infield glove. I took grounders in batting practice. I learned new rules of etiquette that an outfielder would never know. I found out that Alex Gonzalez did not appreciate it when I took pregame grounders in spikes because I was messing up the shortstop area. Add cutoff and relay rules or bunt defenses and you have a very lost fish out of water.

However, my poker face remained. I had determined that if the stars aligned and I had a chance to get in my first playoff game as an infielder, I would go all out, even though I knew I could possibly set the major league record for most errors in an inning.

As fate would have it, once I was on the final roster, I calculated that if Dusty took out one infielder, I was one injury or double switch away from being on the field as the professional equivalent of wearing a chicken suit to a fox party. Then in the NL Division Series against the Braves, Dusty pinch-hit for Gonzalez in the sixth inning. Besides almost passing out from realizing I could enter the game as a shortstop, I kept Martinez's glove close by just in case.

My chance did not come, but I was ready -- ready to put my ego in my pocket and accept that after being a starter for my entire life, being the star of my domain, being the no-brainer incumbent, at 33 years old, I was now the extra man. I was the "break glass in case of emergency" option, and it would have taken quite an emergency.

It was a tough adjustment, but I only had a minute to think about it after Dusty asked me that fateful question. Immediately, my career had changed. I had to be whatever the team needed, rather than the team needing me to be me.

Eventually, my day in the sun came. After getting only one pinch-hit at-bat in the NLDS, I got another one in the NLCS and made the most of it. I laced a game-winning, extra-inning triple in Game 3 against the Marlins, in part because I was willing to be an infielder, something absent from my résumé since my Little League days. Zito and Guillen may not have had an option. All the more shocking for players of their experience, but that's what happens in this game. You are the treasure, you are the trash, and you are everything in between. Part of staying positive when you are pushed out of your comfort zone is realizing that even as trash, you are a major league ballplayer with something to add -- even when you are wearing the wrong glove.

Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com.