For at least the past 23 seasons, Omar Vizquel’s presence has not only been felt around baseball, but also around the globe.
The 11-time Gold Glove award winner came from Venezuela to the major leagues, playing in Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas and Chicago, and is now hoping to make his way to Canada with the Toronto Blue Jays.
An inspiration for many young Venezuelans with big baseball dreams, Vizquel’s impact on one player will never be forgotten. Josue Peley, a Boston Red Sox farmhand born in Venezuela and now making his home in Montreal, will always remember the moment he met his hero.
'Once, in Olympic Stadium, he gave me a bat and his batting gloves in front of everybody, just right before the game. I was crying. I was in tears.' — Josue Peley on meeting Omar Vizquel for the first time
"He doesn’t know it," Peley said of his biggest influence in the game. "But it’s Omar Vizquel. By far, he’s been my idol since I was this tall [pointing to just a couple of feet off the ground].
"Once, in Olympic Stadium, he gave me a bat and his batting gloves in front of everybody, just right before the game. I was crying. I was in tears. It was the last year of the Expos in Montreal [in 2004]. He was with Cleveland at the time, it was during interleague play.
"He gave me his batting gloves and his bat and he told me to keep working hard. He said, ‘It’s not hard to get here, it’s hard to stay. So just believe in yourself and good things will happen.’"
Staying in the game hasn’t proved a difficult task for Vizquel as of yet, looking to embark upon his 24th season in the majors. During his time in the game, he’s had many moments like the one Peley recalls so vividly, but each one is still important to him, especially because of a similar experience he had.
"Obviously I don’t remember the exact moment," Vizquel said. "Because moments like these happen a lot when you’re young and you speak to a young crowd or kids in schools and stuff like that. It happens a lot.
"Sometimes [I give away my equipment], if I have something that I don’t need at the moment and I think that somebody else needs it, then I will give it to them. You go back home and you find stories like this often. I’m pretty glad that at least he’s got that souvenir with him and he still remembers the moment.
Pulling for Peley
"I hope that this kid makes it to the big leagues and sometime he can tell me, personally, the story, because I’m glad. I was a part of that too when I was a young kid.
"I took a picture with David Concepcion one time, and he was one of my big-time heroes. And when I saw him eight years later, I told him the story and he couldn’t believe it. Right now we’re good friends and I’m glad that stuff like this happens."
As Peley continues to try to work his way into AA for the upcoming season with the Red Sox, he too hopes that one day he will meet Vizquel again, and be able to tell him the story for himself.
"Never," the 24-year-old said of meeting Vizquel since that day. "That’s the only time. I never thought I was going to meet Omar Vizquel in Montreal, Canada, when he’s from Venezuela. And it’s the only time I met him, the only time I saw him. I will never forget that day."
Like Vizquel, Peley developed his love for baseball in Venezuela, though the sandlots would have been an upgrade for the young player and his two brothers.
"At my house, we had a big yard with a coconut tree," he said. "We painted the middle of it with the strike zone and we played with it. We made some balls out of socks. We just put socks together and sewed them and played there with a broomstick. That’s how it started."
Peley has come a long way from his backyard, now with four years of minor league service time under his belt between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Red Sox. The biggest change in his baseball career however, has been positional.
Like Vizquel, Peley was once a shortstop but has since been converted to catcher. Not falling short on baseball influences in that category, the Venezuelan-Canadian trains with his friend and fellow native of Montreal, Russell Martin of the New York Yankees.
During the winter, Peley went to Arizona with Martin for three weeks, training with him there as well as at home. The Red Sox catcher says he has lost 15 pounds heading into the summer and is in the best shape of his life, all with help from Martin.
"He’s amazing, first of all," Peley said of Martin. "I know he’s a Yankee but out of the season he’s like anybody. I try to get in his brain as much as I can. The guy’s a two-time all-star, a Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and last year he hit 20 home runs. Plus, he’s a really good guy, a good family guy. I try to learn everything, hitting, catching, life, and we even eat together. I try to get the most from him that I can."
The work ethic and drive that Martin embodies are attributes Peley admires. The similarities between the two catchers are what helps them get along, and what Peley believes drew Martin to him.
"I worked really hard so he loved it," Peley said. "He loves when people around him are like him. He’s a freak. He has a hockey mentality. He was a hockey player, too. So he’s 100 per cent all the time. He loves energy, he loves when people drive him and he drives people. So it’s great to have him around."