Mickey Lopez: Still Cruisin'
To call, or not to call? It's the question that Tacoma 2B Mickey Lopez hopes to take out of the Mariners hands this year
Mickey Lopez wears his Tacoma Rainiers jersey as if it were a business suit. If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Mickey he will almost assuredly give you a firm hand shake, maintain a stoic-like eye contact, and keep his hands clasped behind his back, patiently waiting to hear what you have to say.
And if he wasn't hanging around Cheney Stadium in a Rainiers uniform and turning double-plays so often, you might confuse him for a high roller on Wall Street. But then again the Rainiers and their fans have come to expect that kind of attitude from their 2003 MVP and record breaking second baseman. "The team counts on me," said Lopez. "To do certain things, everyday, [like] get my bunt down to move the runner over, and to be a veteran leader on the infield."
And if Lopez is one thing above all else he is a veteran.
The 2004 season is the Miami native's tenth in a pro uniform. He was originally drafted by Milwaukee in the 13th round of the 1995 draft, he signed almost immediately, and at the age of 21 started in the Rookie level Pioneer League, hitting .324 with 19 doubles in his 57 games with the Helena Brewers that year.
Since that time the journeyman infielder has made stops with ten other minor league teams in nine years, including stints with four different organizations. The Brewers, Phillies, Cubs, and finally the Mariners. Over his ten year minor league career Lopez has produced stellar numbers: including, 234 doubles, 51 triples, 195 stolen bases, 1148 hits, and a vgery respectable .285 career batting average.
And while he has posted a dearth of impressive offensive numbers over a lengthy career, it is perhaps his glove that has earned him his greatest distinction as a player. In 2003 Mickey fielded the ball from second base just about as well as a human being could. In fact, he fielded the ball better than any other human being did. Lopez set a Tacoma franchise record for highest fielding percentage by a second baseman with a jaw-dropping .987 mark. But Lopez downplays the record, and would much rather talk hitting than fielding.
"I take a lot of pride in my hitting," Lopez said. "Because I'm so small, people kind of underestimate me, so I take pride really in hitting the ball hard and getting on base. I feel like my defense comes naturally to me, I mean I work on it, it's just hitting is one of the hardest things (to do)in the world, so I really put a lot of emphasis into that."
His hard work with the bat, his near perfect glove work, and his veteran leadership came together well last year for Lopez, as the Rainiers named him their 2003 team MVP.
"His ability to play second base," Rainiers manager Dan Rohn said. "Makes him a great anchor to our infield, and his ability to come through and make some big clutch hits has been valuable too. He's a great all around player."
This year he has continued to put up numbers comparable to his last two seasons spent at the Triple-A level. So far through 62 games this year, Lopez has been putting up Lopez-like numbers. Hitting.274 with 13 doubles, four triples, and stealing seven bases.
So the sixty-four thousand dollar question is; is Mickey playing well enough to get a call up to the show? "I think everyone here has a shot," Rohn said, "to be honest with you. But if they keep putting up numbers, everyone is going to get a look [from the Mariners]."
With the Mariners trailing by 16 games in the standings and the 2004 season already half over, Rohn could be on to something. The Mariners have already called up position players Hiram Bocachica, Pat Borders, and Justin Leone, so why not Lopez? In September when the Major League rosters expand, it could very well happen. And after a long journey like Mickey Lopez has had, he deserves it.
"I hope that (call) will come," Lopez said. "Because I've played nine years in the minor leagues, and I hope that this might be the right place and the right time. But again it's all up to whatever moves (the Mariners) make. But I do feel like I have a good chance this year, to maybe get called up and I hope that this is the year, because I really do like Seattle."
Sean Duade is the best student at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Wash. Not sure how that worked out, but hey, who's arguing? Sean welcomes your questions and comments at SDuade@msn.com
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