April 20, 2011

WHY WOULD YOU STOP VOLUNTARILY?:

Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer (Ryan O'Hanlon, 4/19/11, Good Men Project)

Andy Tracy plays first base for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s 37 and turns 38 in December. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), he’s the oldest American position player in the entire minor league system.

In 16 seasons, he’s played for the Crocs, the Hammerheads, and the Zephyrs. Hell, he’s even been an IronPig. All in all, he’s played for 11 minor league teams and one in Japan. He’s tallied 5,298 minor-league at-bats, playing in 1,511 minor-league games.

In the same time, he’s also played for three major league teams: the Expos, Rockies, and Phillies. He’s had 227 major league at-bats. He’s played 149 games in the big leagues. More than half of them came in 2000, when he played 83 games with the Expos. He hasn’t played more than 15 games since 2001.

So, um, what the hell is this guy doing?

He’s 37, and he’s playing baseball in Reno. His family lives in Columbus. He has a wife of ten years, a four-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. He’s riding on coach buses each week, getting daily meal stipends in cities like Fresno and Sacramento. Why keep going?

Well, he’s probably making a decent living, but it’s more than that.

“I still believe I can help a big league team. That’s why I’m still playing,” Tracy told me. “The day I believe that I can’t, I would probably walk away from it. I think I can still help a big league team off the bench.”

Tracy very well might be able to. He’s started off the season well. He’s hitting .389 through six games—a very small sample size. He’s been a minor league All-Star the past three seasons. But he still hasn’t played a major-league game since 2009.

You see, this story was supposed to be about the oldest guys in the minors. Raul Chavez, Brett Tomko, and Marc Kroon are all 38—older than Tracy—but none of them wanted to talk to me. And can you blame them?

Hi, would you like to talk about how you almost made it? What about how you failed? Maybe a few questions about how you were never good enough? Or possibly something about how you couldn’t let go?

But Tracy spoke to me, and I think that says something about him. It says something about his career and, really, about how he’s come to terms with it and how it’s not a failure. You talk to Tracy and you get the feeling that this guy was meant to be the oldest player in the minor leagues.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2011 5:02 PM
  
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