Endy Chavez – an outfielder for the Bridgeport Bluefish – has some memorable moments from playing major league ball with the New York Mets. He not only had the opportunity to share the field with some great players, but it also earned him a nickname. “The Catch” – as he’s been called since his spectacular play in Game 7 of the National League Conference Series in 2006 – grew into baseball as his world expanded from his birthplace of Venezuela.
The backgrounds of how baseball players arrive at their dream of being in the majors are as different as the players themselves. For Chavez, it began as a young boy in his native country and continued when he arrived in the United States. Baseball is the only sport he’s known throughout his life. “It was always my dream to be a professional baseball player,” Chavez said. “I believed (and still do) that it was something I could do well and contribute one way or another.”
“I remember as a kid I would say, ‘If I play baseball every day, I’ll be the happiest kid in the world,’” stated an enthusiastic Chavez. “To be a happy man is a good man and right now I’m a happy man.”
Now 38 years old, he had the privilege to live out his dream of playing baseball every day from morning till night as a young child in Venezuela. One drill that specifically helped Chavez’s technique at the plate all started with objects found outside his house.
“As a little kid I would sit on a bucket and I used a stick and practiced hitting little rocks,” Chavez described. “I could do that for hours. What that did was work on my eye-hand coordination and balance, making sure I stay through the rock and always get the barrel of the stick on the rock.”
“I can remember like it was yesterday. I would have in my mind that I was in a real baseball game at that time and kept seeing in my mind certain players like Raul Escobar. I would take my at bat with that stick and hit the rock.” All of his repetitive practice contributed to Chavez being a true contact hitter, even meeting his own standards.
“That in a sense made me a contact hitter, although I’d do it for fun rather than working out,” Chavez remarked. “I’ve always had an aggressive swing since I was a little kid, and having that translate to the pros is truly awesome.”
The time on the bucket and practicing the swings of every major leaguer he could think of caught the eye of players twice his age in his home town. Chavez’s commitment to developing in the sport earned the respect of his older peers. “They wanted me to play on their team because I was a good player,” Chavez recalled. “I had an idea how to play the game the right way and in a mature fashion and in some ways that allowed me to be relaxed and less tense.”
That serious approach along with having a role model in now Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. established Chavez as a mature ball player.
“(Griffey) was a guy who played center field. I play center field. We are both left- handed hitters. I just wanted to be like him. To have the opportunity to have played not just with Griffey, but also alongside him in the outfield is and was something I will never forget for rest of my life,” Chavez proudly stated. He was referring to the time he had played with Griffey with the 2009 Seattle Mariners.
Griffey, being the true class act he has always been, approached Chavez several times to give him advice or tips on how to improve his game. As a star struck teammate, he couldn’t believe the kind of human being Griffey was.
“To be in the same lineup as Griffey, me hitting second and him third, was something I could never imagine, ” Chavez said. “But then, hitting back- to- back homers was the best of all time, man.”
Chavez has had many great teachers who have helped mold him into the ball player he is today. Ken Griffey was one. His former manager with the Mets, Willie Randolph, was the other.
Griffey’s behavior on and off the field made a lasting impression on Chavez. “The way he treated me during my time in Seattle as a part of the team really struck me,” Chavez recalled. “Always complimenting me on my hustle and giving me credit on how I went about my business on the field and off, from a Hall of Famer, was something else.”
Willie Randolph’s wipe-like action with his bat coupled with his speed on the field also affected Chavez’s developing baseball skills. Chavez sought to mirror Randolph’s style while playing in major league games.
Randolph was a man of few words when, as the Mets manager, he spoke to Chavez at the beginning of the season..“The key was (what he said to me) in spring training before we even started,” the outfielder remarked. “He pulled me into his office and all he said to me was ‘I need you to bring the energy in the top of the lineup; that’s all I ask of you to do.’”
“When that manager has that confidence in you, that makes you want to be more compromise (Cohesive) with the team and always give it your all,” Chavez stated.
Having both Griffey and Randolph give Chavez that vote of confidence contributed to his ability to relax, demonstrate both his knowledge and skill with the game he loved, and make any necessary adjustments throughout his years of playing professional baseball. .
One of Chavez’s most memorable moments on the field was when he was dubbed “The Catch”. He readily recalls that NLCS game in 2006 and details the play that led to his nickname as something he didn’t even mean to do.
Chavez eagerly described each piece of his remarkable play. “It was the sixth inning of the game with a man on first. Scott Rolen was coming up and I saw Willie go out to the mound to see if he would take Oliver Perez out. He kept him (Perez) in the game and at that point Rolen was pulling the ball pretty good.”
“I took about four or five steps and that was the key because the first pitch he hit out to left field. I started running and I tried to speed up to the fence. For a second, I thought the ball was speeding up and I didn’t have a chance, but I timed it and jumped just right.”
Chavez even admitted he didn’t think he would make the play. “To be honest, I never thought I’d catch the ball,” Chavez admitted. “After I leaped and I felt it hit my glove, I was like ‘Oh, it’s inside.'”
“At the same time I hit the fence,” he continued. “I felt the glove was going to come off my hand, so if I could get a better grip of the glove and pull it in, it could be a double instead of a Home Run.”
“I elevated my eyes at first, and (Rolen) was stuck in no-where land. I saw Jose Reyes at the shortstop position and threw it back, but my first reaction after the play was ‘He’s mine; I got him.'”
That play will go down in Chavez’s personal memory book as “the one” he will never forget. Although it happened over ten years ago, every detail remains etched in his mind, so much so that he recalls the positioning of his feet as well as what he was thinking after Rolen made contact with his bat.
Chavez still plays the outfield but now for the Bluefish. He has been struggling with a hamstring injury over the past month or so, but he is working his way back into his seasonal form. “I’m almost at 100%,” Chavez stated eagerly. “I don’t want to bust it out all the way yet, because hamstrings are tricky. My timing is almost there with the bat.”
Chavez still has something to show to not only his teammates and the fans, but especially to himself. While age may not be on his side, his history of commitment to the game and developing his skills has not waned. The fighter in him remains. He’s not ready to leave the ring just yet. Chavez wants to return to the major leagues. He might just get there.
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