View from Studio 3: Chavez embraces mentor role
Veteran third baseman ready to share wisdom in second season with D-backs
The game is getting younger. The talent pool is deeper. And veterans with decades of professional experience are few and far between. So, what's the message from D-backs third baseman Eric Chavez to the current prodigies barely old enough to legally crack open a beer?
"Don't take it for granted," Chavez said. "Make sure you enjoy this, man, because it goes really, really fast."
Not only does Chavez speak from experience, he is a voice of experience inside Arizona's clubhouse. At 36 years old, he is secure enough in his own skin and with the back of his baseball card to see the humor in the age gap that exists with a few of his current teammates.
"When guys come up to you and say, 'When I was in the third grade, you were my favorite player,' it hits home," Chavez said with a laugh.
"It's pretty amazing to see these guys so young and they're ready," Chavez said. "They're mentally, they're physically ready to compete at this level. It's kind of enjoyable to see. There's more guys throwing 100 mph than I've ever seen in my career."
Life was probably moving at about 100 mph for Chavez when he debuted with the A's at 20 years of age. Although he made an immediate impact on the field, he admits that he wasn't mentally prepared for life in the spotlight at such a young age. He may have arrived on the big stage a couple of years before his time. But even while dealing with personal turmoil off the field, Chavez was key cog in the A's postseason runs. A run producer with a big power bat, he had an uncanny knack for getting on base. Chavez also flashed a glove at the hot corner that was second to none. He has six American League Gold Glove Awards to prove it.
"Some of those early [off-the-field] experiences, I think have led to my longevity, where I'm a little more balanced and able to handle things as I've gotten older," Chavez said.
That balance is one of the reasons Chavez was a wanted man on the free-agent market this winter. He's now willing to mentor young players and steer them in the right direction if the ship is going off course. Let's not forget about the fact that, when healthy, Chavez still wields a dangerous left-handed bat. Last season, in 254 plate appearances, he drove in 44 runs while posting an on-base percentage of .332.
But it's in the clubhouse and around the cage where Chavez brings added value. Chavez says that general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson asked him to take more of a leadership role in his second season with the club.
"Kevin is one of the few GMs who really feel like that clubhouse veteran leader is real important," Chavez said. "It's one of the reasons I wanted to come back here. I felt I fit that mold and I could really fill that role for them."
What a difference a year makes. Chavez was reluctant to speak up in 2013.
"The reason I was reluctant to do it last year was because I didn't want to feel like I was the new guy coming in and always had something to say, or always had to be in the middle of it," Chavez said. "That's never really the way I've operated."
It's the way the D-backs did their business this offseason that sold Chavez on returning. Yes, the additions of Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo and Addison Reed were big, but it was the club's approach that was most impressive. For Chavez, the push Arizona made for Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Masahiro Tanaka spoke volumes about the club's desire to win big.
"Ownership was committed," Chavez said. "If we get to the point midseason where we need to get somebody, they're going to do it. That's a comforting feeling as a player to know that ownership is behind you and committed to doing what they have to do to bring a winning team."
In an attempt to remain healthy and fully able to enjoy the ride, Chavez is pulling back on the reins. He told Towers he needs to avoid playing three or four games in a row. Chavez says that at this point in his career, "less is more."
When it comes to experience and wisdom, more is more, and it figures to rub off on the D-backs no matter if Chavez is in or out of the lineup.