Baseball is a cruel game sometimes. It can be a test of patience and perseverance as much as talent.
Take the case of Mateo Gil, for instance.
Gil started the season at the Colorado Rockies’ extended spring training recovering from an injury. He was finally assigned to the Spokane Indians on May 17 and was placed in the starting lineup at third base that evening.
The first batter of the game, Ghordy Santos, hit a slow roller to Gil, who made a backhanded pickup and threw across his body to nab Santos at first. Nothing seemed unusual to the casual observer.
But Gil felt a twinge in his hamstring.
“It wasn’t on the throw,” he said. “It was on my first step when I crossed my body fast and then it just kind of like popped.”
He made two more plays in the field and struck out swinging – weakly – in the third inning and was replaced in the lineup.
“I got hurt out of spring and the injury was a little bit worse than we thought initially,” Gil said. “I was there and had a setback with it and then played some games finally. Got enough at-bats to get out of Arizona, then first game, ready to go and then just more of like a freak injury.”
Gil missed a month of action and spent two more weeks with the Rockies’ Arizona Complex League team before rejoining the Indians on July 7.
“It was tough at first, but I’m here now and good and ready to go,” Gil said.
The frustration is real for a young ballplayer forced to sit instead of proving himself on the field.
“I mean, it just comes out of nowhere,” Gil said of the injury. “It was nothing with my preparation. I didn’t do anything bad. It was just one little weird step in the wrong direction – I don’t even know what I did to this day.
“But I think what made it more frustrating was I had the injury before and so the anticipation of playing, getting ready to play and finally I get to go out and play, and then I couldn’t even get through one game. But like I said, that’s in the past and I’m healthy now and feel good.”
Gil has played in six games as a utility player for the Indians since his return and has picked up a hit in four of the six.
A shortstop by trade, he has appeared at first, second, third and left field for the Indians .
“I could see myself being like a Ben Zobrist type of guy, hopefully,” Gil said, referencing the three-time All-Star utility player for the Tampa Bay Rays and three other MLB teams.
“(Zobrist) played for a long time, and if I can keep striving to get better and better defensively at each position, then it’ll just create more chances for me that if a guy needs a day off, you know, I could just maybe play a different position each day of the week. That’d be a cool thing to do.”
If a player named Gil playing multiple positions sounds familiar, it’s because Mateo’s father, Benji Gil, made an eight-year MLB career doing the same thing.
Benji Gil came up in the Texas Rangers’ organization as a shortstop, reaching the big leagues in 1993 at the age of 20. Over the next 10 years – he missed parts of three seasons due to injury – with the Rangers and Anaheim (now Los Angeles) Angels, Gil played short, first, second, third and center field.
The senior Gil started the season as the Angels’ first-base coach and is the major league field coordinator with the club.
Mateo Gil is following in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one.
“I pride myself on my defense,” he said. “I don’t want to just be like, just OK to play (multiple positions). I want to be good. Hopefully, I’ll play to the best of my ability and continue to get better.”
As the son of a big leaguer, Gil admits that some of his coaches or contemporaries might look at him differently or have some jealously.
“Maybe a few, but most of (his teammates) didn’t know my dad when he was playing, unless they were super fans, or their dads were big fans of the Angels.
“But I mean, they just think it’s cool. They have a few questions on what he has to say to me throughout games. But other than that, I mean, I feel like some guys on the team don’t even know I have a dad that played in the big leagues.”
But Gil fully appreciates drawing on his father’s experience.
“I talk to him almost every day,” he said. “And especially now with the transition into being a super-utility guy, because that’s what he was for his last his last half of his career in the big leagues with the Angels.”
It’s a luxury for the younger Gil to have a sounding board who has been through everything he’s experiencing.
“We’ll talk every day about the games and when I was rehabbing, because he’s been through injuries,” he said. “This year, I think we’ve talked probably the most just through the injuries and the changing of the positions.
“Any questions I have, he’s been through so many things. And now he can see things from the coach’s side too. I don’t think there’s a person more qualified to talk to me than him.”
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