Future is now for former 51 Lindsey

John Lindsey makes you a baseball fan again. He takes any indifferent emotions that might’ve developed over the years and returns them to those of a rooting interest.

You want good things to happen for him.

You want him to get The Call.

Do you know what it could be? It could be that Lindsey is just a major league person with Triple-A talent, that his skill set is made for this level and not beyond it, that when it comes down to it, he is like so many who found making the final step impossible.

You just don’t want that to be the case.

But the years pass and Lindsey steps further and further into that realm where opportunities dwindle for him realizing a major league dream.

He is 32 and yet to play a day in the bigs. His wall clock hasn’t stopped ticking, but the batteries aren’t all shiny and new, either.

“I’m not 22,” Lindsey said. “I want to play until they tell me I can’t any more. I don’t know when that will be. But every year, I’m going to look for the best chance to make it.”

This season, that meant signing as a free agent with the New Orleans Zephyrs, affiliate to the Florida Marlins.

It means playing much closer to his home in Mississippi and his wife and 22-month-old son, of being part of a small-market organization that believes in looking first to its minor league teams when filling a need such as a backup infielder or pinch hitter.

It also means a big change from his most recent stop.

Lindsey spent most of the last two seasons with the 51s when the local organization was affiliated with the Dodgers, and he was good enough to become the only player in Las Vegas history to be named the team’s Most Valuable Player in consecutive years.

In 77 games here in 2007, he batted .333 with 19 home runs and 88 RBIs.

Last season he hit .316 with 26 homers and 100 RBIs.

It all resulted in another number: Zero.

That’s how many times the Dodgers promoted him to Los Angeles, including during September call-ups following his 2008 effort, enough to crank up the ol’ disillusionment factor to its highest degree.

“I thought I had a real good chance,” said Lindsey, who went 2-for-2 with two walks and three runs as his team’s cleanup hitter in a 10-2 win over the 51s on Tuesday. “It stung a little. I didn’t want to leave the Dodgers. I made a lot of good friends with them. But I’ve been around a long time and all you can do is continue putting up numbers and hoping it’s enough.”

It’s a story in every Triple-A clubhouse. It didn’t help Lindsey’s case that he plays first base and the Dodgers have that position perhaps solidified for years to come with James Loney. But that could be anywhere.

It is as much timing as anything for a player like Lindsey, likely not an every-day major leaguer but a guy with enough right-handed power to make you believe he won’t go an entire career without realizing the chartered perks of a big league life.

Still, he searches for Plan B.

Lindsey the last few years has tried finding a baseball home overseas, knowing that in 14 minor league seasons he hasn’t become overly wealthy and a place like Japan could bring a contract with more zeroes and security for his family.

He already made a name for himself in China while playing for the Dodgers on last year’s spring training trip to Beijing, becoming the first American professional to get a base hit on Chinese soil. He wanted the ball. The Hall of Fame wanted it in Cooperstown. He didn’t get the ball.

“I hope that’s not the biggest highlight of my career, but it was awesome,” Lindsey said.

He needs to remember Jason Wood.

The Marlins in 2007 purchased Wood’s contract and he remained on the active roster the entire season. He was 37 and had played only 52 major league games over 16 pro seasons.

There is a lesson in there for a guy like Lindsey.

“The big league club knows John well and that’s a big part of it,” New Orleans manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He’s a first-class guy with experience. For young guys, it is often tough to handle being in the majors and not playing and being asked to come off the bench late in games. But for someone like John, he could handle such a situation.

“I had a meeting about this with our team the other day. They need to understand while Triple-A is the closest place to the big leagues, the gap is still huge. Right time. Right place. But, yes, I will be surprised if John’s career ends and he never gets there.”

You want it for him.

John Lindsey reminds you what it’s like to be a fan.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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