FORT MYERS, Fla. – He doesn’t have to spot the famous photo or watch the unforgettable video clip to trigger the memories. Just ask Chris Gimenez about Jose Bautista’s Herculean toss, the most extraordinary bat flip in major league history, and Gimenez is transported back to another season in another country.
“It takes me back to that moment, every time. The feelings, the emotions of that game, even the smells,” Gimenez said of Bautista’s three-run blast, a seventh-inning homer that all but clinched the 2015 ALDS for the Blue Jays, but has become even more noted for the slugger’s snarling, exaggerated reaction. “I literally can see the pitch right now. That will go down as one of the top three craziest innings, if not the craziest, in baseball history. And I had a pretty good view.”
Now that’s a positive way to frame what Gimenez admits was one of the most heartbreaking occasions of his big-league career. But Gimenez, the Rangers catcher that day who was squatting just inches away when Bautista clubbed Sam Dyson’s fastball 400 feet, is a virtuoso of positivity.
He has to be. Because baseball has been cruel, cold-blooded and merciless to him — and he can’t get enough of it.
“There are a lot worse things I could be doing. I don’t see anything to be negative about,” Gimenez said after working out with his new Twins teammates. “I’ve always been willing to take the good with the bad.”
OK, fine. But who deserves so much bad?
Gimenez has been waived, designated for assignment or nontendered seven times, including once the day after he signed a contract. He has been abruptly claimed off waivers twice and traded two other times. He appeared headed to the World Series with Cleveland last year — until Trevor Bauer sliced open a finger while flying a drone during the playoffs, and the Indians needed his roster spot to add another pitcher. Gimenez was relegated to watching from the dugout, “the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader.”
And he will forever be captured in posterity as the catcher standing in the background while Bautista’s bat goes sailing into the Toronto bedlam.
“No doubt, I’ve been pretty lucky,” Gimenez says with a smile.
Whew, can anything shake this guy? Try this: A little more than a year ago, he was driving to a workout near his Reno, Nev., home when a snowplow behind him accidentally jerked a 36-pound metal grate out of the ground and through the rear window of his pickup, narrowly missing what would have likely been a fatal blow to his head.
Gimenez’s reaction? “Eh, a freak accident. I’m just glad my son wasn’t in the truck with me.”
He reached the majors in 2009, but has switched organizations seven times, including three separate stints with Cleveland and two with Texas, and has never gotten through a season without a stint in the minors. Frustrating? Ha. You don’t know Gimenez. (It’s pronounced JIM-inez; he’s not Latino, but a Californian whose grand-grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Spain.)
“Everybody believes when they get to the big leagues that they’ll stay with the team that drafted them their entire career, they’ll put down roots,” Gimenez said. “But that’s not reality. I’m just happy that someone always wanted me. It hasn’t been the easiest, smoothest road, maybe, but it helped mold me into what I am.”
Which is why he is now with the Twins, by the way. Gimenez impressed Derek Falvey with his professionalism while with Cleveland. He impressed Thad Levine with his leadership skills while in Texas, where he once served as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher. Now those two executives run the Twins, and offering the 34-year-old survivor a minor league contract, and a real opportunity to make the roster as Jason Castro’s backup, was one of the easiest calls they ever made.
Even if Gimenez doesn’t make the team, Levine said, Twins pitchers will benefit from spending training camp with the veteran. Gimenez, for instance, has already studied film of Jose Berrios, and has some suggestions about turning his tendency to pitch high in the strike zone into a weapon.
Paul Molitor doesn’t have his bosses’ background with the journeyman catcher, but is intrigued by “such a high-character, leader-type of guy.”
It’s not just intangibles, though; Gimenez can play. He’s an able defender, and although he’s a lifetime .218 hitter, his average against lefthanded pitchers is .263, with a .358 on-base percentage. That’s a good fit with Castro, who hits righthanders better.
He’s also willing to play the outfield, his original position when drafted, or first base — or even pitch, as he’s done three times in emergency situations.
“My career is full of random paths, but to have [Falvey and Levine] here, this just felt right,” said the married father of three, including a daughter born in January. “The biggest thing is, I don’t have to be who I’m not. I’m not an all-star. I’m a backup — I always want to be better than that, but I’m also OK with the situation. I feel like I have a lot of value to add.”