By JOE McFARLAND
To say that Guillermo Quiroz has put a few miles on baseball’s open roads would be an understatement.
The Maracaibo, Venezuela native ended up spending a total of 17 seasons in professional baseball, including 148 games over ten seasons in the majors. It all started, though, right here in Alberta.
Quiroz found himself wearing the colours of the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1999. As a 17-year-old, he hit .221 with nine home runs and 28 runs batted in over 63 games.
Now 37, the right-handed backstop has managed to stay on the diamond. He now serves as a coach with the Chicago White Sox Class-A Advanced affiliate, the Winston-Salem Dash, under manager and former Calgary Cannons star Omar Vizquel.
We caught up with Quiroz for Episode 6 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast, where we talked to him about his adventures and memories of life as a young ball player trying to make it in a new country.
Q: What was it like starting off your professional career here in Alberta, which is a far cry from your home in Venezuela?
A: It was definitely my first time in Canada, for sure. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect. I was already feeling the effects of being away from my family for a little bit. I stayed for an extended spring for that after spring training with one of my buddies, Gustavo Chacin. He played with me as well in Medicine Hat so we kind of found comfort, you know. Just me and him staying together and talking and talking a lot. He’s from the same city that I’m from in Venezuela and we also got to spend some time playing together in some Little League tournaments back home as well. So yeah, you know, I knew I had a friend by my side. One of the other things I remember was that when I signed my contract, we were able to get a ticket for my family so they could come visit me when I was there.
Q: Give me some of your favourite memories of Medicine Hat. I know it was a short year and it kind of flies by as your first season in pro ball but does anything stick out?
A: Yeah, I loved the way we went out to the field every day. You know, we were just young and hungry for baseball. Our manager (Paul Elliott) was from Australia and, to be honest, it was hard because I didn’t understand even half of what he said to me at the time because he had a heavy Australian accent and I was just learning English. Even though I took classes before I got to the United States to start playing, it was hard for me to do it. We also used to love going outside the clubhouse after batting practice and getting hot dogs and burgers there. I don’t know but for some reason those burgers tasted really, really good at the field.
After playing for 8⃣ different organizations throughout his successful 1⃣7⃣-year career, Guillermo Quiroz has taken the next step in his baseball life by kicking off his coaching career in Winston-Salem.
— Winston-Salem Dash (@WSDashBaseball) July 16, 2018
Q: It’s that Alberta beef, let me tell you! Talk a little about the experience of going through that season in Medicine Hat. It’s a bit of a melting pot, like how your manager was from Australia. It had to have taught you a lot about baseball on the world stage as you went up the pro ranks.
A: We were just kids. You know, you just want to go out there and have fun. That’s the most important thing. By having fun, you learn through the ups and downs and, obviously at the same time, you get experience. The only way you can learn to play baseball is getting that experience through the years and that’s what we did. Even though we didn’t understand much of what Paul said, we had a Puerto Rican coach helping out with our team for the purpose of translating for us. I think his name was George. He was always joking around and I don’t think he understood half of what Paul was saying either so we were just trying to have fun with it.
Q: One of the things everyone talks about is how the community came together in those times of affiliated ball in Alberta. What do you remember about your billets? Who did you live with when you were here?
A: You know what? We had host parents but they worked a lot. I don’t think they were in the house a lot so we barely got into a relationship with them. But yeah, the people there were always smiling. They seemed like they always had something to give us. Little presents like little chocolates or a cup of coffee or whatever they could take to the field just to make us feel welcome in Alberta.
Q: Talk a little about the bus rides. I’m sure there were a few interesting memories made during those treks down the highways.
A: Oh my God! We had a couple of those there that were rough. I remember we had to take a trip, I think it was to Ogden and our air conditioner broke down in the bus. You could imagine almost everyone was riding the bus in their underwear because it was so hot. We had to spend a whole off-day just travelling so we could make it there. I mean, it’s a fun moment in hindsight but at the time, it wasn’t so good. I do remember guys saying “almost there, almost there, almost there” then five hours later, you’re still riding the bus.
Q: You mentioned the fact that it was a learning experience but, as someone who has entered the coaching side of things, it must be something you lean on for a lot of the youngsters you deal with. The hope to teach them not to take any of it for granted.
A: Yeah, of course. I mean, everything you learn you try to take in for you. Now that I’m on the coaching side, I’m helping all those kids, talking to them a lot. I try not to become friends with them but more as a teacher. I tell them just to take it all in with the experiences and tell them about what you’ve been through. They usually are pretty good about it and they end up understanding the way things are supposed to be.
Q: What’s changed in baseball since you started back in Medicine Hat in 1999? Anything that really sticks out to you?
A: Times have changed a lot of things, like strikeouts and a lot of homers! There are better players and there are more young people in the big leagues. It was rare in my day for teams to have younger guys in the big leagues. In my first time up there, there used to be a lot more guys in the lower-to-mid 30’s and that kind of thing as they were guiding those youngsters through the process.
Also, Dash assistant coach Guillermo Quiroz joined the podcast to chat about our clubhouse chemistry, pairing up @DylanCease and @YerdynM in Spring Training and his favorite moments with the coaching staff. pic.twitter.com/dHoVv1utPR
— Winston-Salem Dash (@WSDashBaseball) September 1, 2018
Q: You’re still a young guy at the end of the day and you’re already into the coaching side. Are you starting to see that the coaching side is also getting younger?
A: I agree 100%. All the teams. You look at it now and most rosters are built around younger guys where the oldest guy might be, I don’t know, 33 or 34. Unless you run into a guy like David Ortiz or even a guy like Erik Kratz, who is 38 and still catching. But other than that, it’s rare to find older people in the game. I mean, it is what it is. You know, you get to a point where, I mean, I was 35 years old when I was with Cleveland in 2017 and they were honest with me. They said I played good but they needed the spots for the younger guys coming up through the organization. I understand my role, so I said thank you very much and hopefully we’ll see you again in the future. Now I work for the Chicago White Sox and I’m still young. It’s given me an opportunity to start another career from scratch, as they say.
Q: When you look at that Medicine Hat team you were on, another kid who had a good MLB career was Alex Rios. What was it like playing with some of these guys who ended up making it to “The Show” like Rios, Chacin and even Matt Ford got some time?
A: Rios was my brother from another mother. We lived together throughout the six years that we were in the minor leagues. He made it up to the big leagues a couple of months before I did. He got called up in May I believe and I was called up by the end of the year. I do remember walking into the clubhouse with my two bags and I hear my name, loud and clear. Someone said “Quiroz, come over here!” I was like, “what, who is calling me?” It was Carlos Delgado was calling, so I dropped my bags and walked straight to his locker. I said, “what’s going on, Carlos?” And you know what? He started telling me about the big leagues and how things were and then, all of a sudden, he said “I don’t want you hanging out with Rios. He could be trouble.” I was wondering why, as he was my friend and we stayed together all that time. Turns out, he was just making a joke of it. I mean, when a person like Carlos Delgado is telling you not to do something, you better listen. It was pretty funny though.
Q: When you look back on all your years in baseball, and in particular the time in Medicine Hat, what sticks out most for you?
A: I think the journey and making it into the big leagues in general. Just trying to stay healthy because I had a lot of injuries so I was fortunate to stay in the game as long as I did. I played for 17 years and, you know, I could have played for another year or two. But I think just that journey of going from here to there and jumping from level to level. I think it taught me a lot just in life. It taught me that you really can’t stop doing what you want to do unless you have to and that’s pretty much what I did. When I made that decision and started another career, I knew I had to take advantage of my age and now I’m gearing up to do it. It’s my goal to manage one day and then obviously, just like everyone else, managers have a dream to manage in the big leagues. If I’m able to do that, then I consider myself lucky.
Main image photo credit: Robert Hill/Winston-Salem Dash