PEORIA, Ariz. – Injuries are a big part of Josh Wilson’s career, though they’re seldom his.
A man who has been Plan B or Plan C through a journey that’s taken him to nine major league organizations, Wilson is the ultimate reserve infielder. He is insurance, and in a grueling 162-game season, teams regularly require it.
“That basically is how my whole season went last year. I got called up to Arizona the first time because of Stephen Drew getting hurt,” Wilson said. “He got healthy and I bounced to San Diego. They got their guys healthy, Luis Rodriguez and Eric Cabrera, so I got bounced out of there and wound up in Seattle.
“I think (Adrian) Beltre was out and he came back so I got sent to Triple-A, then Jack (Wilson) gets hurt and I came back up. It’s pretty much how it goes.”
Josh Wilson jumped back on the merry-go-round this winter, re-signing with Seattle – though there were other offers – because he liked what he saw in the organization. Brought to camp as a non-roster player, he had little chance of making the club.
Until Jack Hannahan tore a groin muscle last week.
Hannahan was penciled in Don Wakamatsu’s roster as the utility infielder capable of playing shortstop behind Jack Wilson. With Hannahan expected to miss 7-10 days, it puts him behind – and gives Josh Wilson an opportunity.
“It’s unfortunate for Jack. but yeah, you know it’s one of those ‘blessing for other guys’ kind of a deals,” Wilson said. “I will get a little more chance to play and that can only help me. For any guy who gets thrust into the situation of more playing time, it’s up to that guy to capitalize on it.”
If it sounds like a strange way to make a living – like being a human buzzard – it’s the nature of sports. Great players get hurt, giving good players an opportunity. Good players get injured, the lesser mortals of baseball get their chances.
“I’ll take being in the big leagues any way I can get it,” Wilson said. “You don’t want to see other guys get hurt, especially teammates, but such is life, especially in baseball. For years and years, players have been given opportunities because of other players’ misfortunes. We all know the Lou Gehrig story.”
A year ago with Seattle, Wilson wound up in 45 games and batted .250. A man with two home runs in his career, Wilson hit three for the Mariners and impressed Wakamatsu at shortstop.
“If (Jack) Wilson or Hannahan are down, he’s the best shortstop on our roster,” Wakamatsu said.
It’s the kind of thing the soon-to-turn-29-year-old Josh Wilson has heard for years.
Wilson has been in the majors with Florida, Washington, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Diego and Seattle – and almost there with three other organizations. None ever saw him as a starting shortstop.
“I would say since ’07 I was the last guy kept, but I was the first one gone,” he said. “I was let go by Washington and got picked up by Tampa Bay and was able stick around all year. I thought that might kind of be the breaking point, but I ended up in Triple-A with the Pirates the next year.
“I was that 26th or 27th guy on the roster and last year was the same type of deal. I knew coming into this camp that I was probably going to be that 26th or 27th guy and I would really have to earn it to get the opportunity to stay on this club,” Wilson said.
What’s kept Wilson in the majors or close to them is his glove. What’s stopped his ascent has always been his bat. In 3,812 minor league at-bats, he’s hit .271 with a .340 on-base percentage.
In 484 big league at-bats, Wilson has hit .227 with a .283 OBP.
“Swinging the bat has always been that question mark, and I will keep trying to improve in that respect,” he said.
One thing about Wilson’s hitting – there has been no shortage of suggestions about changing it.
“I have been to a lot of spring trainings where I would show up early, be hitting off a tee and taking underhand flips from a hitting coach and they say I have to change,” Wilson said. “That is frustrating. You work hard all offseason on a swing to improve and then come into camp and some guys basically tell you that all the work you did in the off-season was meaningless ’cause you have a crummy swing.
“That happened to me I can’t tell you how many times. I went to my first big-league camp in ’03 and it happened that year. I hadn’t even taken a swing off a live pitcher and was told I had to change my swing. When I got to the Pirates in ’08, same thing.
“It’s funny, I look back at the years I went to camp and had battles with the hitting coach, I look at my numbers and they are a lot different than the years I kind of kept true to myself. That’s a real blessing with (batting coach) Alan Cockrell. We have a relationship.”
Over the years, Wilson believes he has seen teams make decisions on “bubble” players that had nothing to do with their talent. He is so clean shaven now that Mike Sweeney nicknamed him “The Paperboy” last year – as in “The Paperboy delivers!”
“I have always had the young face, but had the shaggier do,” Wilson said. “I don’t want to say it cost me, but it made people form opinions. You can never take back a first impression – a guy sees you the first time with long hair and someone is going to make an assumption.
“I know from my dad’s experience, he was a college coach, he had a kid and one of his best players, the first baseman, was a kid with long hair. He had scouts say, ‘who does this kid think he is?’ ”
Wilson, who once looked like a rocker, now keeps his hair short – cutting it himself.
He knows Hannahan will get healthy, likely move back up the depth chart. Wilson knows, too, that someone else could just as easily be hurt. His job is to be ready and show the Mariners he’s capable of filling in long-term, of being more than a human Band-Aid.
“My dad always taught me to be mentally tough and always view every situation as an opportunity, not a problem,” Wilson said. “He used to tell me a story when I was little that the Japanese symbol for problem and opportunity is the same symbol. I don’t know if that is true, if it was Japanese or Chinese.
“Whether or not that’s true, to me in rings true. You can look at every situation as a problem, like ‘I’m going to Triple-A and this sucks and I don’t want to be here,’ or you can view it as, ‘I have a chance to go to Triple-A, play well and get back to the big leagues.’
“Any time you are still playing is a good thing,” Wilson said.