For journeyman Wilson, love of the game trumps all
After career spent mostly in Minors, veteran utility man fighting for roster spot
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Baseball is an easy game to love when you're a star player. It's even not that difficult to romanticize about it when you play on a regular basis.
But if you want to really test a man's devotion to the game, make him fight for the final spot on a big league roster every year. Have him travel from Minor League town to Minor League town and organization to organization.
Have him do that for 13 seasons with 11 different organizations.
Then you'll know how deep his commitment is. You'll also understand what it's like to be Josh Wilson.
Wilson will turn 32 next week, and since he was selected by the Marlins in the third round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, he's logged 930 at-bats in the big leagues and 4,358 in the Minors.
"I've always wanted to stick in one place and play and perform and produce, and to me, I still have that dream," Wilson said. "I'll be playing at 32 this whole year, but I don't see any reason why it can't happen. So I think if you keep your focus, your perspective, keep chasing what you've been dreaming about since you were little, that certainly helps you enjoy every bit of whatever happens to you."
Five different times Wilson has been claimed off waivers after the team he was on wanted to send him to the Minor Leagues. He can play any of the infield positions, as well as some outfield. He has even pitched at times during his career.
It's the kind of versatility that makes a player extremely valuable as a bench player, but being that utility player usually means that when there's a roster crunch, you're the one to go.
That has left plenty of players bitter or cursing the unfairness of it. Wilson is not among them.
"I've enjoyed the ride," said Wilson, who will likely begin the season with Triple-A Reno. "I mean, you have to. If you don't, and you get caught up in, 'This team screwed me,' or, 'That team didn't treat me right,' then you're going to have a tougher time, and you won't build the relationships that you could have and you'll develop that bitterness to the game."
Rather than curse his situation, Wilson looks at the positives of moving from place to place.
"I don't have to walk very far to find some people I know," he said.
Wilson hopes the relationships that he has built throughout the game will help him when he finally does decide to stop playing. In an ideal world, he'd like to stay in baseball as a scout or get involved in coaching.
"A scout once said to me, 'It's really not who you know in baseball, it's who knows you.'" Wilson said. "That's a good thing. I do know a lot of people, and hopefully those people have had the chance to get to know me, so that they would trust me in a role as a coach or scout if I decide to stay in the game. In that sense, traveling has been awesome being everywhere."
D-backs farm director Mike Bell understands Wilson's situation. Bell played for seven organizations during his professional career and spent the 2003 season with Arizona's Triple-A affiliate. The people he met there helped him get a job with the organization after he retired as a player.
"He's met a lot of people along the way, and I've never heard anything bad about what kind of person he is," Bell said. "Wherever he goes, he's as good a teammate as you'll find. He keeps his head down and continues to work."
Wilson would like to stay with the D-backs' organization. He learned the hard way that it's better to stick with the organization that knows you.
After playing six games for the D-backs in 2011 and spending time with Reno, Wilson was claimed off waivers by the Brewers. Following the season, he was offered a chance to return to the D-backs as a non-roster invite to Spring Training.
The Braves, though, also offered him an invite, and Wilson took it.
"You might have a better shot," Wilson said of the thinking that went into that decision. "I mean, you look on paper and you go, 'They have an opening, there's a job to be had,' and you go there. But if you have a couple of bad games at the beginning of the spring, or tweak your hamstring -- like I did last year -- and you miss half the time, and now where are you? These guys don't know you, they haven't seen you play, and if you're not performing well, they don't have the confidence in you."
Maybe Wilson's journeys will help set him up for a future career, but for right now his mind is only on playing.
"I can keep going until I'm 40," Wilson said. "I'm starting to realize a whole lot that I wish I'd learned sooner. But I wouldn't change anything. The game has been really good to me, I've enjoyed every bit of it."
Spoken like a man who truly loves the game.