It was during the long drive from St. Petersburg to Durham, N.C. in late-May when Chris Gimenez had a heart-to-heart talk with Chris Gimenez.
The Tampa Bay Rays catcher had just been sent back to the Triple A Bulls after a 44-day stint with the big club in which he batted .191 in 24 games. He couldn’t argue against the demotion.
“No,” Gimenez said, “they made the right call.”
He and his wife, Kellie, needed less than an hour to clear out of their St. Pete apartment. They began the 10-hour ride at night so their infant son, Jace, would sleep most of the way. Gimenez drove his 2009 Ford F-150 while Kellie and Jace followed in their 2012 GMC Youkon.
The miles of highway, the cover of darkness and the fact that Gimenez was alone with his thoughts provided the perfect setting for a lot of soul searching. It was time, he realized, for some brutal honesty.
“It was getting to the point where I’m definitely not getting any younger and how many years can you fool somebody hitting. 200?” Gimenez said. “It just got to the point where I new something had to be changed. It wasn’t working the way I had been doing it. Anything I could do to make it different I had to try.”
So Gimenez changed his mechanics at the plate, changed his mechanics behind the plate and returned to the Rays in September a different player. The improvements carried over to this spring where Gimenez entered Monday night’s game against the visiting Minnesota Twins with a .500 batting average.
“You’re not just seeing him do well now, you saw him do well at the end of last year,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s the part that sticks with me.”
Gimenez batted .406 in 11 September/October games. He started the final five games of the season and had at least a hit in each game.
“In doing well when we were trying to get into the playoffs and the games had a lot riding on them, we’re playing a lot of good competition and he was playing very well, and you have to consider all of that when you’re making your final decision,” Maddon said.
Ah, the decision.
Gimenez is pushing Jose Lobaton for the other half of the catching platoon with Jose Molina. Yet Gimenez’s work last season and this spring might not lead to a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Gimenez has one option left, while Lobaton is out of options. That means the Rays would have to trade or expose Lobaton to waivers if he doesn’t make the team out of camp.
It would be easier for the Rays to keep Lobaton, send Gimenez back to Durham and retain their catching depth.
What Gimenez did last year was this:
He made the effort to be a better receiver behind the plate and changed his footwork while throwing to second so he gained momentum toward second base while making the throw.
At the plate, he shortened his stance and hits more with his hands.
“They always talk about hitting is with your hands,” Gimenez said. “It’s stupid that it took me 30 years to realize that, but it’s so true. All I try to do is throw the knob (of the bat) at the ball and everything else just works, and then you start getting that confidence and it builds. You’re swinging at better pitches, you’re seeing the ball. It’s amazing at what you can do when you swing at the pitches you’re supposed to swing at.”
And it’s amazing what a ballplayer can accomplish when he not only realizes there is a need for a change but puts in the effort to make the change.
“It was just an opportunity to kind of change myself and make something of it, because I knew my chances were probably running really thin right at that point,” he said. “I needed to do something different. Thank god that it’s working.”