Opinion

Celebrating Andres Blanco’s career season

433217“I don’t care if they can’t understand what I’m saying … I want to talk!”

Andres Blanco said that to Leslie Gudel after Sunday’s Phillies’ win over the Nationals.

Born on April 11, 1984, in Venezuela, Blanco was signed as an amateur free agent by the Kansas City Royals at age 16. He debuted four years later but couldn’t stick in the major leagues for a full season. For anyone. The Cubs took him on. Then the Rangers. Nobody gave him a full year.

Players like Andres Blanco are everywhere in baseball. They shoot up the farm system but stall because of myriad reasons. For a guy like Blanco, one would surmise his offense didn’t justify an everyday position. Maybe his contact tool wasn’t as strong. He also isn’t the fastest player. So a middle infielder with average offense and poor speed – that doesn’t play as well.

But he was good. He rose far enough to be considered part of a major league roster, and luckily, Blanco could play multiple positions. Teams need versatile utility players, even if their bats are weaker and their speed is slower. So he jumped around – Kansas City to Chicago. Chicago to Texas. Texas to Washington. The Nationals cut Blanco after one spring training; he was 27. He had endured quite a few injuries. He could have fled baseball.

The Phillies signed him the next day. Blanco played mostly for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs but in 2012 endured yet another spat of injuries, focused at his shoulder. Again, he could have fled, and he nearly did. But he persevered and got another chance.

Andres Blanco loves baseball. You see it in his hustle, his powerful swing, and most of all, in the way he’s helping the team off the field.

“To be a professional is a big thing, and that’s something we try to teach to the young guys right here, no matter what type of player you are, or who you are, or how much talent you have. You have to be professional in general,” Blanco said Sunday. “Respect everybody like Chase did when he was here. Even if he was hurt, even if something bothered him, he always played as a professional. That’s what we try to keep here, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

That’s Blanco speaking after Jonathan Papelbon choked Bryce Harper in the Nationals dugout. To put it clearly, Papelbon choked Harper. There are no discussion points from there. It’s unacceptable and, to put it bluntly, assault. That Blanco – who hit a go-ahead home run off Papelbon quickly after that incident – wanted badly to speak after the game tells you a little more about the lifetime bench bat who could never stick on a major league roster.

Blanco is considered a veteran leader on the Phillies. Players have called him a “father figure.” More appropriately he’s been referred to as an “older brother” figure. And this is important, because the Phillies currently employ seven Venezuelan players (including Cesar Hernandez, Elvis Araujo and Maikel Franco) and a host of Latin American players. Being the elder statesman who has bounced around the league and understands the rigors of playing for tomorrow, Blanco has handed the younger Phillies plenty of knowledge. For one, Blanco and Franco have a strong relationship.

Sometimes the hard play and continual effort pays off, and this year it has for Blanco. He’s hitting .287 with a .356 on-base percentage and .480 slugging percentage. His six home runs are a career high; his strikeout-to-walk rate is nearly a respectable two to one. He has played four positions and was recently rewarded with the cleanup spot in the order. In a season where most things have gone wrong, it’s essential to hear fruit-bearing stories like Blanco’s.

Blanco is arbitration eligible in 2016, which means the Phillies still control him. With the Phillies going younger still, it’s possible Blanco won’t be on the big-league roster in 2016. It’s understandable if that’s the case, but it would be unfortunate. Andres Blanco has given the Phillies plenty of gifts this season. His efforts deserve to be praised, and he certainly deserves to talk.

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