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Ashway: Kazmar’s minor-league journey worth the wait
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t anything special. Just a run-of-the-mill, 6-4-3 double play in the top of the fifth inning with the visitors trailing, 6-0.

But to Sean Kazmar, it was the grandest double play he’d ever hit into. It came after his first major league at-bat since Sept. 23, 2008.

The Braves found themselves shorthanded after Ozzie Albies was hit by a pitch on the inside of his right knee during Friday’s game. So they put in a call to their assembly center in Gwinnett for their own version of Crash Davis.

“That was probably one of the greatest moments I’ve had as a manager at all levels,” Brian Snitker said to MLB.com of telling Kazmar he was headed back to The Show. “Quite honestly, it’s amazing. I mean, you go from ’08 to 2021 in between, you got to be kidding me.

“The perseverance and the dedication and the drive – and the thing is, I was just telling the guys that he’s getting better as a player. I mean, he probably was the MVP of spring training for like the third year in a row. It’s the perfect guy right now for where we’re at. We need some versatility with Ozzie being dinged and whatnot, so he does play anywhere on the diamond, so he’s a good fit for us right now.”

Saturday marked 12 years and 206 days between big-league appearances for Kazmar. A total of 4,589 days. Any way you describe it, that’s a long time.

How long? According to the venerable Elias Sports Bureau, it’s been almost 72 years since anyone returned to the majors after such a lengthy layoff. That was the immortal Ralph Winegarner, who went 13 years and 14 days between pitching appearances for the ’36 Indians and the ’49 Browns.

Elias ranks Kazmar’s time between appearances as the ninth longest since 1900. He bumped Hall of Famer Satchel Paige out of the top 10. Paige became MLB’s oldest player at age 59, when he appeared in a late-season game for the woeful Kansas City A’s in September 1965. He shut out the Red Sox on one hit over three innings.

Kazmar slid in just ahead of Minnie Minoso (12 years, 68 days.) Minoso, at 50, became the oldest player to record a hit by going 1-for-8 as a designated hitter for the White Sox in September 1976.

Kazmar has been playing in Gwinnett since 2013. He holds numerous team records: games played (667), hits (620), runs (279), doubles (127) RBIs (270) and total bases (882.) Which is nice, but, really, who wants to hold those records?

Overall, he’s logged 1,670 minor-league games, and made 6,600 minor league plate appearances. He was 23 when called up by the Padres in August 2008, and he hit .205 with a pair of runs and RBIs in 39 at-bats over 19 games.

Kazmar’s last MLB game featured the likes of Will Venable, Brian Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Nomar Garciaparra, and Manny Ramirez. In fact, according to Andrew Simon of MLB.com, the only other player still active from that game is Padres starter Wade LeBlanc, who now toils in the Orioles bullpen.

In September 2008, Freddie Freeman was in his first full professional season, at Class A Rome. Mike Trout was a senior at Millville High School in New Jersey.

“One amazing feeling,” Kazmar told MLB.com after his second debut. “Obviously, wasn’t the outcome we were looking for. You know a win would have been nice, but, man, what a good feeling! Getting that opportunity early in the game was awesome. Glad to be here, and hopefully stick around a little longer.”

Even Cubs manager David Ross expressed excitement.

“When I saw today, as we were going over pregame stuff, his last at-bat was back in, what?” Ross told MLB.com. “I think about the progression of my career, and what all has transpired and where I’m at, and he’s still the ultimate grinder and loving baseball. That’s a great story, and I love to hear those stories and see those things happen in baseball. It’s great for our sport.”

The Valdosta native couldn’t have chosen a better scene for his big-league return. “There could have been times where I doubted that this opportunity would ever come,” Kazmar told the Associated Press. “Just super fortunate to get this opportunity. One, to do it with an Atlanta Braves uniform on, and secondly to do it at Wrigley Field is amazing.”

A year ago, Kazmar wasn’t even on the Braves’ 60-man roster.

“It’s crazy,” he told ESPN.com. “I was sitting at home on unemployment a year ago. I tell guys all the time, you never know in this game. It never really left my mind, especially the last few years playing in Gwinnett. I still felt I had the ability to play at this level.

“I would do it all over again just for a day like today. It was worth the wait to get in and get another at-bat.”