In the next play on the tape, he went to his right, backhanded a grounder, leaped and threw to first for the out. "That's my favorite kind of play, going to the hole," he said. "It's the toughest play any infielder has to make." Then there was a scorching bad-hop grounder that he snagged before it smashed him in the face. Vizquel learned how to handle balls like that while growing up in Caracas, where the fields were littered with rocks and broken bottles. He would never get such a bad hop on artificial turf, so you would think, especially with his quickness and range, he would prefer to play on turf rather than the natural grass at Jacobs Field. "No," he said. "Grass, always grass."
Why? "Because turf makes everyone look good," he said.
Vizquel has baseballs signed by longtime Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell and Trammell's double play partner of 18 years, the equally efficient Lou Whitaker, because Vizquel admired the way they played their positions. He would like to meet Ozzie Smith, the 41-year-old St. Louis Cardinals shortstop who was the best fielder in the game until age and injuries slowed him, and he would like to have an extended conversation with Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., perhaps the headiest player to ever play the position. "I take good advice," Vizquel said. "Other Latin players are so stubborn, that's what makes me different. They only want to do it their way. I want to learn."
He has learned well. He has made only 75 errors in seven seasons, only 57 in the 1990s (the same number as Ripken, which ties them for fewest by a shortstop over that span, in a minimum of 700 games). In 859 career games Vizquel's fielding percentage is .981. The career leader at shortstop (minimum of 1,000 games) is former Philadelphia Phillie Larry Bowa, who had a .980. To put it another way, Vizquel has averaged one error every 52.2 chances in his career, compared to 49.2 for Bowa. For all that, he must have one play that stands above all others.
"O.K.," Vizquel said, smiling. "A few years ago, in winter ball in Venezuela, I went into the hole. There wasn't much time. I knew I couldn't get the guy at first, so I reached down, barehanded the ball down by my ankles, jumped and threw to second for the force. It was a good play."
It had to have been better than that. It must have been magic.