The utility infielder

My favorite baseball player is Brock Holt, and has been since his first season with the Red Sox back in 2013.  Here is me last month wearing my Holt jersey that I wear to every game (note the #26 that he started out with, before it was retired for Wade Boggs a few years ago — Brock wears #12 now):

What I love about him are two things: 1) he does everything, wherever and whatever needs to be done, and 2) he plays with the best brand of baseball energy: hustle. He gets things done, when they need to get done, with nothing but positive energy.  It’s beautiful, and I picked up on it the first time I saw him play, back in 2013.  He is the ultimate utility infielder.

“Utility Infielder” can be somewhat of a derogatory term, because it basically means that you are not enough of a star to be a starter at any one position. But in my view, a great utility infielder can be the glue that holds a team together, and Brock is the best example of that I can think of.

The challenge of being a utility player is that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is certain, and nothing is defined. You might play first base one day, third the next, outfield after that. And then maybe not play for a week — and then get tapped to pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th with the game on the line.

For example, over the last month or so, Brock has done a bunch of pinch-hitting (coming into a game for a single at-bat), and has been Mr. Clutch, getting a bunch of big hits and home runs, including the pinch-hit homer that clinched the Red Sox playoff spot.

A great utility infielder can play any position, and play it well — well enough not only to get by, but to make great plays, consistently.  Here is a Brock Holt highlight reel, consisting mostly of plays from 2014 and 2015.  You’ll notice highlights from every position — not just infield but all the outfield positions too.  It also happens to include him hitting for the cycle, ending, of course with the most difficult of all to attain, the triple:

Lastly, a great utility player must do more than just make plays on the field — you’ve got work to do in the clubhouse and in the dugout, to keep the vibe up and the energy good.

My favorite Holt example of this was back in April of this year.  It was 34 degrees and the Sox were down 7-2.  I was at the game with a friend and our kids; the dads were ready to throw in the towel but the kids had faith and wanted to wait it out.  Brock Holt came to bat, and surprised the entire stadium when his walk-up song was “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (the really loud part at the end).  The whole stadium woke up and laughed.  He flied out, but that sparked a 2-out rally where the Sox scored 6 to take the lead.  It was amazing. Afterwards, Holt said: “It worked. It worked. It got us going.”  That’s what I’m talking about.

I guess I feel a kinship with Brock Holt, and high-hustle utility infielders everywhere, because I have always thought of myself as a one too.  Basically every job I’ve ever had, my approach has been: I’m just going to be helpful and do whatever needs to be done — and enjoy it.

There is a definite risk in being a utility infielder, in that by helping a little bit everywhere, you never get awesome anywhere.  That is a real risk. But my experience has more been that if you do everything and anything that needs to be done, do it well, enjoy yourself, and do your best to make your teammates better, opportunities will present themselves.


8 comments on “The utility infielder”

I had a Board member who used to say that it took bricks and mortar to build a winning team. Bricks had defined roles and stayed in their lanes; mortar filled in all the gaps. Holt is mortar.

BTW, you know who the best utility player of all-time was, don’t you? Pete Rose. He played LF, RF, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st, and could play anyone them at any time. The ultimate utility man who was also a star.

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