In the corner of the dugout, a wiry little man with his flip-down sunglasses already in place munches a handful of nuts. Vic Davalillo, 47 years old, is ready for another game.
The fact that the Cabimas, Venezuela, native is still playing at his age is not as amazing as the way he still plays. This is no legend playing out the string as a token old-timer. Davalillo produces.
“He’s contributed all year,” says Bill Plummer, manager of the Caracas Liods prior to his team’s third game in the Caribbean Series. “Some guys came down to Venezuela after the season started, and I used him more before that. Now he’s a pinch hitter and a DH. He won a playoff game for us with a pinch-hit double. He’s done everything I’ve asked of him.”
He has been doing nothing less for 30 professional seasons. His desire and hustle kept him in the major leagues for 16 of them, but when the Series is over, so is his career. Finally, he is retiring.
What has kept his going for so long?
“What else is there?” he says. “I’ve been playing this game for 30 years.”
In the big leagues, Davalillo appeared in four playoffs and four World Series, and finished with a .279 batting average. When he returned to Venezuela for good in 1982, he held the record for most pinch hits--nine--in the World Series.
In in his homeland, he holds the record for career hits, and passed the 1,500 milestone this winter. At the end of the regular season in Venezuela, he owned a .325 career average in the league with 1,505 hits, 195 doubles, 49 triples, 49 home runs and 136 stolen bases.
“I used to watch him with the Dodgers when I was a kid,” said Bostons’ Jeff Sellers, who was picked up by the Lions for the Series. “I came to winter ball late and I’ve seen him in four at-bats, and I haven’t seen him make an out yet.
“He comes out of the dugout and gets a hit, he stands on first and the crowd gives him a standing ovation, and he leaves. That’s it. It’s awesome.”
Davalillo is not so impressed, although he admits he knows of no one who has played at his age. He still feels like just another player.
“They’re not using me as much because we’ve got some young guys who are pretty good,” he says. “Now’s the time to retire, there are so many good kids.
“I’m just getting old. My legs are not the same, and I’m losing my eyes already. My bat is getting slow.”
Perhaps by his standards, but opposing pitchers probably don’t think so. He’s still a tough out.
“He can still bunt for a base hit, and I’ve used him in the outfield some,” Plummer says. “He can still catch the ball. He’s not a one-dimensional ballplayer.”
In fact, he adds a very special dimension to his team. While he doesn’t consider himself an unofficial coach, there is no denying he fills the role.
“He leads the team, not so much with words, but by his professional attitude,” Sellers says. “All the kids in Venezuela look up to him and Tony Armas. They’ve been around a long time, and they’ve done some things in the big leagues.”
Adds Plummer: “He’s a pleasure to have on the team. He’s a true professional. He just goes about his business and gets the job done.”
Davalillo has been so consumed by playing, he has given little consideration to life after retirement. He would like to coach or scout, but is waiting until after the Series to pursue any other jobs.
“They say the average player makes a living playing ball for 10 years,” he says “I’ve been doing it for 30, so I feel lucky.”