Omar Vizquel brought ballet to baseball, and his glove is where base hits went to die. With nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1993-2001 (he went on to win 11 in his 24-year career), the former Indians shortstop made the impossible look pedestrian.
He was a key piece of the Tribe's '90s glory days, when the team made two World Series appearances and thrilled sellout crowds night after night at Jacobs Field. "Those were the golden years," says the 46-year-old Vizquel, now an instructor in the Los Angeles Angels farm system. "The fans were great, and we looked forward to playing there."
The man who finished his career with more games played at shortstop than any major leaguer is now an artist, who returns to Cleveland July 7 for an exhibition of his work at Convivium33 Gallery. Growing up in Venezuela, Vizquel would often add drawings to his homework assignments, but it wasn't until the 1994 baseball strike that he first picked up a paintbrush. He frequently visited museums and galleries, whether on the road or in town.
"In Cleveland, there are great artists where you least expect them," he says. "They come out of nowhere. They work in basements and abandoned buildings. The kind of art they do is amazing."
Vizquel favors pastels, oils and acrylics with bodies and faces as his subject matter. "I like to use bright colors and look for personalities that stand out and are different from everyone else," he says. Vizquel also sculpts, currently experimenting with wood and stone.
The Convivium33 exhibition will also feature photos of Vizquel by longtime friend and photojournalist Stephen Albanese, a Cleveland native. "I recently saw Omar instructing players on a Class A ballfield, but you would have thought he was in Yankee Stadium," Albanese says. "He's a guy who really would have played for free."
In addition to the art show, Vizquel will be honored with his own bobblehead night July 8 at Progressive Field when the Tribe takes on the Tigers. He'll also sign autographs at the GPS Gift Gallery in Rocky River July 9.
"I was always looking to make plays that could turn the game," Vizquel says, explaining that years of focus and hard work were behind his unforgettable defensive wizardry. "In baseball, if you do everything right, you can make it look easy."