— GLENDALE, Ariz. — When it comes to chasing his dream, John Lindsey might be the most patient man in the universe. How else do you explain his reaction to what happened Sept. 8, 2010?
It was a pleasant night in San Diego, and Lindsey was called on by then-Dodgers manager Joe Torre to pinch-hit in the eighth inning against the Padres. For most players, that might not be a very big deal, but for Lindsey, it was the biggest moment of his life.
For 16 years — nearly half his life — Lindsey had toiled in the minor leagues. From Asheville to San Bernardino, from Jupiter to Las Vegas, from New Orleans to Albuquerque, he had seen everything there was to see in minor-league baseball. He had hit 219 home runs, driven in more than 1,000 runs, played in more than 1,500 games. All with the hope of someday slipping on a major-league uniform, stepping into a major-league batter’s box, and facing a major-league pitcher.
Lindsey thought about all of it as he started to dig in that night, ready at last for his big moment. But then the Padres changed pitchers, bringing in a right-hander to face the right-handed-hitting Lindsey. Torre called Lindsey back in favor of Andre Ethier, a left-handed slugger and All-Star who had been given the night off. Lindsey’s dream would have to wait.
Lindsey shakes his head and smiles when remembering that moment, just as he did that night when he walked back to the bench. What else could he do? He is a patient man. A man used to making the most out of whatever the game has thrown at him.
“It worked out better,” Lindsey said. “My mom and dad got to see my first at-bat (the next night in Houston). With all they’ve put up with, to see me get my first at-bat, they deserved it.”
Just keep your head up and get ready for the next day. That’s how Lindsey plays the game. It’s a trait he learned from his dad, John Sr., growing up in Hattiesburg, Miss., where his father played baseball at William Carey University.
“I grew up with a bat and ball in my hand,” Lindsey said. “I wanted to be just like my dad. I just grew my love from watching him and playing all my life. You get addicted to baseball.”
That addiction has led to a lifetime in the minor leagues, much of it spent riding buses and eating baloney sandwiches. Of Lindsey’s 16 seasons in professional baseball, at least parts of 12 of them have been spent below the Double-A level. In 2005-06, he played for the New Jersey Jackals of the Canadian-American Association, an independent league whose teams were not affiliated with any major league teams. That was the only point where he thought his career might finally be over.
“(The independent leagues are) difficult, but if you wanna play, it’s good enough,” he said. “I was just hoping people would be looking at the box scores and say ‘I don’t know who he’s playing against but he must be doing something.’”
The Dodgers noticed, and Lindsey’s career was given a reprieve. Three years later, Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach called Lindsey into his office and told him that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti wanted to talk to him. He would be going to the major leagues.
“I was at a loss for words,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t know what to say. After all those years it had finally happened. I just wanted to get loose so I could run and jump and holler.”
Lindsey tried to keep quiet in the clubhouse — he knew what it was like to be passed up for a late season call-up and didn’t want any of his teammates to be disappointed. But when someone guessed what happened, he couldn’t suppress his joy. “The locker room erupted and everybody was giving me hugs,” Lindsey said. “It was awesome.”
It was a long road to the majors for Lindsey, but even now his future is uncertain. The Colorado Rockies selected him in the 13th round of the 1995 draft, the same year they picked Todd Helton in the first round. While Helton is beginning to wind down a brilliant, 15-year major-league career, Lindsey is hoping just to make a team. He knows he can hit, but acknowledges there are questions about his defense and, of course, his age. He aims to make the Dodgers forget those questions and focus instead on his bat and his presence in the clubhouse.
“John is a great guy and John can hit, it’s as simple as that,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, revealing little of the team’s plan. “It depends how your club shakes out and how you’re set up. … To me, he is a guy who you love being around, and you admire him for what he’s gone through and how he’s stayed with it to get to the big leagues last year.”
Lindsey knows the odds are against him, but he won’t worry if he’s sent back down to Albuquerque.
“I’ll just go down there and try to beat up on the league, do the best I can and make ‘em say ‘let’s bring this guy up, we need his bat in the lineup,’ ” Lindsey said. “That’s all I can control.”
And he won’t hesitate to help a teammate, even if it means he misses out on a return to the big leagues.
“If I can help them get there quicker, that’s a great feeling, too, because you’re changing a person’s life.”
John Lindsey, more than anyone, should know.