McDonald brings stellar defense to Arizona

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

By Greg Dillard

Longevity in the Major Leagues is far from easy.

In a league where top-notch talent is abundant, John McDonald has found ways to prolong his career: playing shortstop and stellar defense.

The veteran infielder made his big league debut in 1999 with the Cleveland Indians and he’s still playing 12 seasons later. It was during his early years as a Major Leaguer when he learned some valuable lessons that continue to benefit him as a veteran.

“Early in my career, people used to say how disappointing it is that I had to play behind Omar Vizquel and Robbie Alomar,” McDonald said. “I thought that was a great thing. I learned so much from them at an early age. I actually got to develop into a utility player.”

McDonald first received extensive playing time during the 2002 season. He appeared in 93 games and had 288 plate appearances. He’s been touted for his ability to play all of the infield positions. He’s not only able to fill in on occasion, but can provide stellar defense at any infield stop.

The slick-fielding infielder wasn’t always a standout at his position. McDonald credits hard work and plenty of practice with coaches as the factors behind his defensive prowess.

“I have a lot of shortcomings as a player,” McDonald said. “But it’s through taking ground balls – and I’ve had a lot of good infield coaches over the course of my career and all of them stress work – keeping your range, and working on plays that are going to happen in the game.”

The 2005 season saw him move to Toronto, and it was there where he saw more playing time and settled in at shortstop. In 1,810 chances at shortstop, he’s made just 55 errors.

“It’s about the importance of being able to play shortstop,” McDonald said, “and proving that you can still play the position because every team needs an extra player that can play there. That’s been something that’s helped keep my career going.”

His time as a Blue Jay drew to a close last week when he was packaged with fellow infielder Aaron Hill and shipped to Arizona. McDonald, who owns a .973 career fielding percentage, now figures to split the shortstop duties with Willie Bloomquist.

 “It’s a great opportunity coming to a team that’s not only in a pennant race but in first place,” McDonald said. “It’s exciting. It’s something that every baseball player wants to experience. I feel pretty fortunate to be in this position.”

The next 31 games will undoubtedly be exciting for McDonald. Last week’s trade thrust him into a heated division race, and the D-backs own a three-game lead heading into Friday’s game.

McDonald admits that it’s difficult to leave a place where he played for so long. But he’s also well aware that a playoff race is the thrill of a lifetime.

“It’s always hard to leave the people, the organization,” McDonald said. “People have been so good to me, so it was hard to leave in that regard. What that organization allowed me to do, how they helped my career, the opportunity they gave me … but the main goal of any baseball player is to get to the playoffs and just have a chance to experience that. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

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