Catch fuels Salazar's lofty aspirations

Catch fuels Salazar's aspirations

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jeff Salazar still can't believe the whole turn of events.

One minute it seemed he was an anonymous fourth outfielder, the new guy on the team, playing just his fourth game in a D-backs uniform.

It was July 13 of last year, the fifth inning of a battle with the Padres at Chase Field, when Brian Giles smoked a Doug Davis offering deep to right field. Davis put his head down in disgust sure that it was a home run.

Salazar raced back to the fence, jumped and placed his left foot halfway up the fence to propel himself even higher as he reached over the wall to snag the ball.

From that moment on, Salazar was a fan favorite. The catch was replayed over and over again, and this spring, when ESPN ran a Spring Training preview montage, there were highlights of Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett and Salazar's catch.

"I was very surprised," Salazar said of the attention the catch garnered. "You can't expect something like that. I made some decent catches, and some of my close friends in college would argue that it's not the best catch I've ever made. But it certainly was the best on that kind of stage."

The biggest thing for Salazar was the timing of the grab. He was still in the proving stage when it came to his teammates. After all, they didn't know much about him. He joined the team in the final days of Spring Training, having been claimed off waivers from the Rockies.

"It was a great feeling seeing the reaction from [center fielder Chris Young] and [second baseman Orlando Hudson], because it was like my fourth game with the team and my first home game. It was the first time I was able to contribute. I had three hits that day, too, so it was a great day for me, and it was almost like a feeling of acceptance -- that I helped them out, that I contributed. When you combine that with the fans going crazy, the emotion was just overwhelming."

Salazar certainly worked hard for his moment in the sun. It took him four years of climbing in the Rockies system to get to the big leagues, and after his 19-game look in 2006, he thought he had a good shot at making the roster. Instead, he was sent to Minor League camp after first cuts.

When the Rockies tried to pass him through waivers to clear a spot on their 40-man roster, the D-backs snapped him up. He spent the first three months with Triple-A Tucson before being called up on July 7.

Less than a week later came the catch.

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"It definitely changed a lot of things in my life, the way people look at me as a player," Salazar said. "They see me as someone capable of making plays like that. I always knew that I was good defensively, but because of that catch, people looked at me that way, too. And it's really not fair, because there are other guys that are good, too, that just haven't had the chance to do that."

Salazar got his opportunity, and though he's settled into a role as the fourth outfielder in Arizona, he does have bigger aspirations. For inspiration, he looks to teammate Eric Byrnes, who did not wind up with an everyday job until later in his career.

"Byrnsie is the kind of guy that I look up to," the 27-year-old said. "First, for the way he plays the game, but also because I see myself following in his footsteps. He spent a lot of time in the Minors. I don't know if he was ever the guy, but every day he went out there he just played hard, hustled and did all the little things. He left no room for questioning his heart and desire.

"I think I could be an everyday player. I think I could contribute if I played every day. Obviously I have dreams of my own of being the guy somewhere, and one day maybe it will happen, or maybe it won't. I can't control that. I just have to focus on where I'm at today and not think about where I was yesterday or where I might be tomorrow. Today I'm a utility outfielder, and that's the role I roll with for now."

And if that catch against the Padres wasn't the best he'd ever pulled off, what was?

"My favorite was when I was in college," said Salazar, who attended Oklahoma State. "I can't remember who we were playing, but the catch was similar to the one that [Jim] Edmonds made when he dove straight back to catch one. I was playing center -- and it was a smaller guy, a leadoff guy, up, so I was playing way in, and he crushed it over my head.

"It felt like I was running after it for days, and I just looked over my shoulder and dove and it went right in the glove. The bad part was there was a runner on second, and when I caught the ball I was in such a hurry to double him off, I threw the ball right into the ground and we weren't able to turn a double play."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.