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Old guard: Elder statesmen aim to sustain success

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After a changing of the old guard that saw the final call to the bullpen for the all-time saves leader and a few other farewells to 40-somethings, several veterans remain who just keep going, year after year.

These are the elder statesmen of Spring Training, in camps preparing or at least hoping to be among the boys of summer in 2014, all aiming to bring the tools they still have and impart the wisdom they've accumulated over the years to their respective clubs.

It's a lot in life that none of the players pushing 40 or over the top of it takes for granted.

"To be 41 playing a kid's game, you can't beat it," Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins said earlier this spring. "I wouldn't trade my job for anything in the world."

The 40-plus club
The players in a Major League camp this spring who will be 40 or older by the end of the calendar year
Player Team Birth date
Jason Giambi * Indians 1/8/71
Jose Contreras Rangers 12/6/71
Raul Ibanez Angels 6/2/72
Henry Blanco * D-backs 8/29/72
LaTroy Hawkins Rockies 12/21/72
Bartolo Colon Mets 5/24/73
Ichiro Suzuki Yankees 10/22/73
Bobby Abreu * Phillies 3/11/74
Jamey Carroll* Nationals 2/18/74
Derek Jeter Yankees 6/26/74
John McDonald * Angels 9/24/74
R.A. Dickey Blue Jays 10/29/74
Joe Nathan Tigers 11/22/74
Jamey Wright Dodgers 12/24/74
* - non-roster invitee

A year after Mariano Rivera played his final season at age 43, Hawkins (born Dec. 21, 1972) is the oldest among the class of pitchers currently on 40-man rosters, and one of 14 players in Major League camps this spring who either will turn 40 this calendar year or already has passed that milestone. Hawkins is about six months younger than the Angels' Raul Ibanez (June 2, 1972), the oldest position player with a roster spot.

There are non-roster invitees with some serious years under their belts, too. That group is headed by the Indians' Jason Giambi, who at 43 (Jan. 8, 1971) is this spring's oldest player in any camp.

Giambi, the 2000 American League MVP Award winner, who debuted in 1995, is looking to make it an even two decades in the game by earning a roster spot like he did a year ago, and again contributing as a gray-bearded guru with a knack for the clutch.

"Year 20. Unbelievable," Giambi said upon arriving in Goodyear, Ariz. "I'll take it. It's pretty special."

It takes a special player to play this deep into life, and it's the experiences -- combined with the desire and ability to pass them on -- that count as much as anything for a player like Giambi.

"He is so professional, and he's been there and done it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's really the only thing I told him in his meeting, the one-on-one. I said, 'G, the more you talk, the better we are.' "

The rest of the ranks of those at, shall we say, an advanced age includes decorated ballplayers like Ichiro Suzuki (Oct. 22, 1973), second-oldest to Ibanez among position players currently on a 40-man. And among those turning 40 (man) this season is the Yankees' Derek Jeter (June 26, 1974), hitting the milestone during what he already has established as his farewell season.

Along with those veterans, Ibanez and the Mets' Bartolo Colon (May 25, 1973) are among the older players who plan to do a little more than just impart wisdom. Ibanez is looking to be a daily contributor to the Angels' lineup, while Colon aims for a full season of starts.

ELDEST STATESMEN
The oldest player in each Major League camp
Team Player Birth date
Angels Ibanez 6/2/72
Astros Raul Valdes 11/27/77
Athletics Nick Punto 11/8/77
Blue Jays Dickey 10/29/74
Braves Freddy Garcia* 10/6/76
Brewers Lyle Overbay* 1/28/77
Cardinals Randy Choate 9/5/75
Cubs Darnell McDonald* 11/17/78
D-backs Blanco * 8/29/72
Dodgers Wright 12/24/74
Giants Tim Hudson 7/14/75
Indians Giambi * 1/8/71
Mariners Randy Wolf 8/22/76
Marlins Reed Johnson* 12/8/76
Mets Colon 5/24/73
Nationals Carroll* 2/18/74
Orioles Alex Gonzalez* 2/15/77
Padres Joaquin Benoit 7/26/77
Phillies Abreu * 3/11/74
Pirates Jason Grilli 11/11/76
Rays Jose Molina 6/3/75
Red Sox Koji Uehara 4/3/75
Reds Corky Miller* 3/18/76
Rockies Hawkins 12/21/72
Royals Ramon Hernandez* 5/20/76
Tigers Nathan 11/22/74
Twins Matt Guerrier* 8/2/78
White Sox Paul Konerko 3/5/76
Yankees Ichiro 10/22/73
* - non-roster invitee

For them, the end of the line isn't in sight, not really a thought. But while it's true age might only be a number, it's a big number for these elder statesmen, big enough to make people wonder just how many seasons could be left in the tank.

"I don't really think about it," Ibanez said. "I try to focus on the day to day. It's a gift. That's how I look at it. But not too many more."

Said Ichiro: "Let's say I'm not going to play until I'm 60."

Among the senior players in camps, there are also journeymen like Henry Blanco (Aug. 29, 1972) of the D-backs, a backup catcher for most of his career. He's hoping to latch on for another season, but he could be on the verge of trying out a coaching career, too.

"I love to teach, I love to help out guys and I just want to stay in the game as much as I can," he said. "Hopefully, we'll see what happens in the next few weeks and we'll have to make a decision. But right now, I'm just trying to get ready and make this team."

Of course, age isn't all about the big four-oh. Many teams have a whole lot of well-seasoned players in their mid- to late-30s -- the Phillies have nine on their 40-man roster who were born in the 1970s, while the Yankees have seven. Every team has an oldest guy in camp, with Koji Uehara (April 3, 1975) of the Red Sox, Tim Hudson (July 14, 1975) of the Giants and Paul Konerko (March 5, 1976) of the White Sox among them.

And throughout baseball, there are dozens of players without a spot on a 40-man roster who are children of the '70s, arriving into their late 30s. They include Bobby Abreu (March 11, 1974) attempting a comeback with the Phillies after being out all of 2013, and Freddy Garcia (Oct. 6, 1976) bidding for a spot on the Braves' staff.

And then there's 42-year-old Jose Contreras (Dec. 6, 1971), coming off a season hampered by back problems. Signed to a Minor League contract, he has his eyes not only on making the Rangers' roster, but also on winning a World Series title with them -- epitomizing the mentality of the baseball elder statesman.

"If I play another seven years, maybe I can get two or three more," Contreras said.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }