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Perseverant Lindsey achieved dream11/02/2010 10:00 AM ET
By John Parker / Special to MLB.com
After 16 years and 1571 Minor League games with 12 different teams in four organizations, John Lindsey finally reached the Majors on Sept. 6.
"This is a great moment for me and it hasn't sunk in," said Lindsey at the time. "I'm here, but my brain hasn't caught up yet."
The 33-year-old first baseman, who made a split-second appearance as a pinch-hitter -- and was replaced without batting when the opposing Padres made a pitching change -- on Sept. 8 became the oldest non-Asian player to debut in the Majors since 34-year-old Alan Zinter joined the Astros in 2002.
"As you get older, you understand yourself a little better," Lindsey said. "I think I'm just as good as when I was 20, but I have a better approach to things now. If a pitcher struck me out on a curveball, I'd come up the next time looking for the curve and getting off balance. Now I take things as they come."
He got his first big league at-bat in Houston -- in front of his parents, wife and son, whom the Dodgers flew down from his native Mississippi -- on Sept. 9 and picked up his first Major League hit with a single to left field off Astros starter Nelson Figueroa on Sept. 12.
Lindsey said every time he didn't get called up to the Majors, "It was like they were telling me I couldn't do it, but I'm hard-headed. I was stubborn and kept going."
Lindsey's long road to "The Show" began more than 15 years ago when he was the Colorado Rockies' 13th-round pick in the 1995 Draft. The 18-year-old from Hattiesburg, Miss. reported to the Arizona Rookie League that summer and made his pro debut with the AZL Rockies, batting .235 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 48 games. The team went 13-42 and finished last in the six-team league in nearly every category.
He spent the following summer with the Portland Rockies, Colorado's Class A Short-Season Northwest League affiliate. The Rockies finished 16 games out of first in a 76-game slate, but Lindsey lifted his average to .255 and notched his first triple and stolen base as a pro.
Now a 20-year-old veteran, Lindsey spent the first of two seasons with the South Atlantic League's Asheville Tourists in 1997. The Tourists finished tied for 12th in the 14-team league, but Lindsey discovered his power stroke, finishing second on the squad with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs. He also led the team with 110 strikeouts in 110 games. The following season, Lindsey played for his first winning team as the Tourists went 71-69, keyed by his career-high .275 average, 14 homers and 73 RBIs.
The 6-foot-1 righty began a three-year stint with Class A Advanced Salem in 1999. That year's Avalanche squad featured future All-Star Chone Figgins, who was a year younger than Lindsey. Neither of them fared particularly well in the Carolina League -- Lindsey hit just .208 with four homers in 75 games.
He and Figgins -- now joined by another future All-Star, Matt Holliday -- bounced back in 2000. Lindsey lifted his average to .280 and cut down on his strikeouts. He returned to Salem for a third season in 2001, hit .280 again and hit two home runs in the decisive fifth game of the Carolina League Finals. Salem captured the Mills Cup and Lindsey was named MVP of the Championship Series.
Lindsey was 24 years old and had yet to play above Class A ball. When he joined the Tourists in 1997, he was one of the younger players in the Sally League. Though he was improving -- reducing his strikeouts, getting on base more -- he had become one of the older players in the Carolina League. Figgins, a year younger, was already in Double-A.
Where other players might have sulked or even retired, Lindsey never gave up.
"All you can really do is control what you can and don't let the events of the game steal your passion and love for it," he told ESPN. "If you look at it any other way, it'll drive you crazy."
Lindsey responded with a career year, batting .297 with 22 homers (second-most in the league) and 93 RBIs (third) as San Bernardino won the Cal League's South Division. And in 2003, at age 26, he finally reached Double-A.
Lindsey spent 2003 and '04 with the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League, batting .296 with eight homers in limited time the first season before smacking a team-high 19 longballs in 2004. Yet his solid production did not result in promotion, and in October 2004 he was released by the Mariners.
He worked out with the Cardinals in Spring 2005, but was released at the end of Spring Training. Now 28 years old but unwilling to give up on his dream, Lindsey signed with the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Canadian-American Association, where he was instantly one of the league's best hitters. After hitting .321 and driving in 62 runs in 56 games for the Jackals, he was offered a contract by the Florida Marlins -- and sent to Class A Advanced Jupiter.
His return to affiliated baseball did not go well. Lindsey batted just .219 with one homer in 30 games with the Hammerheads and was released by the Marlins following the season. He rejoined the Jackals in 2006 and was playing well when his season was cut short by a leg injury received in a home-plate collision.
It finally seemed like the end. Lindsey was out of affiliated ball, 29 years old and hurt. He moved back to Mississippi and enrolled at Pearl River Junior College.
"It wasn't really by choice," Lindsey said. "I just couldn't find a job, and I needed to look after my family. I didn't have an agent at the time, so I was calling up organizations several times a week, looking for a chance to go to Spring Training somewhere.
"And being away from my family has always been hard," Lindsey admitted. "My wife says she has two husbands -- me and baseball.
"It seemed like it was time to move on."
But he still had people looking out for him. Mike Easley, whom Lindsey had worked with over the past several seasons, and former Rockies roving instructor -- and Triple-A Las Vegas manager -- Lorenzo Bundy put in a good word and convinced the Dodgers to invite Lindsey to Spring Training in 2007.
Both Lindsey and the Dodgers liked what they saw, and he began the season with Double-A Jacksonville. At 30, he was the team's oldest player, but his play was inspired. After hitting .286 with 11 homers in 56 Southern League games, he was promoted to Triple-A for the first time.
Joining the Las Vegas 51s in midseason, Lindsey took off. In 77 games he batted a career-best .333 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs, and he finished the season with 121 RBIs overall -- the most in the Minor Leagues. He returned to Las Vegas in 2008 and batted .316 with 26 homers and 100 RBIs, but found himself blocked by James Loney at first base in the Dodgers organization. Despite his big seasons and the respect the Dodgers had for him, the call to the Majors never came.
He spent 2009 back in the Marlins organization at Triple-A New Orleans. Though his average slipped to .251 -- his lowest mark since 1999 -- he smacked 19 homers and drove in 83 runs. And in 2010, he returned to the Dodgers, playing for their Triple-A club in Albuquerque.
"John is personally one of the nicest guys you've ever been around," Isotopes manager Tim Wallach told ESPN. "He's been in the Minor Leagues. He has no bitterness to the fact that he hasn't gone up to the Majors. He just loves to play and he respects the game."
"He is unbelievable for our young guys," added Dodgers farm system director De Jon Watson. "He shows what it takes to persevere in this game. He's just a quality human being with a great work ethic and integrity. You want those type of people around your young guys that are on their way to the big leagues so they don't forget what this game really takes, what kind of character it really takes, what kind of resolve it takes to come in every single day and keep grinding away."
Yet John Lindsey was more than just a nice clubhouse presence for the Isotopes. He was the Pacific Coast League's most dangerous hitter. "Big John" opened the 2010 season batting .430 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 43 games through the end of May. His batting average did not dip below .400 until July 7 and he finished the PCL season with a .353 mark -- the best among all full-season Minor Leaguers.
In 450 games over four seasons at the Triple-A level, Lindsey hit .311/.382/.559 with 89 home runs and 368 RBIs. Aside from the fact that he was a great guy who had paid his dues, those were numbers that simply could not be ignored.
And so they weren't. On Sept. 6, Wallach called Lindsey into his office to take a call from Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. He was headed to "The Show."
"My knees kind of buckled," Lindsey said. "I couldn't believe it."
Buoyed by his recent successes, Lindsey has no plans to stop anytime soon. Though he's taken correspondence courses in business management during the past few seasons, he hopes to continue playing at least until he's 40.
"If I can stay healthy, I'd love to keep playing. Hopefully, I'm like a good wine getting better with age," he said with a laugh. "What could be better than getting paid to play the game I love?"