If there’s one thing Emilio Bonifacio isn’t used to, it’s having a blank cap. The utilityman has played for eight teams in his 11-year major league career, and for five of those eight squads, he played only one season. Trying on different caps was hardly a foreign experience. In fact, it didn’t bother Bonifacio much at all.
“I just tried to enjoy the opportunity of being in the big leagues with eight different teams,” said Bonifacio, who played for the Marlins, Braves, Diamondbacks, Royals, Nationals, Cubs, Blue Jays and White Sox. “When somebody signs you, it’s because they like you. So I always looked at it that way.”
But when no one came calling this past offseason, the 33-year-old wasn’t about to sit around and wait. He signed on with the Ducks, joining so many others who have rejuvenated once-fruitful careers.
Bonifacio said his friendship with former Ducks catcher Wilkin Castillo, who started the season with the Ducks before having his contract purchased by the Yankees, led him to Long Island. That, and a fear of becoming rusty while waiting for a possible ninth team to give him a shot.
“I don’t want to be at home just waiting for someone to give me a job, especially with this year being really hard [for free agents],” said Bonifacio, who hit .256 with 13 home runs and 166 stolen bases in 11 major league seasons and played 38 games for the Braves last year. “I just try to keep my body in shape and keep playing. That way, somebody can see me.”
And scouts have seen a consistently productive Bonifacio. Entering Saturday’s game against the Lancaster Barnstormers, he was hitting .292 with 17 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 34 games (137 at-bats).
“He’s a switch hitter,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “He runs, bunts, hits for power, hits for average, goes gap-to-gap, puts the ball in play . . . He got off to a really hot start; we didn’t expect him to [continue] that. Now he’s faded off a little bit, is still productive and is a big weapon for us in the beginning of the lineup.”
Bonifacio hit .429 in his first nine games and was at .361 on May 24, but no one expected those numbers to continue. Either he was going to cool off or he was going to be picked up by a major league affiliate quickly.
“That’s part of the game,” Bonifacio said. “I knew I wasn’t going to play like that the whole year. I tried to stay with my game plan and adjust because they know how to pitch me and I have to adjust to that . . . I feel good at the plate. Sometimes you can’t control where the ball goes. You can only control how you game plan, hit the ball where they pitch it, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Entering Saturday, Bonifacio was the second-leading active hitter on the Ducks, behind Jordany Valdespin. The former Met, who was named co-Atlantic League player of the month for April/May, was hitting .348, good for third in the league.
It begs this question: Why are those two still in independent baseball?
“Usually, you give it to the middle or end of June because some teams will start losing position players,” Baez said of the general pattern of contracts being purchased by major league affiliates. “But yeah, I’m surprised they haven’t got picked up yet. But they keep getting after it every day. They know they can’t control that. They can only control what they do on and off the field here and they’ve been great in that aspect.”
Bonifacio added: “I just try to stay focused and play hard. That’s why I have an agent. He’s the one handling everything. If something comes up, he will call me right away, but I don’t want to really focus on that. I want to do my job here and see what happens.”
It seems as though even when things go wrong, they go right for Francisco Rodriguez. The former Mets closer blew a save opportunity for the second time this season on Wednesday against Southern Maryland, but thanks to a walk-off RBI single from former Pirate Travis Snider, he earned the win.
Rodriguez bounced back from the poor outing with a scoreless inning on Thursday. He was 2-0 with a 2.07 ERA and eight saves in his first 13 appearances and had struck out 16 and walked five in 13 innings entering play Saturday.