07/01/2002 00:39 am ET
A storybook at-bat for Zinter
13 years in the minors capped with home run
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Charlie Brown never gets to kick the football. The girl who is as plain as a mud fence doesn't get to be Homecoming Queen. Nice guys, as the late Leo Durocher so eloquently put it, finish last.
In baseball, inspirational moments are as rare as inside-the-park home runs, but you would have had a hard time convincing Houston's Alan Zinter of that Monday night. If persistence were a statistic, the 33-year-old Texan would lead the Major Leagues, and his doggedness finally paid off when he recorded his first career hit, a two-run pinch home run, during Cincinnati's 7-5 victory at Cinergy Field.
"I was floating around the bases," Zinter said. "I knew I hit it really good, when I hit it was just like I was in slow motion. It was like 'Oh, wow, this is nice.'"
Zinter's journey to this memorable moment began during the Bush Administration -- the elder Bush, not the nation's current President -- and continued across seven organizations and two continents. After 13 years and exactly 4,700 at-bats in the minor leagues, Zinter finally got the call to the Majors two weeks ago. The oldest rookie in the league was 0-for-5 as an Astro when he came to the plate with one out and one on in the seventh inning.
"I don't think I ever in my entire career faced the Cincinnati Reds organization," Zinter said. "Maybe once in Spring Training. They don't stick out in my mind. I don't know anybody in that organization."
Zinter had been on deck in the fifth, but when the Reds changed pitchers he was called back and Orlando Merced pinch-hit instead. Bench coach John Tamargo let Zinter know that he would be hitting for the pitcher in the seventh and this time there were no last-minute changes. Zinter stepped into the batter's box for the at-bat he had been waiting for since 1989.
Reds right-hander Scott Williamson threw a first-pitch fastball and Zinter sent it soaring into the Houston bullpen behind the right-field fence.
"He put us back in that game," Houston manager Jimy Williams said. "Down 7-2 and he hits a two-run homer now it's 7-4. That helped us a lot."
The entire Houston bench rose to greet Zinter after he circled the bases.
Zinter, who was selected by he New York Mets in the first round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, had shuffled around the map since then. He'd had stops in the Detroit organization, where he was acquired in exchange for Rico Brogna, and later signed a minor league contract with Boston. Then it was Seattle and the Chicago Cubs and, in 1999, Zinter's contract was sold to the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League.
Along the way, he'd spent seasons in places like Pittsfield and Port St. Lucie, Binghamton and Des Moines, Toledo and Tacoma and a dozen others. The Cubs re-acquired Zinter three years ago and, after Chicago let him go, the Astros signed him to a minor league contract on Nov. 1, 2000.
"I've seen a lot of guys come through and go on the majors and I always hoped my chance would come," Zinter said.
He'd hit over 200 home runs in the minors but was still waiting to experience the satisfying feeling of going yard in the big time.
"One of my childhood dreams, I visualized hitting one all the time," Zinter said. "It still hasn't hit me. Maybe tomorrow morning when I wake up it will. Whatever happens they can't take this away from me."
"Of course it would have been better had we won the game."
Shortly after Zinter had finished being interviewed by reporters, teammate Octavio Dotel walked over and presented Zinter the home run ball.
"All right, beautiful, beautiful, awesome," Zinter said.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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