A fitting end to Salazar's surreal '07
D-backs outfielder faces former teammates in NLCS
PHOENIX -- Jeff Salazar has enjoyed the kind of season Hollywood dreams about, with the ending yet to be written during the National League Championship Series.After being put on outright waivers by the Rockies during Spring Training, Salazar was claimed by the D-backs, prompting a simple move across Tucson, where both teams train. Salazar spent the first half of the year with Triple-A Tucson before a brief callup that included the outfielder reaching over the fence in his home debut to rob Brian Giles of a homer on July 13. Then Salazar knocked out a pinch-hit game-winning home run, his only long ball of the year, with two outs in the ninth on Sept. 10 against the Giants. Now, Salazar's surreal season continues with an NLCS matchup against his former mates, players he grew up with in the Colorado farm system. "Everything's been completely unexpected," Salazar said. "If at the beginning of the season you would have asked me, there's no way I would have come close to guessing any of this happening, but it's been a great ride so far. I love being part of this team." Colorado faced a tough situation toward the end of Spring Training, when the club needed to clear a spot on its 40-man roster to sign veteran outfielder Steve Finley. With a glut of outfielders, Salazar said he was the lucky lottery winner of who needed to be let go. "We started to get into a logjam of outfielders," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, "one of those situations as your organization develops and gets better, you add people to your 40-man roster and every once in a while you have to take a guy off, whether you sneak him through or get him by for a couple days. We took him off, and there's some people over here that were aware of his skills." Count Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes among those people, as Salazar said he heard from the D-backs two hours after his release before being claimed on March 28. Although Arizona has a number of quality outfielders, Byrnes said the D-backs liked the fit of obtaining the left-handed Salazar to complement their glut of right-handed outfielders. With the Rockies in town for the NLCS, Salazar has been able to meet up with his best friend from his Colorado days, Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs. The duo moved through Colorado's system level by level since being drafted in 2002, rooming together every step of the way.
The pair shared dinner together Wednesday and Thursday night, with plenty of trash talk going around on both sides."We talk trash nonstop: who's going to win, who's not going to win and how we're going to win and whatever," Salazar said. "It's fun. It's probably even more difficult because when he gets up to bat, I want to rob him more than anybody else, and probably vice versa." Spilborghs said he took it hard when the Rockies released not only a solid outfielder, but his best friend. "I thought he was a quality player and quality person, and somebody that fit in our clubhouse really well," Spilborghs said. "He bounces back. He's always super confident and motivated to get better. That's why we kind of drew towards each other. We both were wanting to get better and constantly pushed each other." Since being recalled from Triple-A for the second time this year on Aug. 15, Salazar has moved into a platoon role in right field, earning the majority of the time against right-handers, including a Game 2 start in which he went 0-for-3. He finished the regular season hitting .277 with 10 RBIs in 38 games, while being a player whom Arizona manager Bob Melvin has said always seems to provide a spark when put in the lineup. Salazar said it's rewarding for him to be able to fulfill his dreams after being released, saying he's thankful to the D-backs for providing that opportunity after his career turned. "It's just one of those things, unfortunately, you have to accept," Salazar said. "I would have loved to have stayed with the same organization my entire career. It's just part of it, and it's a tribute to how well they've drafted and got guys over there, and they were able to part with me, and they're still here, they're fine. They did fine without me." Looking back on it, Spilborghs said it's incredible that he and Salazar have reached baseball's biggest stage together, but in opposite dugouts. "To be one team away from being in the World Series and especially where Jeff's coming from, he got released by the Rockies and how he has a chance to beat us, I'm sure it's going to feel much better for him," Spilborghs said. "This is what you play for. "We've been roommates for five years, and then we're both in this position that one of us will go to the World Series. That's exciting."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.