This feature appeared in the Sept. 11, 2001, edition of the Arizona Daily Sun. Very few people were focused on sports that day.
PHOENIX — Junior Spivey’s ability was never in question. But after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, people naturally began questioning whether the young second baseman could remain healthy for an entire season.
Spivey joined the Arizona Diamondbacks in early June and made an instant impact for a ballclub looking to find other steady offensive contributors other than Luis Gonzalez.
The 26-year-old from Oklahoma City made his first major league start on June 7 against Los Angeles and delivered a run-scoring single in the eighth inning and a home run in the ninth in Arizona’s win.
“He gave us a real shot in the arm when we needed it,” Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said before Sunday’s 8-2 win over San Diego. “At the time Junior came up, we were struggling a little bit offensively, and when you’re not swinging the bats well, your team has a tendency too look flat.
“He took his walks, got his base hits. He was scoring runs, stealing bases —or at least (running) on the front end of a hit-and-run. He gave us a shot of energy when we really needed it and maintained it for over a month.”
Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola Sr. offered a similar perspective.
“The energy that he gave the club when he came up was great,” Garagiola said. “That’s what you need. It was like hooking your jumper cables to his butt. He gave the team a real good spark.”
Appearing in 20 games before the All-Star game, Spivey went 17-for -48, a .292 batting average. Since then, Spivey’s average has dipped to as low as. 260, his current average, and risen as high as .311, which occurred after his second five-hit game of the season on Aug. 12.
Spivey is the fifth rookie in the last 50 years to record a pair of five-hit games. The others: Wally Moon of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954; Ken Hubbs of the Chicago Cubs in 1962; Rico Carty of the Milwaukee Braves in 1964 and Chris Singleton of the Chicago White Sox in 1999.
“I don’t think I have any (five-hit games) in my career. He’s done it off two no-name guys in Greg Maddux and Mike Hampton,” All-Star outfielder Luis Gonzalez said facetiously. “If he can continue to do stuff like that, he’s going to put up great numbers for a long time.”
Spivey is in the midst of a 5-for-28 slump, dating back to Aug. 24. According to Brenly, foes have made adjustments while pitching to Spivey.
“Ultimately in this game because of the advanced scouting and the video tape, they are going to eventually figure out a way to attack a new guy, and I think that’s what happened,” Brenly said. “Now, Junior is in the process of making an adjustment of what they are trying to do to him.”
Despite his recent offensive struggles, those in the organization are thoroughly impressed with Spivey’s veteran poise.
“He got thrown into a veteran ballclub in the middle of a pennant race and he handled it like a true professional,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of times you get a lot of young players that come up here, especially during this time (of the season) when there’s a lot of pressure and they kind of panic. But he’s one of those guys that just goes out there and gives you every thing he’s got, and at the same time he observes all the other guys on the team.”
Said Garagiola: “I think the Diamondbacks were lucky to be able to go to Tucson and bring up a player like him, because the big leagues didn’t appear to scare him. The first thing you have to overcome is that the double-decked stands are not going to collapse on you.”
Spivey began the season with the Class AAA Tucson Sidewinders. His primary objective was to show the organization he could be a consistent second baseman, something he did from the minute he suited up as a Sidewinder.
“He went down to Tucson and worked his tail off,” Brenly said. “All the reports we got from Spence (Tucson skipper Tom Spencer) down in Tucson said he was the first one to the ballpark, a tireless worker and mostly working on his defense.”
For Spivey, an easygoing fellow with an infectious smile, just getting the opportunity to play was not one he was going to waste.
“I was happy to be healthy and showing up at the ballpark, it was unbelievable,” Spivey said. “I wanted to be there, get my work in and just work hard and get better because I missed the last two years and I don’t want to take anything for granted.”
Left hamstring and left thumb injuries sidelined Spivey for much of the 1999 and 2000 seasons — he appeared in just 78 games between Double-A El Paso and Triple-A Tucson, but never lost sight of his goal.
“I spent a lot of time in the weight room because I was trying to better myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit back and think about the injuries wondering, ‘Why me?’ and worry about things like that. Being in the weight room motivated myself to get better and try to benefit out of these two injuries.”
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, Spivey’s face lights up as he discusses playing for a team battling Los Angeles and San Francisco what could be a down-to-the wire close pennant stretch.
“It’s important to me. It feels good to get the opportunity to play, let alone play in the big leagues. To actually get a chance to play is phenomenal. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
Or as Gonzalez said, “It’s nice to see good things happen to a good guy.”