Walk-off HR highlights long journey for Giants' Quiroz

Published: Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:00 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – As soon as Guillermo Quiroz connected with Dodgers closer Brandon League's 0-2 pitch Saturday night for his first walk-off home run, he tossed his bat aside and raised his right fist, certain he had gotten all of it.

After the game, he also wasted little time proclaiming it the biggest hit of his career – which for Quiroz was saying something.

Since starting out in the Toronto Blue Jays organization as a teenager in 1999, the Giants' 31-year-old backup catcher has played for 12 minor-league teams and six major-league clubs over 15 seasons. His longest stint in the majors was a season with Baltimore in 2008. His shortest was one game (and two at-bats) with Seattle in 2006.

Quiroz's first minor-league stop was Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, in 1999. For a 17-year-old from Venezuela, even catcher's gear couldn't block out the biggest difference.

"It was cold, man," Quiroz said. "At the field every night it got so cold I was like, wow, if professional baseball is like this, it's going to be tough."

Subsequent minor-league cities could fill a song verse – Queens, Dunedin, Hagerstown, Charleston, Tacoma, New Haven. Quiroz counts the last two – Seattle's Triple-A and Toronto's then-Double-A affiliate, respectively – as his favorites.

"Best seasons of my career, hitting-wise and playing-wise," he said. "I was playing every day, and I was happy. Easy as that."

Quiroz has caught in 955 minor-league games in his career and pitched in one. The latter came when he played for the Triple-A Tucson Padres in 2011, in a 24-3 loss to Tacoma, the team he had played for the year before.

"It was basically the same team," Quiroz said. "So they were laughing, they were making jokes from the dugout, screaming stuff. I was like, oh my God, here we go."

Quiroz pitched the ninth inning and gave up five runs on four walks and three hits, one of them a grand slam. His career minor-league ERA is 45.00.

"I was just tossing the ball in there," he said. "At one point, our shortstop, Andy Parrino, he came up to me and said, 'Dude, you've got to throw a little harder.' "

Quiroz debuted with the Blue Jays in September 2004. That winter, he returned to Venezuela to play winter ball and caught a 27-year-old right-hander named Ryan Vogelsong. After Quiroz hit his walk-off Saturday, Vogelsong said, "It's good to see things starting to happen for him."

"We were at the beginning of our careers, put it that way. We were battling," Quiroz said. "It was fun to catch him there and see him compete the way he does. He's always been the same guy, man. He competes everywhere he's at."

It's one of the traits Quiroz values most in a pitcher. Also possessing it, he said, is Cesar Jimenez, a 28-year-old left-hander from Venezuela pitching in Triple A with the Phillies, whom Quiroz cited when asked for his favorite of the dozens of pitchers he has caught.

"He battles," Quiroz said of Jimenez. "He works hard. He has that attitude that when he's out there, you know something good is going to happen.

"Those are the guys you want on the mound, those guys that know how to pitch and use their stuff. Vogey's a perfect example, (Barry) Zito. Those guys have their stuff and they know how to use it."

Quiroz made the Giants' Opening Day roster as a nonroster invitee. He found out on the night of the Giants' last exhibition game in Oakland – but not until after the team had returned to AT&T Park.

"I was packing my stuff because I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I finished putting my clothes in my bag, I was walking out to head back to the hotel. (Bruce) Bochy was sitting in his office and he called me in, and that's when he told me."

So far it has meant no return to the minors, where Quiroz spent most of last year on his fourth different stint at Tacoma. Previously, Quiroz had played in the Seattle system in 2006, 2009 and 2010 – and appeared in a total of seven games for the Mariners.

"They had me playing everyday at Double and Triple A to be ready, in case something happened at the big-league level," Quiroz said. "It wasn't frustrating. I was just getting ready for my opportunity.

"You can't get frustrated in this game. If you do, then you quit."

And the moments like Saturday night never come.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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