After a seasonlong hiatus in 2013, Chone Figgins is back in baseball.
And, more importantly for one of his best friends, Salt Lake Bees manager Keith Johnson, so too is that big Figgins smile.
The 36-year-old Figgins, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers optioned to Triple A Albuquerque last week, went 1-for-5 with a run scored Tuesday night, but it was Johnson and the Bees smiling after a 4-3 win over the Isotopes in 11 innings in front of 5,192 at Isotopes Park.
Figgins and Johnson were roommates in 2002 with the Bees. For Figgins, he was headed toward big league fame with the Angels organization between 2002 and 2009. For Johnson, his cup of coffee in the big leagues had already passed.
And while the two text and call each other regularly, it was that 2002 season when the two were last on the same baseball diamond before this week in Albuquerque.
“I learned so much from him. He’s my best friend,” Figgins said. “If I had to go to anybody, call anyone, it’s him.”
Johnson, 43, said Figgins doesn’t have to thank anyone but himself for his successful professional career.
“Everything he does is a testament to him,” Johnson said. “I didn’t do anything.”
Whenever Figgins does get the call back to Los Angeles, Johnson hopes he returns to his old form from his Angels playing days as opposed to his less-than-stellar stint with the Seattle Mariners from 2010-12.
“He found a comfort level with the Angels his last few years there, right before he became a free agent,” said Johnson “His game just blossomed. Then he went over to Seattle and things were a little different. It kind of wore on him a little bit. He tried to do too much sometimes, and it wasn’t working. But now, now you can see that smile back and that’s all I care about.”
Figgins, who started at third base Tuesday, has also played second base, shortstop and left field in his six games with the ‘Topes. He’s hitting .286.
“If he’s in Los Angeles,” said Isotopes manager Damon Berryhill, “that’s what his role is going to be. … I know I could settle him in at any of those positions and he’d be fine.”
But the Dodgers need Figgins to be a versatile utility man, something he is happy to be if that’s what gets him called back up. And while that’s the primary focus while in Albuquerque, he also realizes he’s now a veteran who has knowledge he can share with younger players such as Johnson once did with him.
“I’m not a big talker,” Figgins said. “I try to lead by example, by hard work. If I see something that can help a guy, I’ll say something to him, but I still have to get my work in. I’m here to play, but I’m still trying to get myself (back up with the Dodgers), too. The good thing is I think hard work is the best way to show them (younger teammates).”
PLAYS AT THE PLATE: Tuesday, Figgins dropped a bunt base hit down the third base line and later scored from second base on a Jamie Romak single to left field to put the Isotopes up 2-0 in the third inning. On the play, Figgins successfully slid under the tag of Bees’ catcher John Hester and into the legs of home plate umpire Jordan Ferrell, who fell on top of Figgins before hopping up to signal safe.
Figgins hopped up with a huge smile on his face before trotting back to the dugout.
Three innings later, it was Johnson’s turn to have fun at home plate with Ferrell. The Bees manager argued a called out at the plate, at one point dropping to his knees to demonstrate how he felt his player was safe under the tag of Albuquerque catcher Griff Erickson, which promptly led to his early exit from the 3 hour, 31 minute game.
BULLPEN WOES: Spot starter Steve Smith pitched five innings of scoreless ball for the ‘Topes, whose bullpen again imploded late. Albuquerque led 3-0 heading into the eighth inning.
“We’ve had trouble getting the last four outs of the ball game,” Berryhill said. “… It really shouldn’t happen.”
HOT DOG NIGHT: The 5,192 fans in attendance Tuesday purchased 11,768 hot dogs on 50-cent hot dog night. That’s 2.27 hot dogs per paid fan in attendance.