He walked on the field for the pre-game ceremony to receive his Rawlings Minor League Golden Glove Award as the best fielding third baseman last year. Only thing was Matt Dominguez was playing first base Saturday afternoon.
He noted that to Pat O’Conner, the President and CEO of Minor League Baseball who was at Coca-Cola Field to make the presentation. O’Conner laughed and said “That’s OK.”
It was the first time this season Dominguez has started at that corner. He began 2016 as the everyday third baseman for the Buffalo Bisons, now two years removed from being the everyday third baseman for the Houston Astros.
But the expectation for Dominguez in Buffalo is to gain experience at other positions. The 26-year old played 309 games as the starting third baseman for the Astros from 2013 to 2014. But a trade that brought Luis Valbuena to Houston from Chicago forced him to compete for a roster spot at spring training in 2015.
That’s how he ended up in Triple-A’s Pacific Coast League last year, playing 45 games with Fresno then 72 with Colorado Springs until the Milwaukee Brewers claimed him off waivers.
His time in the PCL gave him the best defensive stats at third base in all of minor league baseball – a .990 fielding percentage.
Still the Brewers put him on waivers and the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him in September.
“I got claimed by Toronto the last day of the season last year and I’m just here to play different positions and learn first and play third and have some good at-bats and we’ll see what happens,” Dominguez said.
“It’s definitely different,” Dominguez said of moving to first from third. “Everything’s backwards and there’s a lot more to do at first base than third with cutoffs and all that stuff. With third, if you don’t know where to go, you just go to the bag. … I’ve played third my whole life so it’s nice to get some reps somewhere else and you don’t want to say keep you more interested in the game but it gets you going a little bit more.”
The defensive change didn’t bring a spark to his offensive game. Dominguez went 0 for 4 Saturday with his batting average sinking to .133 in his first nine games.
But that’s April baseball and the veteran knows not to panic.
“Guys know,” Dominguez said. “We’d like to get off to a quicker start but it’s early in the year. The more we get our timing down, the better things will be. Just stay loose, have fun and things will turn around eventually.”
The positive attitude of players, even former major leaguers who find themselves back in the minors, is one of the reasons O’Conner loves presenting the Golden Glove awards personally. He spends the first five weeks of the season traveling to minor league ballparks across the country to present last year’s awards and take in sights, sounds and players’ personal stories.
“So much of what I do is not about the 27 outs a side,” O’Conner said. “It’s not about bats and balls and players. It really helps me because it puts me on the field, looking in these kids’ eyes, these young men’s eyes.
“The neatest thing is the diversity. You go from A-ball to Triple A and you go from big cities to small cities, you go from kids who have been in the game a couple of years to young men who have been in the game for quite some time. The constant is they have all that little gleam in their eye.”