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October 1, 2014

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Las Vegas 51s:

Inglett trying to ‘grind’ his way back north of the border

51s vet looking for chance to prove his productive ‘08 campaign was no fluke

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AP PHOTO

Joe Inglett hits a grand slam during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, June 19, 2008, in Milwaukee.

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Raul Chavez, right, upends Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Joe Inglett after a force out in fourth inning of a baseball game at Pittsburgh Sunday, June 22, 2008.

As spring training comes to a close, the 'This is one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make ...' speech is quite common between managers and players just missing the cut.

It's so common that it can become cliché, and some guys may even wonder if it's genuine.

Joe Inglett knew the words coming from Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston had value.

The veteran infielder's numbers from last season with the big club suggested so.

"Cito said it was gonna be one of the hardest decisions he'd have to make -- that felt good, but then again, there's 'Why? Why aren't I up here?'" Inglett said. "It was a disappointment, of course. I had the mindset that I was gonna break with the team, and that didn't happen, but you can't dwell on it. You've gotta just come down here, work harder, get better and help the team win down here.

"When you start to win, people take notice and you get moved up quick."

The 51s' 0-4 start hasn't helped too much just yet in accomplishing that goal, but in the process, Inglett is showing just what it is that made him such a success with the Jays last summer.

So far in his Triple-A assignment, he's 7-of-15 from the dish with a double and a pair of runs batted in.

Apparently, he didn't feel like, well, feeling sorry for himself.

"That's not Joe at all," 51s manager Mike Basso said. "(Some guys in that situation) have a pity party or whatever, I've got big feet, I've got big shoulders and we can talk about it. Maybe they need a foot somewhere or they need me to rub their back or whatever, then we'll take care of it. But Joe Inglett's not that type of player. He's ready to go. He is that kind of guy."

The early production is what's to be expected from a guy who, last summer, seemingly established himself as a mainstay in Toronto.

An eighth-round selection of Cleveland out of UNR back in 2000, Inglett cracked the Indians' roster for 64 games in 2006, batting .284 with 21 RBI and five stolen bases.

Then, a year ago for the Jays, while injuries ravaged the team over the course of the season, he hit .297 in 109 games with 39 RBI and nine more swipes while plugging various holes like a reliable piece of chewed gum.

That batting average was padded late in the season as his bat found a consistent zone. He played three infield positions and even manned the outfield for a bit, but it never threw him off offensively once he truly felt like he belonged.

"We were in New York, and we were facing (Yankees pitcher Chien Ming) Wang," he recalled from a June road trip. "He throws a heavy sinker, and he just got me to hit it right back over the shortstop's head, and after that happened, I had a couple more knocks that day, and the rest was history.

"I got called up after the first 15 days of the season, started off good, they started figuring out my weaknesses, and I counteracted on that. They countered again, and I just went back to being myself and the average started going up and my play started getting better."

Numbers-wise, Inglett struggled some in spring training, hitting .190 in 15 games. That, coupled with Toronto regulars such as veteran second baseman Aaron Hill coming back healthy this season, led to him starting the season in Las Vegas as opposed to north of the border.

But if anyone can handle the 'opposite ends of the spectrum' situation, Inglett's that guy.

At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he's never had the look of a prototypical star.

What helped endear him to teammates and fans a year ago was his reputation as a 'grinder.' He was willing to play any position, willing to get on base any way he could and willing to sacrifice himself at any moment.

Plenty of that humility comes from dear old dad.

"That's the only way I knew how to play," he said. "Being raised by my father, he was my coach, and if I didn't play that way, he was on me the whole ride home, the whole night, I took that to heart and that's how I know how to beat people is just to outwork 'em.

"My dad was my biggest critic, still is. Now I feel like I know a little bit more than he does, but he is still my father and I've gotta do what he says."

Inglett's family now, oddly enough, will be able to see him play regularly for the first time in his professional career.

The 51s' new affiliation with Toronto puts him within a short flight or decent drive of his hometown -- Sacramento.

The last time they were able to catch nine innings on a whim were during Inglett's college days in Reno.

And even though the college days are long behind him, Inglett still feels a slight twinge knowing he's playing pro ball in his rival's back yard.

"It's a different taste in my mouth," he said with a laugh. "Reno has a deep place in my heart. We're still wearing blue, which makes me happy. There's no red involved, which is good."

If things work out the way Inglett hopes, he won't be having to see that hated red around town for long.

Last year, it took a break early in the season to help get him a call-up. This year, that's one way he could be back in the Rogers Centre.

Or by doing things the way he's had to for much of his career. Putting his head down, being a well-respected teammate and simply doing his work.

"Any athlete professionally wants to be at the highest level, play with the elite players," he said. "I'm just gonna come out here, have fun and win. There's nothing better than winning at any level. If we win, they start noticing."

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