PHOENIX - Henry Blanco turns 41 in a month, and is still pulling down a major-league baseball paycheck. That's a testament to his value to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his ability to get the job done in the rare instance his name is penciled on the lineup card.
Blanco, the Diamondbacks' backup catcher has started 17 of Arizona's 101 games as of July 28. He's finished 15 of those and appeared in 37 games last season and is at 20 this year. Playing behind one of baseball's best all-around catchers is only part of his job - Blanco's clubhouse cubicle is right next to fellow Venezuelan and Diamondbacks' No. 1 catcher, Miguel Montero, who gleans wisdom from Blanco the grizzled veteran.
Blanco's days as a regular catcher are long gone, but he is on Kirk Gibson's bench not for his .197 batting average or 50 percent rate on throwing out runners trying to steal (3 of 6). Blanco still has a job because he is well-respected in the clubhouse, and when it's his turn to spell Montero, calls a good game for his pitchers, makes the right choices on defense and gets a big hit every now and then.
"Hard work. Trying to stay in the best shape as possible," Blanco said. "I just think about how I have to help the team."
Blanco is as throwback as there is. He has a great throwing arm, signs of age on his face and a hairdo/mullet straight from the early years of his baseball career, the early 1990s. It took Blanco almost seven years in the minors to get a callup from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997, and he didn't get back to the bigs until 1999 with Colorado.
Starting in 2000, Blanco finally became a mainstay in the majors. He evolved into the perfect defensive backup at catcher playing for six different teams until arriving in Arizona in 2011.
The beautiful thing about Blanco is that he knows exactly who he is and what he is capable of as a player, and is grateful to still be playing ball. He is humbled by his fortunate lot in life.
Mention his age and the length of his baseball career (22nd season in total), and you get a grin of appreciation.
"I never thought I would have such a long career," Blanco said. "All of this baseball for so long. All of the hard work every day, putting in the time at the stadium and maintaining my poise has helped me a lot."
All of those years and games. All of those squats behind the plate. And his legs have stayed in good shape as he has managed to stay pretty much injury-free.
Blanco has a family to feed, including his mother. They all live in Arizona with him.
"Everything is for them, for a better living for them," he said.
Much has been made in the local media of Blanco's mentorship of Montero. The two have become close.
"I think above everything else, we're brothers," Blanco said. "We spend a lot of time together talking about the team, about baseball and doing everything we can, and hope it stays like that off the field, too."