My experience at Dirk Nowitzki’s Heroes Game.

I’m at an age at which the great experiences are mostly the ones your kids get to have, and getting to share those — to experience the kids experiencing the moments — is enough.  Those are awesome.  

But every once in a while, if you’re lucky, there’s the other kind, too.   

I loved playing the game more than I can describe.  I mean, I loved it.  Craved it.  Depended on it.  

All day long all summer as a little kid.  In a uniform (Staubach’s number 12, always) after that.  Every chance I got, until the last time, more than 20 years ago.

When Ben Rogers invited me a couple weeks ago to play in the Dirk Nowitzki Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game, there was about a three-second adrenaline rush before I realized we had plans to be out of town to see family that weekend.  Ben calmly suggested I ought to make a phone call, just to see if there was any leeway on that.  I did.  Ginger told me I should stay back for this, and Max too — she knew how much it would mean to me, and him.  She’s awesome.

I got some BP in with the great Mike Tovar early in the week, and ripped up my bottom hand in three places.  Whether it was bad mechanics or overgrip or just a matter of hands that had gotten used to two decades of not swinging at hardballs, I’m not sure, but it led to a first-ever trip to REI (I’m available to endorse Moleskin) and a couple days of rest on the hands before Friday’s Heroes practice, where I got some cuts in.

I knew from the minute I accepted Ben’s invite that the cost of agreeing to play in the Heroes Game was a 120-proof concoction of embarrassment and injury, which was totally acceptable.  I’d have roughly forever to recover from this one-time shot.

Back at the ballpark late Saturday afternoon, I walked across the outfield to the right field corner en route to the visitor’s clubhouse as the 10,000 seats were already starting to fill.  Waiting in the clubhouse, in a locker (next to Eduardo Najera’s) with my name on it — which was silly-cool itself — was a jersey, in my size.  A pair of baseball pants, in my size.  Two caps, in my size.  A baseball belt and a pair of socks and two dry-fit tees.  Need some baseball cleats, in your size?  Seriously?  Yes.  Then yes, thanks.  A pair of baseball cleats, in my size.  

Pregame spread.  A walk back across the outfield over to the cages, and now the stands are really filling up.  Some cuts in the cage, back to the clubhouse for a quick game plan/pep talk, then off to the area above the visitors’ bullpen for a press conference where Dirk, Michael Young, Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Derek Holland, and the founder of the event, Charlie McKinney, speak to several dozen reporters.   

Get a little run in, a little stretching, and then throw to get loose with Cole Beasley.  Charlie Villanueva mixes in with me and Cole, and appears to conflate a couple sports he doesn’t play, as a few minutes into short-to-long toss he starts jogging laterally as if running a crossing pattern, waiting for my throws.  Turns out he was onto something.  More on that shortly.

We’re loose and it’s time to hit the dugout.  Player introductions and the anthem, with a three-jet flyover.

Lineup is set (I’m hitting 10th out of 20), as is the first-inning defense.  I’m starting at third base.  Forty feet from Michael Young.

OK, seriously.  I’m suited up, cap and glove and cleats, 40 feet from Michael Young.  

Let’s go.

First batter retired — can’t remember how — and the ball is sent around the horn.  Michael whips the ball to me before I flip it back to the pitcher.

And in that moment, I was my kid’s age.

Next, Dez Bryant rifles a shot to my left and my 46-year-old legs have time to take one step and extend, and I get a glove on it, but that wasn’t acceptable.  The ball deflects to Michael but by time he makes his throw to first, Dez is safe.  It makes a sellout crowd very happy, so, you know, you’re welcome.  But man, I’m steamed.  I’ve got to make that play.

After a Kevin Mench bomb, another out, another couple men on, and someone (was it Skin?) grounds a ball my way.  I turn to make the tag on the runner from second base but he’s veering outside the baseline so I throw to second instead.  Force, inning over.  Time to grab a helmet.  

You know how, in R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming,” the piano basically never stops?  The weird thing about the Heroes Game is when they play walkup music, they never turn it off.  It’s a hockey game from an A/V standpoint.  That’s weird as I step to the plate, but maybe the music blaring over the sound system managed to make me not think about my blistered lower hand, and concentrate on keeping my weight back, and my back foot relatively quiet, and throwing my hands at the ball.

First pitch I see, I shoot a single to right center, where Mench fields the ball.  After a turn I lope back to the bag, where Dirk reaches down about eight feet to give me daps, and says: “Nice shot, dude!” 

heroes -- me and dirk

There were the things that Ray Corbett and Michael Hardge said to me 25 years ago on a ballfield, and now: “Nice shot, dude” . . . .  

I won’t forget that.

I took second on a single to center, and thought about trying to take third, which Mench wishes I had (given what he said to me as he came up with the ball).  I held at second.

A single to left in Dez’s direction, and Tyson Chandler waves me around third, which was unnecessary and would have been fully ignored had he signaled otherwise.  I ran on Dez (who along with Devin Harris was the most gifted, natural-looking ballplayer among the other-sport athletes out there), and scored, sliding.  

Won’t forget that, either.

I’m in center field for the second inning.  No action.  Wanted that chance to make a throw to a base, which I knew would mean zero arm left the rest of the day, but I wanted that chance.  No such luck.

In the fifth, I’m asked to play shortstop, and Devin hits a two-out, two-hop grounder up the middle that I’m able to center and get my feet right on, but I look to first and see Charlie V already in full lunge toward me, glove outstretched, compressing his seven-foot frame into what amounted to a four-foot target, and it screws with my head.  I drop my slot — a mistake right there, as I had plenty of time — and sail one wide that Charlie might have been able to glove if he’d been running one of those pregame crossing patterns.  But he wasn’t, and the ball skips past him.  Inexcusable on my part.  Brutal.  

Charlie (who spared me the indignity of beating me up for the E-6 in his blog recap of the event) gets to the ball quickly enough to fire it down to second before Devin could get there, and we get him in a rundown and I chase him down for the third out.  But the first base umpire rules that Devin is awarded second on my initial overthrow.  Hmm.  OK.

Sixth inning, and we’re up big.  One out and a man on second, and I’m up for my second at-bat.  After fouling off about six pitches, one fairly deep but 20 feet foul, I ultimately roll over to second, where Nash gathers it and throws me out easily.  

Max, who watched the game with a friend in the stands, would tell me later that it was OK — I just added to Nash’s career assist total.  (High five.)

Top of nine.  My third and final chance at the plate.  First pitch is middle-out and I hit it square to left field, going the other way with a ball that Mike Bacsik thinks he should have caught.  

It surprises at least one fan in attendance.

Fortunately, it’s another inning with Dirk manning first base, and as the next hitter steps up I thank Dirk for putting his energy behind this awesome event.  He talks about how cool it is to have that many people supporting the cause, and having a good time.

Dirk has no business being as unassuming and normal as he is.  It’s pretty great.

This was also my first time to be around Dez, and while he’s not unassuming, and not normal, his energy is infectious and irresistible.  What an awesome dude.

I take third on a base hit, and score on a grounder to short.  I’m sent out to right field for the bottom of the ninth, watch Lance Dunbar effortlessly flag down a shot between us — Lance Dunbar is a great guy — and jog in to line up in the middle of the diamond to celebrate Blue Sox 17, White Sox 5.  

heroes -- team photo

Postgame spread.  Fireworks for the fans.  Some really great conversations back in the clubhouse with some of my sports heroes, and other guys I’d just met.  A lot of kids, one by one, asking me as I walk back out onto the field to cross back over to the home side if they can have my bat or glove.

(Sorry, buddy, no.  They’re the only ones I’ve got.)  

(Plus, you really don’t want them.)  

Saturday night’s should have been the best sleep ever.  I was exhausted, and exhilarated, and when my head hit the pillow I was out.  

But every time I moved an inch throughout the night, something barked.  And woke me up.

Sports-sore is the best.  I miss it, and feel super-alive when I get to do something that brings it back on.

But I’ve never gotten the chance to do something like that.  Your name over the PA (set to rock music), your face on a 2,700 square foot video board, you and the pitcher, the opportunity once again to compete.  

heroes -- me on video board

heroes -- my at bat on video board

In this case, for a really great cause.  Lots of kids get a big hand from the Dirk Nowitzki and Heroes Foundations, which have raised more than $3.6 million for Dallas-area youth.  The Heroes Game is the signature event annually, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it any better.

It was one of the great non-family experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have.  If I could do this, I would:

heroes -- dez flip

I’m doing it in my head, at least.

And Saturday night, I got the chance to take something I’d done in my head a thousand times since I was a kid, and play it out on a diamond, in an exhibition where numbers like 17-5, and 2 for 3, meant nothing compared to that $3.6 million that will kick up even further next year.

This time, my kid was in the stands, watching Dad.  It was a reversal of roles of sorts, for a moment, and I think Max was just as OK with it as I was, for a weekend.

I’m super-grateful for the opportunity, at a level that Charlie and Ben and Skin and Dirk and everyone else involved probably couldn’t expect.  

It was an absolutely unforgettable experience, and to suggest it was on the bucket list for me would be to give too much credit to the rest of the list.

Ruben, Jon, and Cole, v.2.

Ring tone sounds (“Out of Touch” by Philadelphia’s own Hall & Oates).  Ruben picks up his phone.

“Yo.  You got R.A.J., bay-bee.  Who dis?”  

“Seriously, Ruben.” 

“Jon!  Man.  Six straight, huh?  Six!”    

“Whatcha got, Ruben?” 

“Our manager stepped down yesterday, Jon.”    

“I know.” 

“Who should I hire?” 

“Is that your call?” 

“Oh.  Hmm.”  

[Thad Levine flips on Neftali Feliz’s walk-in music.]

“Dude.  What’s that?” 

“What’s what?”  

“I dunno.  I thought I heard Neftali Feliz’s walk-in music.  Remember when he struck out A-Rod, Jon?  That was awesome!”    

[twirls fake moustache] “Yes it was, Ruben.  Yes it was.”  

“You mentioned Nef the other day and I checked — did you know he’s perfect in his career in Philadelphia?” 

[begins growing real moustache and twirling it] “Didn’t realize that, Ruben.”  

“Hey boss — what does ‘small sample size’ mean?”  

“Ruben, I’m kinda busy.  Whatcha got?”  

“Tuesday is Cole’s day to pitch.”   

“Cool.  Good luck to him.” 

“He could pitch for you against Baltimore instead.  Cole hasn’t done real well against the Orioles in his career, but hey, neither has Cliff Lee, and remember that brutal debut he made for you in 2010 — against the Orioles — and how you went to the World Series three months later?  It lines up, dude!  Gimme Chi Chi and Nomar and a lot more, Jon!” 

“Not happening, Ruben.  This is nothing like 2010.” 

“But!” 

“Not happening.”  

“Man, Jon.  That trade was awesome!  All you had to give up was Smoak and Beavan and Lueke and Lawson!” 

“Ruben, a few months before that you traded Cliff to Seattle and all you got was Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gillies.”   

[Silence.]

[Silence.

“Anyway, give me a lot for Cole!  I don’t have many players who are good at baseball.”  

“Ruben, think back to the Royals team last year.  Their World Series club.” 

“Yeah, yeah.  I think I watched some of that.” 

“In 2010 the Royals traded Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers — ”  

“Yuni.  I’d like to sign that guy.  I think he and I were teammates back in the day.  Maybe not.”    

“Anyway, for Greinke and Betancourt they got Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress.”   

“Wow.  That’s awesome.”  

“They later flipped Odorizzi in a deal that got them James Shields and Wade Davis.”  

“Is that good?”  

“Ruben, you know where those guys were ranked in the Milwaukee system going into that 2010 season?” 

“No.  Want me to go find out?  I can call you right back.”  

“Alcides was No. 1.  Lorenzo was 8.  Jake was 9.  Jeremy was 21.  And Milwaukee had a middle-of-the-pack system.”  [Jon skips the part about Jake and Jeremy breaking out in 2010.]

“Jon, man, can we get back to talking about baseball?” 

“Ruben, you can make a smart deal and get your team back on track without Chi Chi and Nomar.”   

“Dude, you said Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect!” 

“Everyone in baseball had Neftali ranked ahead of him.”  [Thad twirls Jon’s aggressively sprouting moustache.]

“Hmm.  Interesting!” 

“Ruben, I get it if you’re using us to try to leverage other teams to give you what you and Pat and Andy are going to want for Cole.  I get that.  And on one level I don’t mind it.  But if you’re serious about us you’re going to have to back up a little.”  

“Jon, do you know who Pat Gillick is?” 

“Yes, Ruben.  I know who Pat Gillick is.  I just mentioned him to you.”  

“He has a friend — I think his name is Don — who I think might have worked for you.”  

“Ruben, he worked for you guys, too.” 

[Silence. 

[Silence.

[Silence.]

“Ruben, you there?”  

“So I think maybe Pat is asking Don who I should ask you for.  I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you that.” 

“Don’t you think he might tell Pat to ask for more than we’d ever give up because Don’s team wants Cole, too?” 

“Don’s team?” 

“San Diego, Ruben.  Where Cole is from.”   

“Oh cool.” 

“Ruben, should I offer Leonys Martin and something to Doug for Carlos Gomez?” 

“Man, I don’t know where you’re getting your intel, but I don’t work for the Brewers.”   

“Never mind.” 

“Why do you want Gomez anyway?  You’ve got Gallo starting in center field today.” 

“Ruben, that’s not long term.”   

“Hear ya, man.  I don’t even like thinking long term.” 

“Tuck this name away, Ruben, because you and I are going to talk about him soon: Jake Diekman.” 

“OK.  I’ll look him up.” 

“See ya, Ruben.” 

“Jon, man, are you gonna play the X?  Cole Hamels, man!”    

“Talk to you later, Ruben.” 

Ruben, Jon, and Cole.

Ring tone sounds (Ruben Amaro Jr. telling reporters: “Fans don’t understand the game,” on a loop) . . . he picks up his phone:

“Yo.  This is Ruben.  Who this?”  

“Ruben.  Dude.  It’s Jon.  You’ve called me 20 times since March.  You know who this is.” 

“Oh, hey, Jon!  What’s shakin’, boss?” 

“You called me.  I’m calling you back.” 

“Oh, yeah, yeah.  Hey, man — you need a pitcher.  Wandy was real bad yesterday.”  

“So was Cole.” 

“Yeah, never mind that.  He’s got a bad track record against American League t—I mean, you know, seeing-eye singles and stuff.” 

“He got rocked.”  

“Semantics, Jon.  Don’t get all caught up in that analytics mess.” 

“Whatcha got, Ruben?”

“Those Astros keep winning, man.  Wow, right?” 

“They’re pretty good.” 

“And imagine Cole Hamels in a Houston uniform, dude!” 

“Houston’s on his no-trade list, Ruben.” 

“Semantics, man.  And negotiable!” 

“Whatcha got, Ruben?”

“You know, that reporter guy in Houston says the Yankees are in on Hamels.  See that?” 

“Are they?” 

“That Houston reporter guy says they are!” 

Heyman says they’re not.”  

“Reporters don’t understand the game, Jon.” 

“Whatcha got, Ruben?” 

“So I may or may not have had a scout at Chi Chi’s game on Tuesday, and when he was driving away from the park he heard on the radio that you guys would trade Chi Chi and Joey and Nomar and Jorge for Cole.  So — do we have a deal?” 

“Ruben.  That was a couple callers to a postgame talk show who said that.  And one of them identified himself as ‘Ruben Jr., from Philadelphia.’” 

“Rats.” 

“Sorry?” 

“Let’s talk about Mazara.” 

“Let’s talk about Brinson instead.” 

In unison:

“Nick Williams?” 

“Nick Williams.” 

“And about Chi Chi.” 

“You’re gonna need to ask about Eickhoff or Asher instead.” 

“Nick Martinez!  Jake Thompson!”  

Andy MacPhail.” 

“Astros!  Yankees!”  

“No-trade.  And no-interest.” 

“Jon, I mean, man, we like Jorge and we like Jurickson, but they need to be pieces 3 and 4 since they’re hurt.  Huge risk on our part to even consider taking either one.”  [twirls moustache]

“Ruben, are you twirling your moustache?  And when did you grow a moustache?” 

“Hey, man — [lowers voice] — Andy’s coming in.  He’s probably going to have some ideas.  I’ve heard he’s like that.  I’ve gotta score on this deal.  Helps me a bunch to get Cole out of the NL so we don’t have to face him while I still have a job.  That’s actually probably not true but I don’t really understand the game.” 

“Ruben.  You gave Cole a partial no-trade, and he made it so that the only AL teams he can’t block trades to are the Yankees and us.  And it looks like the Yankees are out.” 

“I did?  He did?  They are?” 

“Have you had someone sitting on Round Rock lately?  Michael Choice has been raking.  He basically forced our hand, and we brought him back up.  Interested?” 

“Nomar!” 

“And you’re going to trade Papelbon.  We don’t want him.  But you’re going to trade him, and Neftali might make some sense for you.  You’d be buying low.” 

“Keone!” 

“No.” 

“You know who Jayson Stark is?” 

“Yes, Ruben.  I know who Jayson Stark is.  I work in baseball.”  

“He wrote the other day that ‘clubs that have talked with the Phillies are still complaining that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. remains “fixated” on players those teams have continuously balked at trading, with one exec saying that at some point, Amaro will have to be “more creative” to get a deal done.’”   

“Yeah, Ruben.  I think he’s right.” 

“Oh.” 

“Anthony Ranaudo grew up an hour from Philly, Ruben.”  

“Oooh, nice.”  [twirls fake moustache]

“If we’re going to go down this path, Ruben, you’re going to have to tell me you’d pay Cole’s contract down in a big way if we’re going to toss around the names you want to toss around.  Love the pitcher, but $90 million is something I just can’t absorb, even for four pennant races.  Gotta subsidize the thing big if you want what it sounds like you want.” 

“Yeah, man.  I’ll chip in, like, $150k.  Hundo fitty large ones, broseph!” 

“Gotta go, man.  Talk later?” 

“Stark thinks I’m going to trade Cole to you 37 days from now.” 

“Hey, man — if the deal’s right, we don’t need to wait.  But you gotta make the deal right.” 

“What if I trade him somewhere else?” 

“Go for it.”  

“Chi Chi!” 

“Remember when I traded for Cliff Lee?” 

“Yeah!  You want him too?” 

“Remember that deal?” 

“Not really, but I think I heard about it.” 

“I put Smoak in that deal, and other prospects I wasn’t crazy about moving.  But I got Mark Lowe back in that trade, too.” 

“OK.  So?” 

“Ken Giles.”  [twists fake moustache]

“Later, chief.  Talk soon.” 

“Counting on it.” 

One for me.

I’ve been at this long enough to know that a handful of you will unsubscribe today.  If you’re one, thanks for reading as long as you did.  

Really, truth be told, this one isn’t for the rest of you, either, though I appreciate your patience or your indulgence or your polite tuneout, or whatever allows you to let this one slide.

This one’s basically for me.  Because I’d like for it to end up on half a page in this year’s book.  And since yesterday was Father’s Day, I’m ignoring instinct and writing this down, and sending it.

Our son Max isn’t the best player on his baseball team.  Far from it, actually, and that’s the kind of team I’d love for him to always be able to play for, or the kind of theater group I’d love for Erica to always be able to sing and act with.

He’s not the best hitter on the team.  He’s not the best pitcher on the team.  And I can say he’s not the best teammate because that’s a dead heat between a lot of the boys on Coach Tovar’s 10U AAA Dallas Pelicans, a team full of great kids who work their tails off and play the game right and pick each other up.

Max typically hits somewhere in the bottom half of the lineup, and when he pitches, which isn’t that often, it’s usually either in relief or possibly on Saturday.  Not on Sunday, when each game sends you home if you don’t win it.

But he was given the ball for a Sunday start in this weekend’s tournament, and when he found out, it put one of the first smiles on his face all week, as he’s a few days into living with a set of braces in his mouth.

The idea from the coaches was to get three innings from Max if possible, with a hope that the team could score enough runs to advance without having to burn one of the frontline pitchers, on a day that could include up to four games.  

Through three innings, Max had thrown 44 pitches, for him a really efficient number.  Thirty-four of them were strikes.  He didn’t go to a two-ball count until the 14th batter, who grounded out to second to end that third frame.

But earlier in that inning, the Parker County three-hole hitter, a left-handed kid named Reep, went about 190 to straightaway center, taking Max deep for a three-run bomb that gave the Express a 4-3 lead.

But in the bottom of that inning, Max turned on a 2-2 pitch and doubled it down the left field line, plating Jake and Drake to give the Pelicans the lead back.  Ty’s double to the wall made it 6-4, Pelicans, and the coaches decided to send Max back out to the mound for the fourth. 

A kid named Blevins ripped his second pitch of the inning for a double.  

But then Max struck out the next hitter.

And the next hitter.

And the next hitter.

Shutdown inning.

Another Pelicans run in the bottom of the fourth made it a 7-4 game.  

And the coaches sent Max back out for the fifth, with the top of the Express lineup due.

First hitter: Comebacker.  One out.

Second hitter: Lineout to short.

Third hitter: Reep.  Whether a 10-year-old kid is able to forget giving up his first home run a couple innings earlier, I’m not sure, but Max walked Reep on four pitches.

It was the first walk he issued on the day.

And the last batter he faced.  Because he promptly picked the runner off of first, ending the inning.

Time expired with the Pelicans hitting in the bottom of the fifth. 

It was a complete game for Max, his first, with seven strikeouts in his five innings of work.  Sixty-eight pitches, 48 for strikes.  And, at the plate, a 3 for 3 day on which he drove in runs each time up.

It was part of an 8 for 12 weekend for Max with a pair of doubles, and, in the game that followed his pitching effort, a walkoff single (after a 45-minute lightning delay) to help send the Pelicans to the semi-finals of the 14-team tournament.  He thinks it was his first walkoff hit in two years of kid pitch, and when you see how a group of teammates reacts to a moment like that, I’d trust the kid’s memory.

He’s not the best pitcher on the team and he’s not the best hitter on the team, but Max contributed this weekend, a Father’s Day weekend spent an hour away in Benbrook, and he did it while not feeling great thanks to an orthodontist, and that part — fighting through it — may be the part I’m as proud of as any.  

That, and not losing composure or confidence or focus after giving up a majestic homer and the lead.

And the kind of teammate that he and nine other kids have grown to be.

Max will probably hate that I wrote this.

Some of you will, too, and I know that.

I know.

Some of this I do self-indulgently.  Very little of it, if I can help it.  But some of it. 

It was Father’s Day, and I decided to write this down.

I doubt I’d ever forget about this weekend.  But I wanted to make sure.

You’re Chicago.

You’re Chicago.

You’re facing a Rangers team that, because the Dodgers refused to schedule an afternoon start on getaway day, flew overnight and got to their hotel after 7 a.m.

You’ve got Chris Sale going, the hottest pitcher in the league, and maybe its best.

Texas doesn’t have its best pitcher going.  Or its second.  Or its third.  Or its fourth.

They’re all on the disabled list.

But they’ve got a 35-year-old missing his original hip on the mound.

Your team had a headline-grabbing winter, trading for Jeff Samardzija and signing Melky Cabrera and premier closer David Robertson.  Hopes were high.

Texas was coming off a brutal season, finishing with the worst record in the league, and then breaking camp with its rotation blown to bits.

The Rangers are holding down a playoff spot.  The White Sox have the second-worst record in the American League.

But you’ve got Sale going, and he was on a roll of seven straight quality starts (5-2, 1.52, 79 strikeouts and 10 walks in 53.1 innings, .146/.197/.249 slash), six of which deserved a different nickname if one existed.

And in that stretch he’d toyed with the Rangers in Arlington, going 7-3-0-0-2-13 on them in a 9-2 White Sox laugher.

Texas was coming off a big win against Clayton Kershaw and a grueling 1-0 loss to Zack Greinke, and those had to be draining, even without the red-eye flight afterwards.

Sale is perfect through five, with eight strikeouts in that span. Tyler Flowers rockets a Lewis pitch out of the park in the bottom of that fifth frame, and with Sale’s stuff at its dominant best, 1-0 felt like 11-0.

But it was 1-0.

It would have been 2-0 had it not been for perfect and powerful throws from Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus that put the ball in Robinson Chirinos’s mitt before Avisail Garcia’s slide on Conor Gillaspie’s double to the wall in the fourth.

But it was just 1-0.

You’re Chicago, and though Sale was coming off a season-high 125 pitches against Tampa Bay, he’d had an extra day of rest before that one and, man, Robertson is a great closer with Sale-like numbers and this is what your team pays him to do.

So you applaud Sale’s eight innings of awesomeness and count on Robertson shutting things down.

Pinch-hitter Rougned Odor pops out to shortstop.  

Robertson gets Shin-Soo Choo down 1-2.

Then walks him.

Elvis Andrus isn’t bunting.

He singles to center.

It’s hard being a White Sox fan this year, with high expectations giving way to the second-worst record in the league and a feeling of hopelessness and it’s not even Father’s Day yet.

Joey Gallo is up, having struck out and struck out and struck out against Sale, and even though a wild pitch during his at-bat against Robertson moved the tying run to third with one out and the go-ahead run into scoring position, he struck out for a fourth time on the night.

You walk Prince Fielder, because it sets up the potential for a force at second and because of course.

Adam Rosales is on deck but you are well aware that Mitch Moreland is available on the bench.  Josh Hamilton isn’t available and Adrian Beltre isn’t available, but Mitch Moreland is.

But you walk Fielder on purpose because you’re not about to give him anything to hit in that situation, and another ball kicking away from Flowers behind the plate would be devastating.

And because Mitch Moreland is no Prince Fielder.

Your big-money closer delivers ball one, and then a strike, the latter of which Moreland rips to right field to plate Choo and plate Andrus, and there goes the lead and Sale’s decision and, a few minutes later, the game.

Eight straight White Sox losses.  Seven of them in close games.

Sale to reporters afterwards, asked if he feels he needs to fire a shutout just to get a win: “That’s kind of a crappy question to ask, really.  You think I’m gonna say something bad about one of my teammates, you’re dead wrong.”

You’re Chicago, and all you have in your head right now is a bunch of crappy questions.

Birthdays, and an invite.

Happy Birthday to my friends Suzy and Robin, and to erstwhile Rangers pitchers Logan Verrett (9 innings) and Bruce Chen (10 innings), and to Dirk Nowitzki, who turns 37 today.

Logan (righthander) and Robin (defensive end) both played at Baylor, 20 years apart.

Suzy and Bruce played for a combined 11 big league franchises.

Me and Dirk?  We have sons named Max.

There are so many other things Dirk and I have in common:

  1. One sister
  2. Rangers fan
  3. Radiohead
  4. Lifelong friendship with Grubes
  5. One-legged fadeaway [except for me]

And now the list grows by one.

We’ll face off on Saturday, June 27 – you know, much as the Rangers/Cardinals World Series was the Adrian Beltre vs. Gerald Laird Classic – in the Dirk Nowitzki 2015 Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game at Dr Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders.

Among those expected to play in the game (the proceeds of which will benefit the children’s charities of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation and Heroes Foundation) are Dirk, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Nick Van Exel, Michael Young, Kevin Mench, Mike Bacsik, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Cole Beasley, Joseph Randle, Dan Bailey, Terrance Williams, Tyler Seguin, and Ben and Skin.  Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons, Rick Carlisle, and Michael Finley are also expected to be on hand.

Dirk, Nash, and Fin back together.  First time in more than a decade.

Gates open at 4:30.  There will be a Special Olympics All-Star Softball Game at 4:45.  The nine-inning baseball game begins at 6:00.  I will likely get hurt at some point before the postgame fireworks show (if not before the first pitch).

Tickets are on sale here.  Take note: Last year’s game sold out.

The Rangers play in Toronto at noon that day, so you won’t be missing any baseball by coming to Dirk’s Game that night.

(Of course, you may see just about zero “baseball” if you do show up.  Except when Michael Young is doing Michael Young things.)

Dirk might even sing this at the end of the ballgame, which would be all kinds of awesome.

But not if the Michael Young Crew can help it.

Seriously: You should go.

Left on left.

What do Adrian, Delino, Mitch, Josh, Derek, Martin, Matty, Yu, you, and me have in common?

We all watched one heck of a baseball game last night.

Left over from that group was a lineup that featured Adam Rosales hitting fifth and Joey Gallo hitting third against a lefthander, one who happens to be in the discussion annually as baseball’s best pitcher.

Adam and Joey did just fine.

It was actually a night for lefties, as Clayton Kershaw had strikeout stuff but was touched for runs in three of his six innings, each off a left-handed bat, as Rougned Odor 8-4’d a fielder’s choice to score Prince Fielder in the second and singled Rosales home in the fourth, in between which Gallo followed a Wandy Rodriguez ducksnort and two strikeouts by hammering a Kershaw slider into the Chavez Ravine stratosphere, a 439-foot blast that, according to ESPN, checks in as the second-longest home run (by two feet) that Kershaw has surrendered in his 1,471.1 big league innings.

I’ll understand if “Captain Marble” doesn’t settle in as one of Gallo’s nicknames going forward, but you ought to take a minute and take in Vin Scully’s call of the Gallo bomb, starting at 1:20 in on this video.

“This is probably the most frustrating game I’ve ever pitched,” Kershaw said afterwards, having given up more than three runs at home for the first time in 31 starts and losing an interleague game for the first time in four years.  It probably didn’t sit well with the man with three Cy Youngs in the last four years that all four runs Texas put on him were driven in by 21-year-old hitters, from the left side.

Or that, in his first game to ever pitch against his hometown team, he lost to a club that put that lineup out there behind a 36-year-old who had been released twice in the last 13 months.

The lefty Rodriguez started 20 of 27 Dodgers off with a strike but pitched through a lot of stress, managing to wiggle out of it regularly until single/home/double/screaming-lineout-comebacker/single chased him in the sixth, and suddenly the 4-0 lead built by a shocking lineup and a scrap heap starter was 4-3 and the underbelly of a beleaguered bullpen was being entrusted with the final 3.2 innings.

Jon Edwards, Sam Freeman, Tanner Scheppers, and Keone Kela held Los Angeles hitless the rest of the way.

The lefty Freeman (five batters, five outs, two on strikes) was especially good, and Scheppers induced a huge double play to close out the eighth, before the Dodgers tried getting in Kela’s head by asking the umpire to remove his compression sleeve but then succumbed relatively meekly as the 22-year-old recorded the first of what will probably be a large number of Major League saves.

A kid from LA recorded the save, a kid from Dallas recorded a hold, a kid from LA recorded a hold, a kid from Dallas was tagged with the loss.

All of which the box score revealed about two hours after Vin Scully was wowed by a majestic shot off the bat of a kid from out of this world.

Texas has now won three straight against the Dodgers, slated to face Zack Greinke tonight — with temporary call-up Anthony Ranaudo getting the start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest — before drawing Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon in Chicago the next two days.

If the Rangers end up splitting these four against the Kershaw-Greinke-Sale-Rodon gauntlet, that would be a result I’m sure we’d all be just fine with.

At this rate, though, it almost feels like it would be a good result for Kershaw-Greinke-Sale-Rodon to claim a split from this really, really good baseball team.

Baseball, man.

Do it.

On June 8, 2014, Richard Durrett wrote a piece for ESPN on the promotion of Chi Chi Gonzalez and Joey Gallo from High A Myrtle Beach to AA Frisco.  It was one of the last stories Richard would publish.

Last night, Gonzalez was phenomenal (again), and Gallo patiently worked what would turn out to be a huge bases-loaded walk after falling behind in the count, 1-2, to veteran lefthander Brett Anderson.  It was a professional at-bat, in support of a professional work of pitching artistry, by a couple ballplayers who have been in the big leagues for less than three weeks.

It’s almost difficult to comprehend, barely more than a year after Gonzalez and Gallo were sporting Pelicans blue, that they’re contributing at the level they are as big leaguers, one holding Red Sox, Royals, A’s, and Dodgers hitters to an anemic .173/.265/.221 clip with an ERA of 0.90 that was 0.30 before his final pitch last night – and sitting this morning with what’s already the eighth-highest WAR among American League pitchers – and the other hitting a robust .261/.370/.543 that includes a .370/.485/.741 clip against right-handed pitching.

It’s far more difficult to comprehend that Richard isn’t around to write about it.  We lost him one year ago today.

The second annual Do It For Durrett Night is in about three weeks.  It will take place at Globe Life Park (in the Cholula Porch) on Thursday evening, July 9, a Rangers off-day between home series with the Diamondbacks and Padres.  The list of current and former Rangers players and officials who will be on hand is impressive.  The auction prize list (live, silent, and “dates”) is, too.

You can find more details here, and here.

The Do It For Durrett Foundation is a non-profit organization, dedicated to helping to ease the burden on local working-class families impacted by sudden loss.  This event supports that effort.

The “’80s Night” theme that night (which may be lost on Chi Chi and Joey, each born in the ’90s) will feature live music performances ranging from star proportions (Casey Donahew) to below replacement level (Rangers players and, um, others).

There are a handful of VIP tickets still available (those include a pre-party, dinner, drink tickets, and an event T-shirt), plus a few dozen general admission tickets, which include dinner and the T-shirt.  There are also two tables of eight remaining – at less cost per ticket than the general admission price point – if you’re thinking about bringing a group.

I’m thinking about Richard Durrett today, and Kelly and Owen and Alice and Margot.  There’s a whole lot about Rangers baseball to celebrate right now, and Richard would be right at the front of celebrating it with the rest of us, with the relentless optimism that marked everything he wrote, and did.

Let’s do some good, and celebrate Richard on the 9th.

 

Relief.

It was a tremendous win over one of baseball’s best teams and its second-best offense, a grind-out featuring 15 scoreless half-innings out of 17, seven of those courtesy of Yovani Gallardo, whom the Dodgers should have had a pretty good book on.     

After Gallardo, having been given four Texas runs in the sixth, provided a nine-pitch shutdown inning in the seventh, I’d hoped that he’d be sent back out for the eighth.  He’d thrown 101 pitches, had close to his best swing-and-miss stuff of the year, and was keeping everything on the ground.  

It wasn’t to pull back on the bullpen from a workload standpoint.  When Gallardo, Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, Wandy Rodriguez, and Chi Chi Gonzalez fire 11 straight quality starts (breaking a franchise record that had been set by Fergie Jenkins, Jon Matlack, Doyle Alexander, Dock Ellis, Doc Medich, and Steve Comer 37 years ago), one thing it means is that they’d not only kept the Rangers in every game over that stretch but had also given their relievers a relatively healthy break. 

I wanted to see Gallardo take 4-0 back out to the hill to start the eighth because he was dealing, and because the eighth inning doesn’t have a clear answer at the moment, at least since Ross Ohlendorf (Ross Ohlendorf!) returned to the disabled list.  It’s belonged to Tanner Scheppers the last week and a half, but he’d been scored on two straight times out and four times out of eight (6.14 ERA), and though he hadn’t pitched since Friday it seemed like a good spot to let Gallardo keep the ball, at least until he’d allowed a baserunner, or maybe two.   

Jeff Banister sent Scheppers out for the eighth, however, and Yasmani Grandal turned his first pitch around, hammering a middle-middle fastball to center at 107.5 miles per hour.  Jimmy Rollins then flew out deep to left, number nine hitter Alberto Callaspo worked a walk, Joc Pederson singled, and suddenly Yasiel Puig stood in as the tying run.

Scheppers struck Puig out and got Adrian Gonzalez to pop out, and the Dodgers rally died.

But I was still thinking about July 2011 as the top of the eighth came to a close.

In the final five Rangers wins in close games that month, Mark Lowe was entrusted with the eighth inning, twice assisted by Yoshinori Tateyama and Arthur Rhodes.

Texas spent that entire month in first place, but the bullpen was obviously in need of an upgrade, more so than any other facet of a roster poised to compete for a second straight World Series.

At the end of July, the Rangers took former first- (2007) and fifth-round (2006) picks to go get Koji Uehara and former third- (2009) and fourth-round (2008) picks to go get Mike Adams, and while Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis ended up working out better for Baltimore than Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland (since traded again) have for San Diego, the Rangers were able to settle their seventh and eighth innings in a big way, at least during the regular season, even as the division lead shrunk to 1.5 games in mid-September.  

It was a great example of good scouting and developing making impact trades possible, and that’s where my head was in the eighth inning last night and still is this morning.  I’m not trying to take anything away from Texas 4, Los Angeles 1, a terrific win, but there’s an opportunity over the next 45 days to get a lot better.

Maybe Neftali Feliz, the man that Lowe and Tateyama and Rhodes were setting up four July’s ago, fits in the eighth once he returns from the disabled list (Scott Lucas reports he worked at 94-97 last night, despite stadium readings of 100), but even if that’s not too much to count on, another lockdown arm in the bullpen would be welcome.  

(Interestingly, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggests “[o]ther teams . . . are interested in [Feliz], according to Major League sources; a trade is not out of the question.”)  

In a different Fox Sports piece, Jeff Sullivan suggests that the Rangers’ bullpen situation may be in need of a boost more than any other contender’s biggest need spot. 

Jon Heyman includes nine relief pitchers among his top 40 trade candidates around the league, the top two of whom, Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Papelbon, are probably not the best matches, for different reasons.  But the next one, Oakland reliever Tyler Clippard, a longtime favorite of mine?  Would love to see him here.

The buyers outweigh the sellers every July because of Wild Card possibilities, and it’s even more pronounced in June, when very few teams have decided it’s time to look to next year.  The Reds and Brewers and A’s have probably made that decision, but the cost in prospects for Chapman is going to be obscene, and the nearly $21 million Papelbon will earn the remainder of this year plus next year if he finishes another 25 games this season would seem to be prohibitive (aside from the makeup issues, I’m not sure if Texas is on the list of the 17 teams he can block trades to — would he accept a deal without some level of assurance that he’d replace Shawn Tolleson in the ninth, or without the Rangers guaranteeing that 2016 option?).

After Billy Beane traded four years of Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and Franklin Barreto, I’m not sure any of us can really spitball what it would take to get Clippard — whom Beane acquired in January for Yunel Escobar — but would Alec Asher or Jerad Eickhoff or Andrew Faulkner plus a reliever off the Rangers’ 40-man roster (Jon Edwards, Phil Klein, Roman Mendez, Spencer Patton) get it done, even this early?  Is that too much?  (Paring the 40 down — or at least trying to avoid adding to it — will be important as guys like Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Derek Holland, and Ryan Rua get closer to coming off the 60-day disabled list.)

I can see Beane asking for Keone Kela or Luke Jackson or Jake Thompson, and of course the answer is no, but what about Will Lamb or Tomas Telis or Hanser Alberto or Michael De Leon?  Tougher calls, but ultimately I’d hope it wouldn’t take one of them as part of a deal.

Where are Beane’s thoughts on Michael Choice?  

I’m only half-joking when I wonder aloud whether Craig Gentry, buried in AAA (and not hitting there, either) with the A’s, might make sense to move back to Texas, which is now in need of a second center fielder.

Now we’re getting ahead of things.  But I’m thinking about the Rangers bullpen a lot right now, and that’s not going to change, even when Feliz and Ohlendorf are ready to get back and even if veteran Jared Burton (6.2-3-1-1-2-7 since joining Round Rock) earns a look.  

I’d planned on writing about Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo this morning, and Eric Jenkins and Mike Matuella, but late in last night’s game I got distracted.

The farm system is deep, the 40-man roster is going to force a few casualties soon, and getting the ball to Shawn Tolleson lately has been an issue.

Add it all up.

The awesomeness of drafting Michael Matuella.

“I can’t think of a better day that I’ve had in my 24 years of scouting with the Texas Rangers.”

So said Rangers Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg — after Day Two of the 2015 amateur draft.

For the first time in his career, Fagg noted, Texas came away with four of the top 20 players off its board.

And it wasn’t as if the club had multiple first-rounders.  The Rangers’ first four picks were in slots 4, 45, 78, and 108.  Yet Dillon Tate, Eric Jenkins, Michael Matuella, and Jake Lemoine were all top 20 talents, as far as the Rangers were concerned.

Coming away with Matuella (whom I discussed a bit in yesterday’s report) at 3.78, minutes after Day Two got underway on Tuesday, stood out the most, considering that, coming into the 2015 season, he was thought of as a strong candidate to be gone before the Rangers’ first pick at fourth overall.  Baseball America wrote, in advance of this draft: “When he’s on the field, Matuella has arguably the best stuff (and control) of any college pitcher in this draft class.” 

Regarding the opportunity to take Matuella, Fagg said: “I’m ecstatic . . . probably one of the best moments of my scouting career . . . he can be a front-of-the-rotation guy . . . has that kind of arm and that kind of stuff.”

If Matuella does come back 100 percent from the Tommy John surgery he had two months ago, and if he isn’t slowed by a lower back condition he pitched through at Duke, there will be plenty of teams wondering why they let Matuella slide.

And frankly, if the Rangers wanted Matuella that badly — they clearly did — I’m sorta blown away that they had the guts to pass on him at 45, and take the high school outfielder Jenkins instead.

You might assume that one factor, and maybe the biggest, that chased teams off of Matuella was his signing bonus demands, given that he was headed for something north of $5 million had he not been sidelined this spring.  

But teams don’t choose players, especially on Day One or Day Two, without knowing generally what it will take to sign them.  That doesn’t guarantee a deal, but the Rangers had to know the parameters of what Matuella and his advisors at CAA (it’s not Scott Boras, as many have reported) are seeking.  

The fascinating part of this is that MLB’s assigned slot value for Matuella is $777,600.  Any amount above that which Texas pays Matuella necessarily costs someone else among the club’s other picks in the first 10 rounds . . . and the Rangers didn’t load up on college seniors in rounds 4 through 10.

A quick look at the Rangers’ 2012 draft, for illustration:

Round  Player Slot value Bonus

1 Lewis Brinson $1,625,000 $1,625,000

1s Joey Gallo $1,324,800 $2,250,000

1s Collin Wiles $954,800 $975,000

2 Jamie Jarmon $601,500 $601,500

2 Nick Williams $515,600 $500,000

3 Pat Cantwell $381,700 $50,000

4 Alec Asher $277,600 $150,000

5 Preston Beck $207,900 $207,900

6 Royce Bolinger $155,900 $50,000

7 Cam Schiller $141,400 $10,000

8 Cody Kendall $132,000 $5,000

9 John Niggli $125,000 $10,000

10 Casey Shiver $125,000 $15,000

Texas wouldn’t have taken Gallo 39th overall without a good idea that, in rounds 3-10, it would be able to sign players for significant amounts below slot.  A key point: If a player doesn’t sign, his slot value is subtracted from the team’s assigned bonus pool.  In other words, taking a player and choosing not to sign him doesn’t help you pile up extra money for another player.  It actually hurts.

Without Cantwell, Asher, Bolinger, Schiller, Kendall, Niggli, and Shiver agreeing to sign for considerably less than their slots called for, Gallo doesn’t get done — and without Texas having confidence in advance on those players’ willingness to take less, Gallo doesn’t even get picked.

So here’s where we are as far as the Rangers’ Day One and Day Two picks go:

Round  Player Slot value

1 Dillon Tate $5,026,500

2 Eric Jenkins $1,360,100

3 Michael Matuella $777,600

4 Jake Lemoine $528,000

5 Chad Smith $395,300

6 Tyler Ferguson $296,000

7 Dylan Moore $221,700

8 Blake Bass $176,300

9 Peter Fairbanks $164,700

10 Leon Byrd $153,700

If Matuella won’t sign for less than several millions — even though he wouldn’t be back on a mound until late next season for Duke, if at all — then Texas will need to create that overage by signing other players on the above list at a discount.

Is Tate willing to take less?

Is Jenkins, who many thought would go higher in the draft than he did?

In 2012, Cantwell and Bolinger and Schiller and Kendall and Niggli were college seniors, with little leverage as a result.  Asher’s medical history impacted his value.  

In 2015, on the other hand, the Rangers took only two college seniors on Day Two — Moore and Bass — and hardly went conservative otherwise, admitting after the day ended that Lemoine (whom they also drafted in 2012 out of high school, before he opted for the University of Houston) was a top 20 player on their board in spite of a shoulder injury that limited him this spring; selecting the projectable 17-year-old Smith in spite of his commitment to the University of Georgia; and taking the Vanderbilt righthander Ferguson, who has dazzling stuff (touching 98 with a power curve) but fought through an awful bout of wildness in 2015.  He has all the reason to go back to school in 2016 to resurrect his value — which would hurt the Rangers in their effort to get Matuella signed.

For what it’s worth, Matuella told reporters yesterday, regarding the likelihood that he’ll sign with the Rangers: “I’m very optimistic.  The Rangers have made it clear to me that they want to sign me and I’m confident we can work something out.”

On top of that, because the Rangers have a track record in situations like this, my own confidence on Texas and Matuella getting something done by the mid-July deadline is high.  I’m fired up.

Said Baseball Prospectus’s Chris Crawford: “I have no idea how the Rangers are going to get these guys signed, but in terms of upside, this class is outstanding.”  

And this should be said: If Texas adds both Michael Matuella and Dillon Tate, each thought (one going into the 2015 season, the other in last couple weeks) to be a strong candidate to be the first player taken in the entire draft, to a system already brimming with high-end talent, it has a great chance to dull the pain, once and for all, for any Rangers fan bemoaning the 13-3 finish to the 2014 season that cost the club the top pick in this draft.

It’s been a really great two days for the hottest team in baseball, both on the field and off. 

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