THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 27, 2008

In one area of the Diamond Club, overlooking a major league baseball field that has rested for nearly four months and has another two months to go, sat Rangers senior advisor Mel Didier, who with T.R. Sullivan has co-authored a fascinating account of his more than 60 years in the game (“Podnuh Let Me Tell You a Story: A Baseball Life”).

A hundred feet away sat 19-year-old Blake Beavan, who has yet to throw a professional pitch.

More than 5,000 Rangers fans gathered at Rangers Ballpark yesterday, some 18 years younger than Beavan and in their Rangers onesies, and others who have been fans of the Great Game since before the 80-year-old Didier pitched and played linebacker and center at LSU.

Even if those weeklong 30-degree days and gray skies hadn’t given way to sunshine and temperatures near 60, as they did, it still would have felt like spring, because the Awards Dinner/FanFest weekend always serves as a marker for me, a signal that baseball is thankfully just around the corner.

It’s obviously not just the fans who feed off a weekend like that. Friday night at Eddie Deen’s and Saturday at the Ballpark provided the setting for lots of the players and coaches to see each other for the first time in months, and for newcomers to be in a room for the first time with their new teammates. And new fans.

Said new Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton: “If not for the fans, we wouldn’t have a job. A lot of guys don’t realize that sometimes. Any time I can go to a FanFest, I get personal with the fans.”

Hamilton did that, along with Ian Kinsler, Marlon Byrd, and Ben Broussard, in a pull-up-a-stool roundtable moderated by Josh Lewin Friday night. He did it again in a half-hour Q&A session with Victor Rojas in the Legends of the Game Museum Saturday morning. And then spent an hour signing autographs in the Diamond Club after that.

Two dozen current Rangers players (not to mention just as many coaches, former Rangers, and club announcers) were on hand to sign autographs on Saturday, including seven prospects stationed at the Newberg Report table: Chris Davis, Johnny Whittleman, Doug Mathis, John Mayberry Jr., Beavan, Taylor Teagarden, and German Duran.

Eleanor Czajka made things perfect all day, as she always does. She’s posted photos.

I used to spend time in this space praising guys like Jeff Zimmerman, Chad Hawkins, Ben Kozlowski, Thomas Diamond, Justin Hatcher, and Nate Gold for the way they conduct themselves with wide-eyed young Rangers fans situated somewhere on the spectrum between speechlessness to giddiness, but there’s no sense in doing that any longer. I don’t know if it’s because I’m now the father of two, or because the organization is actually making character more of a factor in its Draft Day decisions, but it seems like, more than ever, these guys are, almost without exception, really great with kids.

It helps you believe in them as people and root for them as players, and it has the added benefit, on weekends like this, of seeing children who can barely see over the tabletop rewarded for their attachment to the game, and to this team.

There are moments that have an impact even on a 38-year-old. It’s funny how you can meet a player’s *in-laws* and it starts to fill the picture in even more on why he’s one of the best people you’ve ever met, in the game or otherwise.

I’m pretty easy. You could have emailed me the video introduction to the 2008 season that Chuck Morgan and his crew put together for Friday night’s Awards Dinner, and I’d be ready for the season.

But there’s something more gripping about a weekend on which an organization and its fans congregate to share energy, to talk and trade signatures and catch pop-ups and eat ice cream.

From personal experience, I think that’s especially true if you have young kids. But even if you don’t, you’re probably like me in admitting that this is the weekend each year that has the power to make a baseball fan legitimately feel like a kid again.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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