Confidence, baby. Confidence.

Vernon Wells
stood at the podium at Eddie Deen’s Friday night, making a cameo appearance to
the complete surprise of all but a small handful of the nearly 800 Rangers fans
in attendance.  Among those who had no
idea Wells would be at the Sluggers of the West Awards Dinner that night was
his best friend, Michael Young, who sat stunned as Wells presented him, on
behalf of Major League Baseball’s players as a whole, the Marvin Miller Award
that Young won in October.

 

It was an
award that Young has said means as much to him as any he’s ever won, because it
comes from the players and because it honors both him and his wife, Cristina,
for the people they are and the priorities they place off the field.  The Rangers’ first-class effort to sneak
Wells to the event to make the presentation? 
Very cool.

 

There were
some memorable moments Friday night, an event glued together by the genius
Chuck Morgan and the smooth Eric Nadel, from the impressive acceptance speech
of Derek Holland (Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year) and the
infectious enthusiasm of Jose Vallejo in receiving the club’s first Minor League
Defender of the Year award, to the comedy stylings of Gloria Barron and “Baby
Jim” Sundberg, and of the tag team of Richard Durrett and Chris Davis. 

 

But the two
moments I’ll remember most were T.R. Sullivan’s powerful presentation of the
Player of the Year Award to Josh Hamilton (followed by Young, Ian Kinsler, and
David Murphy helping present Hamilton with the AL Players’ Choice Award), and
Wells honoring Young, on behalf of their peers.

 

Among the
things that Wells, Toronto’s first-rounder in 1997, said about Young, the Jays’
fifth-rounder the same year and his 1997 and 1998 and 1999 teammate and
roommate, was: “He’s the same guy.  He’s
got a little more money now.  But he’s
the same guy.”

 

On Saturday
morning I saw, along with hundreds of you, that same guy.  Watching Young engage the fans the way he did
for a hour, you wouldn’t know if he was a kid who had just established himself
as a big league baseball player, or a veteran of five All-Star games with a
batting title and Gold Glove to his credit.

 

Or someone
who has been through the most challenging off-season of his career, a situation
made worse by a crew of local columnists bent on spreading divisiveness.   

 

He’s the
same guy.  Focused, humble, and always
zeroed in on his responsibilities, to family and to teammates and team and to
Rangers fans and his community.

 

The funny
thing about his career: With all that change, there’s all that stability.

 

Nine minor
leaguers followed Young at the Newberg Report tables at Fan Fest yesterday,
eight pitchers and a catcher, each spending an hour signing autographs and
meeting fans.  First was a trio of
lefthanders, Michael Ballard, Holland,
and Kasey Kiker.  Fellow southpaw Tim
Murphy joined big righties Blake Beavan and Andrew Laughter in the second
group.  We finished with Neftali Feliz,
Michael Main, and Kevin Richardson. 

 

There’s a
quiet confidence they all share, but in different ways. 

 

In Holland, you get this
funky naivete that lies somewhere between “Really? They’re saying that about
me?” and “Hey, I haven’t done anything yet.” 

 

With Feliz,
it’s the smile that never relaxes, not the kind that says “I’ve touched 102 and
you haven’t” but more one that suggests he couldn’t be happier to be in this
organization, with these teammates, blessed with that talent and with that
future.  (Exactly what Juan Dominguez
never showed.) 

 

Murphy and
Kiker have an unmistakable swagger, but it’s not brash.  It’s more Chris Davis than Buck
Showalter. 

 

Beavan, who
arrived in pro ball with a bit too much strut, has toned it down well – but
still knows he can beat you. 

 

Main: Jason Witten.  Quiet
but commanding presence.

 

Ballard and
Laughter have a very unassuming poise. 
Easy to pull for guys like that.

 

And then
there’s Richardson, the lone catcher in the bunch.  He’s 28, closer in age to Young than to the
eight pitchers who joined us.  An
undrafted player, flanked by first-rounders and blue-chippers.  There’s a reason he’s been at Frisco or Oklahoma for the last
four seasons, catching this organization’s bright young pitching
prospects.  The pitchers and the Rangers’
coaches and instructors deserve the most credit for the progress that the
system has made in pitching depth, but don’t overlook Richardson’s
contributions, part of which lies in the confidence he exudes and, I assume,
breeds in the pitchers he catches.  He
will coach in this game one day, if he wants to.

 

There was a
really good vibe at the Ballpark yesterday, a current that sort of ran through
everything that was going on, a palpable energy despite temperatures that
topped out at 40 degrees lower than the day before (and still drew more than
5,000 people, up by 500 from last year). 
You could see it in the players who are fired up that there’s something
really good building here, in the team officials who understand that it’s
moving in the right direction but there’s more work to be done, and in the fans
who know, despite what the columnists and talk show hosts are preaching to the
lowest common denominator, that much better times are around the corner.  And we’re getting really close to that
corner.

 

Thanks to
Chuck Morgan, Taunee Taylor, Dale Petroskey, Sherry Flow, Rose Swenson,
Caroline James, Ashleigh Greathouse, and Karin Morris from the Rangers, Gavin
Spittle and Ben Rogers and Mike Ogulnick and Richie Whitt from 105.3 The Fan,
and of course my friends Eleanor Czakja and Scott Lucas.  Eleanor has a couple dozen photos from
yesterday up at this link:  
http://picasaweb.google.com/EleanorCzajka/TheNewbergReportBootAtRangersFanFest2009#. 
We’ll have more to share from Scott soon.

 

I’d suggest
it’s worth pulling in the next few days for the Mets to get something done with
Oliver Perez, and for the Yankees to re-sign Andy Pettitte, because those two
things could significantly impact what the Rangers could look like right now
and over the next couple years. 

 

But at the
same time there are a bunch of things already in place that we can feel really
good about going forward, and right at the center of that are the character and
stability of Michael Young, and the confidence that a wave of young Rangers
pitchers pack onto the obvious talent that they’re marching toward Arlington
with.

 

Twenty days.

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

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