These last few days have been (and the next few will be) consumed
by TROT COFFEY installments and Newberg Report Night updates, and so I hope you’ll
accept my apologies for the lack of full-scale reports lately. From a baseball standpoint, I’m a slave to
the calendar this time of year.
But I wanted to take a couple minutes to talk about swagger,
reaching back for a couple things we’d touched on in the past.
I wrote on October 13: “Jon
Daniels commented late last week, in the context of what the club might be
looking for in its new pitching coach, that one thing he’d like to see is a
coach who might be able to help Texas pitchers develop the same confidence -
even swagger – that the hitters always have here.”
Is there any question who has the swagger on this team right
now? For the first time in decades, the
hitters don’t have it. And maybe for the
first time ever, the pitching staff does.
Credit Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux for helping to instill it, but it’s
the pitchers themselves who are bringing it every night.
It’s evident not only in Kevin Millwood, who leads in a
Michael Young sort of way, and the physically imposing Frankie Francisco, but also
in the even-keeled dominance of Scott Feldman, C.J. Wilson, Darren O’Day, and
Jason Grilli, the calm confidence that Dustin Nippert and Doug Mathis exhibit
every time they’re asked to step in on what amounts to an emergency basis, the
poise and fight that Tommy Hunter takes to the hill every single time it’s his
turn, and this:
(Hat tip to the great Drew Sheppard.)
We all hope that the offense can reach back and regain some
semblance of what it’s capable of. But the
reason this season is where it is today, obviously, is because of the guys who
take the ball and climb that hill and, each in his own way, bring a brand of
fight, a swagger that has completely redefined this team.
But they’re not all alone, of course.
Which brings me to number two, and something I wrote on
October 5, 2007, just over two months after Texas had acquired Elvis Andrus and before he’d
even gotten out of Class A:
“For some players, the
ball just sounds different coming off their bat. Some can spin a breaking ball in such a way
that you know the hitter has no chance before the pitch is halfway to the
plate. There are others, like Andrus, who
you can tell are different simply by how they carry themselves. I’m struggling as to how to explain it. It’s not really a swagger that Andrus has. It’s more of a comfortable magnetism. He reminds me of a feature tailback, or a
really good cover corner, with that smile that says he knows he’s going to beat
you more often than not. He’s going to
be a leader.”
I said then that’s it not really a swagger that Andrus has, and
I’ll stand by that. He’ll have it within
a year or two, but for now, everything else about him is ahead of his
time. After his first base hit tonight, I
had it in my mind that I was going to write: “There are two players in this
lineup who can be counted on to square up and stay inside the ball more often
than not: its oldest regular, and its youngest.”
Elvis Andrus is already on the very short list of my
favorite players, not just in baseball but in all of sports, because of what he’s
capable of, how often he comes through and does what the game situation calls
for, and the smoothness and dependability and electricity he feeds this thing -
at age 20. I felt this way about Troy Aikman when he was
a rookie. There’s a very long career
ahead for this kid, a possibly extraordinary career, and it’s going to be in my
It stuns me – and I know John Schuerholz was about to relinquish
his GM seat and wanted to make one last run for a ring – but it stuns me that the
Braves were willing to trade that kid.
Thank goodness they were.
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(c) Jamey Newberg