The team had just won a 10-inning, 6-5 game on April 19, 2009, then a franchise with one playoff game victory in 37 seasons, yet 18 months away from a World Series that nobody could have imagined would come so quickly.
Moments like that one make us forget, as they should, that this is a business. A business in which an mind-blowing amount of money is tied up, in which different people, in spite of sharing an ultimate goal, have very different jobs to do in pushing toward that goal, and are paid very well to do those jobs. Different jobs, different agendas.
Since that photograph was taken, Vladimir Guerrero arrived, and left. Cliff Lee, same thing. Bengie Molina. Clint Hurdle. Matt Purke hadn’t yet been drafted, hadn’t yet not signed, hadn’t yet been Baseball America Freshman of the Year, hadn’t yet thrown four innings of one-hit ball in TCU’s 2011 season opener to kick off his sophomore, draft-eligible season.
When Michael Young took Kyle Farnsworth deep in the bottom of the ninth on April 19, 2009 and sprinted across 355 feet of baseline, leaping to cover the final five, C.J. Wilson was in the Rangers bullpen, and in fact entered in the seventh inning that day, with Texas behind, 5-3. Neftali Feliz was in the Oklahoma City rotation. Alexi Ogando was in extended spring training in the Dominican Republic. Colby Lewis was in Japan.
Chuck Greenberg hadn’t even met Nolan Ryan.
Take a look at the photo.
Frankie Francisco, gone. Brandon McCarthy, gone. Kris Benson, gone. Hank Blalock, gone. Andruw Jones, gone. Marlon Byrd, gone.
Taylor Teagarden, then in his first full big league season and a key part of the club’s catching tandem, now faces the likelihood that his final option will be exercised before Opening Day, with an assignment to AAA Round Rock, in the shadow of the college town where he’d established himself as a strong bet to carve out at least a steady big league career as a backup catcher.
Chris Davis, also then in his first full big league season and the number five candidate in all of baseball to put together a breakout season (according to 60 big league execs that Peter Gammons talked to in spring training), now also stares at a final option to Round Rock.
There were Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison, the Braves’ number two and number three prospects (per Baseball America) when they came over in the July 2007 trade, one 10 games into a career that’s going to last a very long time (without an option ever being used), the other now an outside candidate to earn a roster spot in camp and more likely to be pitching to Teagarden in April, 200 miles south.
We pretty much knew what Ian Kinsler and David Murphy were, but Josh Hamilton? More than 50 plate appearances into the season, he was hitting .229, with a slug at the time (.354) less than his batting average would be a year later (.359). And Nelson Cruz? Coming off a season in which he had cleared waivers and was outrighted to AAA, 2009 was supposed to be (and was) the year in which he’d turn the corner.
Today, those two could be on the verge of talks that would replace their current contracts with lengthier, more lucrative ones, as could Wilson and Andrus, keeping them in Texas for many more years, even as nearly half of their teammates in that 2009 photo have already moved on.
Things change in baseball, routinely and sometimes significantly, often purely on merit but other times as necessarily dictated by the business of the game.
Say what you will, based on the reporting that’s out there, about how Young and the organization have handled their business with each other this winter, but the consensus from the clubhouse, with something closer to expectation than hope, is that when he arrives today he’s going to be the same teammate, with the same motivations, the same approach, no matter what his role is on the field and whether or not it’s what he wanted it to be.
Kinsler and Andrus are counting on that from him, at least. And that’s what he needs to do.
The slogan has come and gone, but for a World Series club coming off what’s been a noisier winter than anyone hoped for, I think we can all agree that we could use some baseball.
The business aspect of this off-season is largely over with. The front office will probably continue to address roster depth, as it did in spring training a year by adding Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco and others during camp. While Omar Beltre and Craig Gentry and Fabio Castillo probably weren’t going to make strong pushes for Opening Day roster spots, their setbacks affect depth, always a management focus. But for Treanor and Blanco’s teammates, the focus shifts.
The writers aren’t going to let the Michael Young story die, and they shouldn’t. But for the players, cell phone and Twitter season is over. It’s fungo and L-screen season now. What the Rangers need from everyone who wears the uniform, starting with Michael Young, who has always set the tone for his teammates, is to go about the business of preparing to contribute to notches in the win column, because that’s what the game asks baseball players to do.