The time changed this morning in Arlington, but not in Surprise, and there’s a parallel to be drawn, something sort of fitting, as far as this baseball team is concerned.
As stunning as the turn of events at Ballpark Way was on Friday, seemingly coming out of nowhere to upset the balance of what had appeared out in the open to be a healthy and united leadership group, you wouldn’t have known there’d been a front office shakeup at all if you’d been on the back fields in Surprise the next morning. Either that, or maybe nobody had bothered to tell a couple hundred guys in uniform.
While Derek Holland was out on the mound on Nolan Ryan Field very early on Saturday, throwing live BP, I’m sure back in the clubhouse the manager and a number of the rest of the players were asked to react with comment on the departure of Chuck Greenberg. Afterwards, methodically, as usual, they all started filing out onto the back fields — the manager and players, that is, but no reporters — and while I wondered if there were any new front office developments brewing that had kept the press indoors, the body language and expressions on the faces of the players did nothing to fuel any suspicions. It’s as if they were either oblivious to all the drama that had played out over the last 32 hours or, more likely, dismissive of it.
None of their business, on the one hand, and nothing they could do about it, on the other. And maybe most importantly, whatever was happening in the front office had no effect on the business the players have to take care of on the field and thus wasn’t a distraction, and they weren’t going to let it become one. A cloudy situation for the franchise, maybe, but not a cloud that’s going to hang over the players. Maybe every team in baseball, every team in pro sports, is this focused. (Not true.) Regardless, this one is, probably in part because the players here have had lots of practice at it, but also because that’s how this bunch seems to be wired.
I was here a year ago when Ron Washington made his own stunning announcement, and after the players all filed in to support him from the back of the room during his press conference, on their own, it was right back to business, putting in the work to get ready for what would be a World Series season.
It’s a tight-knit ballclub, but not wound tight at all. It was remarkable to me that, just as Elvis and Michael and Josh were cutting up during BP yesterday morning, Adrian Beltre and Yorvit Torrealba and Mike Napoli were right there with them. I suppose the fraternity of the big leagues is such that these guys all know each other from years of doing battle, but there’s something striking about how loose this club is, not only among the old guard but the newcomers as well. There’s a hierarchy, no doubt, but at least from the outside you get the sense that there’s no Nuschler to tiptoe around if you’re a rookie, no initiation period if you’ve been the enemy for years and are just now joining the ranks.
Most of the fans I visited with yesterday talked about how being in Arizona, in the tranquility of Surprise, was the perfect distraction from all the extracurriculars going on with the franchise right now. Maybe that’s part of it. I feel it, too. No talk shows, no unplugged sportscasts. Just the game, back with us after a handful of months of drydock, and not much static to divert attention from the artistry of Beltre taking ground balls, or Chris Davis putting on a display of that easy, easy power that you just can’t teach.
Not everything was the same as always. Holland and Andrus look bigger — in a good way — and Napoli seems to be in better shape, too, not as big as I remember him with the Angels (maybe it’s the longer hair). Before taking their own BP cuts, Young and Hamilton hit fungoes to Ian Kinsler and Beltre, Young trying to hit some left-handed and Hamilton trying desperately to get one by Beltre (and trying, almost unsuccessfully, to avoid decapitating BP pitcher Bobby Jones).
Beltre, incidentally, could see his first game action tomorrow.
Young taking his round of BP in a group with Hamilton and Nelson Cruz is different. But it didn’t seem all that out of place.
I think it’s going to be a big year for Young, who seems to have another gear whenever he feels like he’s sold short.
A very unimportant note: I don’t remember Thad Bosley being that tall when he played.
Jose Julio Ruiz is going to have to put together an impressive season in order to be with the organization a year from now, but man, there’s something there. You can see it.
But take those last two sentences and apply them to Davis, and triple it. There’s pressure on him in 2011, but he’s not carrying himself as if there is, and while having options on a player benefits a club, running out of them benefits the player, and he knows that he should be a big leaguer in 2012. And maybe sooner. Somewhere. He’s just not the type of player who 30 teams will allow to get outrighted.
Saturday was Day One of full-squad workouts on the minor league side, and there are 166 players suited up, more than at any other time in Scott Servais’s six camps overseeing the organization’s farm system. One of them, Leonel De Los Santos, is a full-time pitcher now, and a bit to my surprise, he looks like one. There was never a question about Macumba’s arm strength, but he looked at times like his 170-pound frame was swimming in his catcher’s gear over his first four years in the system. He’s not all that much smaller than Pedro Strop, though, and I’m very interested to see how this works out, especially given the early reviews (from Jason Parks, for instance).
The beta on outfielder Jordan Akins is substantial. Built like a young Juan Gonzalez, he’s spectacularly raw, but what he lacks in polish he oozes in projection.
Jurickson Profar: Just the opposite. So polished. Not tremendously projectable. You can’t take your eyes off him.
The players have their names on their backs, so it’s not a problem that some uniform numbers have been given to as many as three different players, but it still seems like a cruel joke that both Robbie Erlin and Robbie Ross have been issued the same number (57).
But righthander David Perez is the only 71 (at least until catcher Jose Felix returns from big league camp), and he was the best thing I saw in camp at Fall Instructs and it won’t surprise me if I come away with the same conclusion this week.
Don’t forget tomorrow night’s roundtable event in Surprise Stadium, which for now includes Eric Nadel, Tom Grieve, and John Rhadigan as our Q&A guests. They’ll be seated on top of the first base dugout, and we’ll have free seating in the lower bowl right above the dugout. We get rolling right at 6 p.m. tomorrow evening, so don’t be late. The event should last about an hour. Bring as many folks as you’d like.
In the meantime, lefthander Zach Phillips, righthander Fabio Castillo, and outfielder Engel Beltre have been optioned and thus slide west a couple hundred yards to the minor league fields (along, procedurally with righthander Wilmer Font, recovering from Tommy John surgery), while righthander Brett Tomko trades places with them, getting an official non-roster invite to big league camp. He’s slated to pitch today as the Rangers host the Giants in a Surprise sellout, following Tommy Hunter, Arthur Rhodes, and Darren O’Day, and preceding Mark Lowe, whose audition as Neftali Feliz’s momentary ninth-inning understudy continues.
It’s spring training business as usual, in Surprise Stadium and on Nolan Ryan Field and down a ways around the Eagle’s Nest, and the obvious impression you get that every single man in uniform is trea
ting each day that way, in spite of the events dominating the Rangers headlines this weekend, sets an example that’s pretty easy to follow right now.
Players and managers and GM’s and CEO’s come and go.
Chan Ho Park and Rich Harden were here too long, Jeff Zimmerman and Cliff Lee not nearly long enough. But they all come and go.
I’ll be on the back fields in minutes, expecting to see Chris Davis take BP and Adrian Beltre take ground balls, hoping to catch Macumba on a mound, Jorge Alfaro in the cage, Robbie Erlin in a tracking session, Jurickson being Jurickson. Wondering if Michael Thomas is still part of the organization, but also knowing that if he’s not, it doesn’t really change the picture on the Salty trade and won’t be something I give much of a second thought to.
Bobby Reed’s Rangers career ended before he got to Arlington, John Dettmer’s basically did, and so did Shawn Gallagher’s and Spike Lundberg’s, and I’d rather not talk about John Danks. There have been disappointments when players I pulled for didn’t make it in Texas, but it never made me any less of a Rangers fan.
I got over Pudge’s first departure and the compound fracture of Ruben Mateo’s career arc, and surviving the trades of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and the reality that they didn’t want to continue playing for my team) turned out to be pretty easy sledding.
One day Josh Hamilton will no longer play for Texas, and Elvis Andrus, too, but I’ll still be around. (I almost said Eric Nadel and Chuck Morgan, but since they’ll both outlive all of us those are bad examples.)
I’m probably like lots of you in that I rely on sports, and always have, as a diversion, an escape from the problems and stress points that interfere with day-to-day life, with health and family and work and whatever else.
But then there are those reminders we didn’t ask for, popping up more often than we’d like, that those same problems exist and sometimes interfere with the teams and seasons we look to for some degree of refuge. Teams may exist for the fans, not just as a marketing pitch but philosophically, but they’re big business for many folks who devote their own day-to-day to making them run and hoping to make them win. Very big business.
Very big business where the problems get aired out very publicly.
I respect Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg, just as I respect Jon Daniels and Michael Young, and the last thing I wanted to believe was that there were disconnects between them, issues that they couldn’t work out, clashes that we haven’t exactly had ringside seats for but that still played out, not fully but at least in part, in public.
Those men have been the faces of the franchise, the reigning American League champion franchise, that I have cared so much about for a lifetime, long before any of them were part of the Rangers family and long after they will have moved on from the organization.
But Ryan is still here, and that’s massively important.
Some of what Greenberg helped achieve in his seven months here will last a long time.
And while Daniels and Young may not have rebuilt bridges, this team is better with both of them here. I’d like to think that they both agree with that, but if not, so be it.
I hate it that things aren’t as stable as we’d all hope for them to be, but this is still my team, and that’s the one thing in all of this that I know, with 100 percent faith, will not change.