About four years ago in Surprise, I was mesmerized by a cool moment back on Field 2 between Scott Servais and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, two catchers from different generations standing alone inside 96,000 square feet of field, teaching and learning.
Sunday morning, on that same field, Ron Washington and Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia weren’t alone – Dave Anderson manned the fungo, and Yangervis Solarte and Jim Adduci the right side of the infield – but it was a similar scene.
Anderson had been hitting Profar and Garcia grounders for a few minutes when Wash walked from Field 1 onto Field 2, standing 20 feet behind the two infielders and saying nothing, leaning on his own fungo and watching, silently, for at least a couple dozen reps for each.
And then Wash started to speak.
With his voice and his hands and all that baseball passion.
It was animated but not heated. Pointed but not harsh.
It was awesome.
We were in Arizona with some friends this weekend, suggesting to our kids that every player on the back fields, every one of those 200-plus, was most likely the best player in his Little League, and on his high school team, and if he didn’t turn pro at that point, on his college team as well, aside from those who signed internationally, players good enough that big league organizations were willing to invest millions to go scout them in their homelands and bring them stateside at ages when they weren’t even finished growing.
Yet only a fraction will play in the big leagues. A franchise that bats .150 in getting its farmhands to the Major Leagues will celebrate.
We talked about how hard those players have to work to get better, to move up the chain, to survive, and then we see Wash teaching Profar, and there’s no more that needs to be said.
There’s the best young talent in the Rangers system – or anyone’s – and he’s still learning. Every day.
The angle of the arm coming out of the glove. The follow-through on the throw to first. The first step to the backhand side on a double play ground ball.
Fifty feet away from Wash and Profar and Garcia, there were Nick Tepesch and Derek Lowe and Michael Kirkman throwing bullpens, side by side, three contestants for one rotation spot staying on the same schedule, one that could have each on the mound tomorrow, that is, if Texas doesn’t first trade for Dodgers lefthander Chris Capuano (seven scoreless innings in a AAA game yesterday, three hits, 11 strikeouts, with scouts from Texas, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland on hand).
Fanned out in different directions, there were six other diamonds, not counting the stadium, and a conditioning field, and a weight room, and a clubhouse that includes rooms where instruction goes on every day in spring training. At any given time, there could be work getting done in every one of those places, including Mike Maddux’s kid brother Greg throwing batting practice to the big league pitching staff on Field 1.
But at that moment on Sunday morning, while the older Maddux watched Tepesch and Lowe and Kirkman get very important work in, Ron Washington had his attention somewhere else, teaching the best prospect in baseball ways to be better.
Later that day, while the Rangers hosted the Reds in the stadium on the back end of a weekend home-and-home, off behind the snow cone kiosk and the merry-go-round in one of four netted batting cages, shortly after Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson did very bad things to pitched baseballs that make onlooking kids (and their dads) laugh, Mike Olt hit baseballs for half an hour, flips and no-stride and tee work, while Scott Coolbaugh and Justin Mashore taught.
Within a year or two, Olt will have more big league at-bats than the 432 Coolbaugh amassed. The 33 at-bats he has now are already 33 more than what Mashore got. But the elite prospect learns.
That night under the lights, Olt had no chance in an at-bat against 21-year-old righty Luke Jackson. Gallo, who hit a ball unimaginably far in a big league spring training game off big league righthander Esmailin Caridad a week earlier, struggled Sunday night against Rangers hurlers C.J. Edwards and Yohander Mendez and Kelvin Vasquez, none of whom has reached a full-season Class A squad yet. Cody Buckel couldn’t find the strike zone.
But Kyle Castro, after missing all of 2012 due to an elbow injury, found it over and over, filthily. Remember the name.
The battle between catcher Jorge Alfaro (home team) and shortstop Luis Sardinas (visitors) went on all night, and they each won several rounds.
They didn’t win them all. It’s a game of failure.
And learning how to be better next time. Adjusting.
Rangers coaches, including the manager, will tell you Craig Gentry may be the star of camp. He’s finding a new level.
Gentry will turn 30 later this year.
It’s a game of failure, and if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, or getting released.
Back to the hometown where you were the best, hands down.
Greg Maddux tweeted this morning: “Ron Washington and my bro Mike both have the gift to lead and the players are lucky to have a chance to learn from them.”
Profar and Olt came into camp as candidates to make the Opening Day roster. Instead, for different reasons, they’ll open in Round Rock.
But what’s not different about their situations, or Craig Gentry’s or Joey Gallo’s or Kyle Castro’s, is that these guys are always learning how to play baseball, on back fields and in cages and in clubhouses where nobody’s broadcasting what’s going on, and that’s just as true for the players on the fringes of the organization, battling with every rep to hang onto a professional career that’s barely gotten underway, as it is for the consensus top prospect in the game.