It’s the longest break I’ve had from big league baseball — watching the game, let alone writing about it — since my honeymoon, when Tiger Woods had yet to win a major, Peyton Manning and Tim Duncan weren’t yet in the pros, and neither was a tight end/power forward named Tony Gonzalez, who was once co-Orange County High School Athlete of the Year with Woods. The Rangers hadn’t yet given a minor league contract to a former French National Baseball League righthander named Jeff Zimmerman, or drafted Carlos Pena. And newest 2014 Ranger Neftali Feliz was eight.
While I was away for 14 days, tucked away in the land of traffic circles, roaming cinghiale, enough shades of green to fill a Crayola 64 Count, countryside smoglessness and the type of silence that jolts the senses, and Alessandro Liddi, the Rangers managed to win two games, a nice total over a two-week span if you’re an NFL team, not so much when you’re playing a Major League Baseball schedule.
I missed some things a whole lot while I was gone, others even less than I imagined I would, and I’ve gotta say — waking up to those last three Joe Saunders box scores was only marginally less irritating than experiencing them live would have been.
Pena and Justin Marks arrived in my absence, Miles Mikolas and Adam Rosales returned, Luis Sardinas was rerouted to Round Rock (a fate that has to be imminent for Michael Choice, for a different reason), and Brad Snyder (Korea’s LG Twins) and Cory Burns (Rays) and Saunders (golf course?) checked out, but the collective impact of all those moves would pale exponentially in comparison to the ramifications if A.J. Preller, who has reportedly interviewed for San Diego’s GM vacancy, were to relocate.
This two-week free fall feels less like a slump and more like the baling wire finally busting in about a dozen places. It would be so great if we were watching Shawn Tolleson dealing in AAA and forcing conversations about his readiness for Arlington, as Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor were forcing promotions to join him in Round Rock. If Choice (.324/.375/.699 against lefties) was finding his big league way on the short end of a DH platoon, and Leonys Martin was hitting ninth. If Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross Jr. were never starters, and Saunders was never a Ranger.
But 2014 lit a match under the blueprint early, and while it’s awesome to see guys like Lewis Brinson and Jairo Beras and Ryan Rua and Hanser Alberto and Keone Kela and Alex Claudio — and even Odubel Herrera and Phil Klein and Jon Edwards — catching fire at mid-season so that the farm conversation isn’t solely about Joey Gallo and Chi Chi Gonzalez, a big part of me wishes guys like Martinez and Odor and Choice were not being asked to fill bigger roles than the original game plan called for, a discussion that involves Scheppers and Ross as well.
After 16 years of looking mostly at box scores and team stats to put the picture in the frame as far as Rangers’ prospects’ in-season development is concerned, these last two weeks I was limited to doing that as far as the big club goes, and that was probably a blessing. In a year that has had Prince Fielder and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar and Jim Adduci and Engel Beltre watching helplessly from the sidelines for most of it, I was removed myself — as a fan — from baseball for longer than I had been in over 17 years, and if there were ever a season when that seemed to work out OK, this was it.
While I was taking a break from baseball, so was our nine-year-old Max, though his absence from the Dallas Pelicans’ first-ever World Series wasn’t any more by choice than Chris Davis and Scott Feldman being left off the Rangers’ playoff roster in 2010 or Darren O’Day in 2011. The Pelicans’ inaugural season ended the way it began — reaching a tournament championship, this time emerging from a 76-team field to do so — and though Max wasn’t there for it, he was his teammates’ biggest fan, from 5,500 miles away, and I suppose that could have gone in a different direction (a kid forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines, if you count looking at GameChanger results as “watching”), though the way Max embraces the concept of team I shouldn’t have ever worried about that.
I know he was frustrated not to be able to contribute, to compete, but there will be another World Series, just like there was for Feldman, even if things are less certain for Davis and O’Day, because winning is hard, a subject that Tony Gonzalez may reflect on the day that he’s enshrined in Canton.
We’re still more than a week away from seeing Gallo and Jorge Alfaro in the Futures Game and the Rangers, in this Wild Card era that naturally extends the life of a club’s visions of 162+, are already firmly in the sell-or-hold camp, a development that’s no less shocking than the 968 games that their players have spent on the disabled list to date. The next four weeks are going to be fascinating — in a way that we haven’t experienced around here in more than half a decade — and while I’m a fan of the person and would be happy for Preller if he gets the Padres job, I’ll be grumpy if it happens, especially if it’s before the trade deadline, when his voice and evaluations have historically been so pivotal here.
I’d have been a lot more baseball-grumpy the last two weeks if I’d been in my normal routine rather than in Anghiari, though an awesome end to the Dallas Pelicans’ first season would have been more than a welcome distraction, a category Tyson Chandler’s return fits into as well. In one sense I know there will never be another Pelicans season like this one for my kid and his teammates, and maybe on several levels it will never be the same.
That’s part of the bargain in the zero-sum world of competing in sports, that it doesn’t always work out, not every game and not every year, because when someone wins, someone else doesn’t. And that’s OK. The losses are easier to tolerate when they’re experienced only peripherally, I can confirm, but, yes, dropping 13 of 15 to take a .500 record to completely unfamiliar depths for a franchise that’s grown used to winning hurts more than it did when the franchise, years ago, had a run or two like that in every unfailingly disappointing season.
Still, I’d much rather have it hurt like this than be accustomed to it, like we were a decade ago. Things are broken, but not irreparably. The game plan for 2014 changes, but given the shape this organization is in, at the top and on the farm, the long-term outlook doesn’t change — and the silver lining of a brutal June means the club can focus its scouting efforts in one clear direction the next few weeks.
Hopefully at Preller’s direction.
I’m not used to missing Rangers baseball for two weeks, or to the shape of the standings that I returned to, but I’m not out on the 2014 season at all. There’s plenty to be fired up about as far as the franchise’s instant future is concerned, and while this year’s play will end with the 162 scheduled, there’s development to be done this summer in Arlington and in Frisco and in Myrtle Beach and Surprise, and with scouts dispatched to minor league stadiums all over the place for the next few weeks, there are likely a handful of prospects owned for the moment by other clubs whom Texas will have the opportunity to bring aboard, further feeding the window that will reopen next year, when the big club is healthier, the karma swings back the other way, and the Rangers will once again be the Rangers, a team positioned to win and one that I surely won’t be away from for two weeks.
Thanks for your patience.