My ability to avoid knee-jerking over the last half dozen years has improved from 30-grade to maybe 60. I’ll still get caught up in win streak, and a bullpen meltdown will still punch me in the gut, but I’ve gotten a little better about taming the overreaction impulse.
That said . . . .
I’ve really hated these last two losses.
I’ve hated them because Texas is now 11-22 against its own division — and that includes a winning record (4-2) against Houston.
I’ve hated them because my wish for failure to descend upon the sorry Angels franchise knows no season.
I’ve hated these last two because when you’re a good baseball team but don’t enforce any sort of home field advantage, that’s deflating.
Texas has the second-worst home record in baseball. And the best road record.
I hate trying to make any sense out of that.
Rotation regression, sickly offense, 11.1 innings needed in these last two nights out of the bottom of the pen.
Albert Pujols with that 35- or 39-year-old giggle after sliding past a badly executed Rougned Odor tag. I didn’t like that.
Even in a year when it’s Houston who’s the class of the division, or Oakland, or (as anticipated this winter) Seattle, and especially when it’s Texas, I will always celebrate Angels losses more than anyone’s.
When an LA win comes at the expense of the Rangers — in Arlington — man, I really hate those.
A win is a win but they take on added importance in July — not because of any knee-jerk meter, but because these are the weeks when teams decide, because of the procedure set forth by Major League Rule 10(e)(1), how they want to alter their roster and how they might line up with other teams whose objectives differ. Those decisions help shape the next few months for some teams, the next few years for others.
The Rangers are 41-41, still just 2.5 games out of the Wild Card Game, and even though they’d need to displace five teams at this point that means Josh Boyd is probably having to dispatch part of his crew to Miller Park and O.co Coliseum, and others to Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo or ONEOK Field in Tulsa, because Yovani Gallardo — the stingiest pitcher in the American League over the last eight weeks (1.56 ERA, .203/.256/.264, averaging one out in the seventh) — has to be worth more today on the trade market, no matter how many ace-level pitchers could be available, than the supplemental first-rounder the Rangers will collect if they tender him a qualifying offer with the expectation that someone else will offer him more years and dollars than they would, given what this rotation projects to look like next year, and he’ll take the bigger deal in lieu of one season here.
And man, there are lots of contending teams believed to be hungry at first base.
But I’d rather imagine Boyd’s scouts sitting on Carlos Gomez and Will Smith, and on Tyler Clippard. And penciling Gallardo in every fifth day for the next three months.
When you’re 41-41, a good week away from being right back in the Wild Card picture yet difficult to define, it’s hard to avoid hating bad July losses. July’s are better when they clarify what you are and what you need — not when they take the picture further out of focus.
Whether the Rangers are buying or selling, they need to look for ways to balance the handedness of the lineup — not only now (the club is hitting .232/.296/.376 against lefties) but going forward as well, because Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams all hit from the left side, too.
There’s reason to think about trading some left-handed hitting, and reason to believe that Cole Hamels may be worth discussing whether you win 10 of your next 12 or lose 10 of 12, because Yu Darvish will be in this rotation in 2016 and 2017 (unless he wins the Cy Young next year) and that’s a window that we shouldn’t forget about.
Nobody wants a July on the field like last year’s, and while Joakim Soria for Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel (the latter of whom helped bring Gallardo here) was awesome, I’m hoping not to have to write about Gallardo or Mitch Moreland moving on later this month, for several reasons, not the least of which is it would likely mean there’s an ugly skid ahead.
I hate the last two games for making me think about that.
Kick the Angels’ tail tonight.
He’s the author of the greatest moment in franchise history, and emblematic of the organization’s greatest run.
I hate writing this one.
Hours after his manager told reporters he wouldn’t be part of the bullpen corps called on to protect a lead, and less than an hour after he’d been called on keep other Texas relievers from having to pitch in a game they trailed 8-1 after six, Neftali Feliz threw what could end up being his final two innings as a Ranger.
He didn’t finish the game, as he’d done 169 times in the regular season (including a dozen times early this year) and playoffs, and he didn’t start the game, as he’d done seven times in 2012 before he was shut down with an elbow injury. Feliz came to pitch the seventh inning of a game his team trailed by seven runs. And then was designated for assignment.
His final act as a Ranger, perhaps: Getting David Freese to ground into an inning-ending double play with a two-strike count.
There’s no need to say more about that, and I’m not sure I could summon it up, anyway.
Irony. Opening an old wound. Poetic injustice.
Call it what you want. It was a sports-sad moment of the most brutal proportions, only serving to feed the ignominy of the post-game DFA.
Feliz went from possibly the least-heralded piece coming to Texas in the July 2007 Mark Teixeira trade (Baseball America’s Braves prospect rankings before that season: Jarrod Saltalamacchia , Elvis Andrus , Matt Harrison , Beau Jones , Feliz ) — a 19-year-old with a mere 56.1 short-season innings stateside whom Rangers Senior Director of Baseball Operations Don Welke recalled scouting a year earlier for the Phillies — to a top 10 prospect in all of baseball less than a year and a half later.
On June 25, 2009, Texas made a decision that adrenalized a fan base, shifting Feliz from the AAA Oklahoma City rotation to the bullpen with an obvious purpose. Over the next five weeks, he held AAA opponents to a .169/.210/.322 clip, tripping triple digits as he fanned 20 hitters in 16.2 innings, walking three.
The Rangers purchased his contract on August 2, 2009. The announcement was made while Jon Daniels spoke to our group during the Newberg Report Night Q&A.
Feliz set Frankie Francisco up over the final two months, and was even deadlier against AL hitters than he had been in the Pacific Coast League. Over 31 innings, he punched out 39 and walked eight, limiting hitters to an embarrassing .124/.207/.210 slash line.
Days into the following season — the first World Series season — Feliz replaced Francisco as closer, and it seemed like Texas had its ninth inning figured out for the next hundred years.
A steady rise to dominance for a player, and his team, in virtual lockstep.
October 22, 2010: The best.
October 27, 2011: Not the best.
The Rangers made Feliz a starting pitcher in 2012, and it just didn’t seem like a great fit. People 1000 times closer to Feliz than I would ever be insist that he had the conviction needed to make the transition, even if the slumped-shoulders vibe he gave off seemed to raise that exact question. And then there was the breaking ball command and consistency.
It didn’t work, for whatever reason(s), and he got hurt.
He never really came back.
You look at Feliz’s 2014 numbers, when he posted a 1.99 ERA, held opponents to a .183/.256/.330 slash, and saved 13 games in 14 tries — even though he didn’t make his season debut until a year ago today — and I suppose there was reason to believe he was back to being an effective, dependable late reliever, even if the velocity hadn’t fully come back and the strikeout numbers were way down.
I’m not sure I really trusted him last summer, though, and I’ll admit those numbers shocked me when I looked them back up today.
Feliz started his 2015 Rangers season as the club’s closer. He finished it at the midpoint on the club’s schedule, classified as a reliever who wouldn’t be counted on to protect leads, and then dropped from the roster altogether.
The rules give Texas 10 days to trade Feliz, release him, or to place him on waivers and, if he clears, outright his contract to the minor leagues.
There are doubts as to whether another team would choose to assume the final $2 million on his 2015 contract (and then go to arbitration with Feliz this winter), but if at least one team is so interested and worries that there could be others, we could see Feliz traded. It sounds as if that’s the Rangers’ preference. If he were to hit the waiver wire and clear, I think he has enough service time to decline an outright assignment, but by doing so I wonder if he’d forfeit the balance of his 2015 contract.
A bunch of variables there, but the bottom line is it seems that Texas will attempt to trade Feliz in the next week or so.
He’s 27, the age when you start wondering about a tailback’s shelf life.
Not a relief pitcher’s.
Feliz’s departure won’t close the book on an era any more than his arrival ushered it in. While the rise of the pitcher and his team went seemingly hand in hand, nobody wants to equate the fall of one to the fall of the other, and nobody should. The team and organization are in good shape, though Feliz probably won’t be part of things going forward.
Texas decided that, in order to move forward, it was better off devoting Feliz’s roster spot to someone else, in this case Harrison, who arrived with him eight years ago from Atlanta and who will start for Texas on Tuesday.
The odds were long on Harrison coming back at all. There’s no telling yet whether his stuff, which hasn’t fully returned, will play up enough against big league hitters to complete the story happily.
The odds were better as far as Feliz’s return was concerned, and maybe he’ll regain form once again and pitch late in games on contending teams and be feared.
It just probably won’t be here.
I’m sad about that, but while we are given great moments by sports and devastating ones, too, there are also the anti-climactic moments that slump our shoulders, and this is one of them.
Neftali Feliz moves on, and so do the Rangers.
I can’t say it’s a shocking development, but it’s a really sad thing, and I hate that this had to be written.
As media reports encourage added confidence that the Cowboys will get Dez done and that the Mavericks are closing in on DeAndre, the doors swing wide open today for baseball teams to sign potential impact players, though they’re the type you might read about only in Scott’s reports for the next few years.
The 2015-16 international signing period opens today, allowing clubs to come to terms with 16-year-olds (generally speaking) who reside outside the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico — that is, players not subject to the June draft, with some restrictions.
Baseball America reports that the Rangers have a $2.1 million deal with Dominican switch-hitting center fielder Leodys Taveras, a player it ranks as the number three overall prospect in this year’s international class. Jesse Sanchez (MLB.com) and Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) confirm the reported bonus.
BA’s Ben Badler tweets that Taveras (whose cousin Willy played in the big leagues) has “a sweet swing and a chance to have five average to plus tools. He’s a good athlete with a well-balanced combination of speed, arm strength, and projectable power.” Some projected this spring that it would take $3 million to sign the 16-year-old.
The Rangers have also signed Venezuelan outfielder Miguel Aparicio, according to BA. Sanchez reports that the left-handed Aparicio gets $500,000.
Teams are assigned bonus pools that, similar to the June draft, give the worst team from the previous season the most to spend, and the best team the least. There are taxes assessed on teams exceeding their pool, but more significantly those teams are prohibited from paying more than $300,000 to any pool-eligible players for the next two years. Five teams exceeded their pools in 2014-15 and thus are limited accordingly this year and next: the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.
Texas blew past its $1.9 million pool in the 2013-14 signing period, spending over $8 million on righthander Marcos Diplan, shortstops Yeyson Yrizarri and Michael De Leon, outfielder Jose Almonte, and others — but that year the penalty only restricted spending for one following season.
This year the Rangers, coming off the third-worst record in the league, are allotted $4,586,600 to spend internationally.
(Teams can trade for up to an additional 50 percent of their pool by acquiring other teams’ international slots, but I’ve seen no reports that Texas made any such deals, which could conceivably increase its pool to as much as $6,879,900. Notably, the five above-mentioned teams who are basically on the sidelines this year are able to trade their international slots . . . even though they can’t use them to sign any players for more than $300,000.)
Over the past couple months the Rangers have also been tied to Dominican outfielder Jonathan Sierra, Dominican middle infielder Cristian Inoa, and Mexican League pitcher Rodolfo Garcia, as well as Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox, though Fox reportedly has a $6 million deal this morning with San Francisco.
In most cases these players will develop in relative obscurity for a couple years, but recognize that Diplan, for instance, signed with Texas two years ago today for $1.3 million — and after spending 2014 with the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League club and not even showing stateside other than at spring training and fall instructs, he keyed the Rangers’ deal with Milwaukee this past January for Yovani Gallardo.
This is an extremely important day as far as the pipeline is concerned.
Stay tuned to Scott’s reports and mine for any updates.
When the season started, if you’d told me that in the last few days of June, Dez Bryant would rifle a one-hop shot off my glove at third base and the Texas Rangers would be optioning Joey Gallo to AAA Round Rock to make way for the re-activation of Josh Hamilton, I’m not sure which of three or four parts of that I’d have believed least.
Gallo, whose penultimate big league act was his first big league triple, nestled Monday night neatly between strikeout swinging, strikeout looking, and strikeout looking on one end and strikeout swinging on the other — sort of a cool bookend to his Rangers debut 27 nights earlier, when he singled, doubled, and homered (and fanned) — was not supposed to get to Arlington in 2015, at least not before September. He did so only because Adrian Beltre injured himself to the point at which the club took him away from Jeff Banister for at least two weeks, which ended up being slightly more than three.
Reaching down to Frisco to get the 21-year-old Gallo wasn’t the same as Texas bringing 20-year-old Rougned Odor up from the RoughRiders a year and three weeks earlier. Gallo was an injury reinforcement, with no expectations that his stay would outlast Beltre’s deactivation (though it did). Odor, on the other hand, was replacing the 4A tandem of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy at second base.
The dual objectives — helping the big league club and advancing a player’s own development — don’t always line up, but they did last year for Odor, whom the baseball operations group believed was the organization’s best option at second base as of May 8, when the club was sitting at .500, and whom the club stuck with even when, 11 games into his debut, he was hitting .194/.219/.290 in 33 trips, without a single walk. The Rangers felt the inevitable struggles wouldn’t adversely affect the kid, who’d been hitting .279/.314/.450 in Frisco (after .306/.354/.530 with the Riders the summer before in a similar number of plate appearances) and whose mental game was considered as much a strength as his ability with the bat and glove.
Texas also felt good about Gallo (.314/.425/.636 at Frisco, up from his .232/.334/.524 debut with that club last summer), not just from a possible production standpoint but also in terms of how he’d take an inevitable dose of failure and benefit from it. The pile of strikeouts was assured, and nobody is Beltre’s equal at third base, but the club felt it could address those dual objectives by giving Gallo a brief taste of the big leagues in June.
As it turns out, Gallo struck out at a crazy rate (43 times in 98 trips) but did plenty of damage as well, providing five home runs — though none in the 42 plate appearances that followed his bomb off Clayton Kershaw, a span that included an obscene 24 strikeouts — and an extended glimpse at the unmistakable added presence that he will eventually give this lineup. His work at third base was more than acceptable, and he was less raw than you might have expected when assigned left field.
It was a productive stay for Gallo, who probably helped Texas win more games than he cost them.
Interestingly, when Gallo arrived, Odor had played his way back to the minor leagues. It wasn’t until June 15, when Delino DeShields landed on the disabled list, that Texas made Odor and Gallo teammates for the first time since Odor joined the organization in 2011 and Gallo in 2012. Odor had followed a .144/.252/.233 run (seven walks and 25 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances) to start the big league season by hitting .352/.426/.639 (12 walks and 10 strikeouts in 124 plate appearances) in his first-ever assignment to AAA, and by all accounts locking in defensively, which was just as important.
Odor had earned his way back to the big leagues, and since his return two weeks ago he’s hit .391/.453/.587, with five walks and just four strikeouts in 53 trips, and playing a much more consistent second base than he’d shown early in the season. The difference between April/May Odor and what we’re seeing now is staggering.
The demotion of Odor worked out very well, particularly in terms of that player development objective. And the Rangers more than survived his absence, going 21-13 while he was at Round Rock.
There’s probably a segment of fans disappointed that Gallo was shipped out yesterday, but this is absolutely the right move. He can take with him plenty of confidence that he can compete and contribute at the big league level, and a clear punch list of the things he needs to work on. His .218/.306/.448 slash line over his first 98 big league trips can’t be too far off from the most optimistic projections, but working on his two-strike approach — in 55 plate appearances in which the count went to two strikes, he managed one hit (a double) while fanning 43 times — will be high on the to-do list.
With Beltre back and now Hamilton joining him — and DeShields likely days away from his own return — the choices would have been to have Gallo as a pinch-hitting weapon and spot starter, or get him back to the farm where he can see pitches and get defensive reps every single day and work on the things he now knows he needs to work on.
Like Odor two months ago, Gallo is now a AAA player for the first time, a little bit out of order. He had to expect this — certainly far more than Odor could have anticipated his own return to the farm — and all expectations are that he’ll go to Round Rock with exactly the right mindset, like Odor did in May: To work his tail off to adjust his approach, continue to develop, and force his way back.
Leonys Martin could be next, but that’s a topic for another day. There’s still a moment or two many nights when he takes a run off the board just as Gallo might have put one on, but Texas needs to find a way to get Martin going offensively. We’re talking now about more than 1,400 big league plate appearances, and the 27-year-old is regressing.
Another time on that.
And on the Angels’ latest gift to fill all your sports-schadenfreude needs, days before they come to Arlington to face the Rangers and the number five hitter that they paid to go away . . . leaving them in need of a left fielder that can produce.
Los Angeles won’t face Gallo this weekend, but will for years. After the Angels signed C.J. Wilson, providing Texas with the compensatory draft pick that it used to take Gallo and sign him, the slugger has done nothing but meet every expectation that he didn’t knock out of the park. And that includes the June he spent in Arlington. The acceleration of experience can be invaluable.
One veteran Rangers player said of Gallo yesterday: “I believe he’s going to be a superstar in the big leagues. I don’t think he’ll stay in the minors very long.”
That was Adrian Beltre, who doesn’t hand compliments out like that — especially publicly — all that freely.
About the player who will likely replace him at third base.
Joey Gallo made a big impression in his four weeks in the Major Leagues. At times a majestically big impression. He now goes back to the minor leagues, as expected, and while procedurally this counts as a demotion, it’s less so than the one Rougned Odor prompted and took on. Gallo is moving down as far as the affiliate stack goes, but he moved forward over this last month, and July brings a new opportunity and challenge for him to advance even further as a ballplayer, having been introduced in high definition not only to the adjustments he needs to make, but also to the things he can absolutely do to help a big league team win games. Projection gives way to reality.
Prospect handbook write-ups are one thing. Big league box scores, highlight reels, and intentional walks, and comments from a veteran headed for the Hall of Fame, are another.
I’m at an age at which the great experiences are mostly the ones your kids get to have, and getting to share those — to experience the kids experiencing the moments — is enough. Those are awesome.
But every once in a while, if you’re lucky, there’s the other kind, too.
I loved playing the game more than I can describe. I mean, I loved it. Craved it. Depended on it.
All day long all summer as a little kid. In a uniform (Staubach’s number 12, always) after that. Every chance I got, until the last time, more than 20 years ago.
When Ben Rogers invited me a couple weeks ago to play in the Dirk Nowitzki Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game, there was about a three-second adrenaline rush before I realized we had plans to be out of town to see family that weekend. Ben calmly suggested I ought to make a phone call, just to see if there was any leeway on that. I did. Ginger told me I should stay back for this, and Max too — she knew how much it would mean to me, and him. She’s awesome.
I got some BP in with the great Mike Tovar early in the week, and ripped up my bottom hand in three places. Whether it was bad mechanics or overgrip or just a matter of hands that had gotten used to two decades of not swinging at hardballs, I’m not sure, but it led to a first-ever trip to REI (I’m available to endorse Moleskin) and a couple days of rest on the hands before Friday’s Heroes practice, where I got some cuts in.
I knew from the minute I accepted Ben’s invite that the cost of agreeing to play in the Heroes Game was a 120-proof concoction of embarrassment and injury, which was totally acceptable. I’d have roughly forever to recover from this one-time shot.
Back at the ballpark late Saturday afternoon, I walked across the outfield to the right field corner en route to the visitor’s clubhouse as the 10,000 seats were already starting to fill. Waiting in the clubhouse, in a locker (next to Eduardo Najera’s) with my name on it — which was silly-cool itself — was a jersey, in my size. A pair of baseball pants, in my size. Two caps, in my size. A baseball belt and a pair of socks and two dry-fit tees. Need some baseball cleats, in your size? Seriously? Yes. Then yes, thanks. A pair of baseball cleats, in my size.
Pregame spread. A walk back across the outfield over to the cages, and now the stands are really filling up. Some cuts in the cage, back to the clubhouse for a quick game plan/pep talk, then off to the area above the visitors’ bullpen for a press conference where Dirk, Michael Young, Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler, Derek Holland, and the founder of the event, Charlie McKinney, speak to several dozen reporters.
Get a little run in, a little stretching, and then throw to get loose with Cole Beasley. Charlie Villanueva mixes in with me and Cole, and appears to conflate a couple sports he doesn’t play, as a few minutes into short-to-long toss he starts jogging laterally as if running a crossing pattern, waiting for my throws. Turns out he was onto something. More on that shortly.
We’re loose and it’s time to hit the dugout. Player introductions and the anthem, with a three-jet flyover.
Lineup is set (I’m hitting 10th out of 20), as is the first-inning defense. I’m starting at third base. Forty feet from Michael Young.
OK, seriously. I’m suited up, cap and glove and cleats, 40 feet from Michael Young.
First batter retired — can’t remember how — and the ball is sent around the horn. Michael whips the ball to me before I flip it back to the pitcher.
And in that moment, I was my kid’s age.
Next, Dez Bryant rifles a shot to my left and my 46-year-old legs have time to take one step and extend, and I get a glove on it, but that wasn’t acceptable. The ball deflects to Michael but by time he makes his throw to first, Dez is safe. It makes a sellout crowd very happy, so, you know, you’re welcome. But man, I’m steamed. I’ve got to make that play.
After a Kevin Mench bomb, another out, another couple men on, and someone (was it Skin?) grounds a ball my way. I turn to make the tag on the runner from second base but he’s veering outside the baseline so I throw to second instead. Force, inning over. Time to grab a helmet.
You know how, in R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming,” the piano basically never stops? The weird thing about the Heroes Game is when they play walkup music, they never turn it off. It’s a hockey game from an A/V standpoint. That’s weird as I step to the plate, but maybe the music blaring over the sound system managed to make me not think about my blistered lower hand, and concentrate on keeping my weight back, and my back foot relatively quiet, and throwing my hands at the ball.
First pitch I see, I shoot a single to right center, where Mench fields the ball. After a turn I lope back to the bag, where Dirk reaches down about eight feet to give me daps, and says: “Nice shot, dude!”
There were the things that Ray Corbett and Michael Hardge said to me 25 years ago on a ballfield, and now: “Nice shot, dude” . . . .
I won’t forget that.
I took second on a single to center, and thought about trying to take third, which Mench wishes I had (given what he said to me as he came up with the ball). I held at second.
A single to left in Dez’s direction, and Tyson Chandler waves me around third, which was unnecessary and would have been fully ignored had he signaled otherwise. I ran on Dez (who along with Devin Harris was the most gifted, natural-looking ballplayer among the other-sport athletes out there), and scored, sliding.
Won’t forget that, either.
I’m in center field for the second inning. No action. Wanted that chance to make a throw to a base, which I knew would mean zero arm left the rest of the day, but I wanted that chance. No such luck.
In the fifth, I’m asked to play shortstop, and Devin hits a two-out, two-hop grounder up the middle that I’m able to center and get my feet right on, but I look to first and see Charlie V already in full lunge toward me, glove outstretched, compressing his seven-foot frame into what amounted to a four-foot target, and it screws with my head. I drop my slot — a mistake right there, as I had plenty of time — and sail one wide that Charlie might have been able to glove if he’d been running one of those pregame crossing patterns. But he wasn’t, and the ball skips past him. Inexcusable on my part. Brutal.
Charlie (who spared me the indignity of beating me up for the E-6 in his blog recap of the event) gets to the ball quickly enough to fire it down to second before Devin could get there, and we get him in a rundown and I chase him down for the third out. But the first base umpire rules that Devin is awarded second on my initial overthrow. Hmm. OK.
Sixth inning, and we’re up big. One out and a man on second, and I’m up for my second at-bat. After fouling off about six pitches, one fairly deep but 20 feet foul, I ultimately roll over to second, where Nash gathers it and throws me out easily.
Max, who watched the game with a friend in the stands, would tell me later that it was OK — I just added to Nash’s career assist total. (High five.)
Top of nine. My third and final chance at the plate. First pitch is middle-out and I hit it square to left field, going the other way with a ball that Mike Bacsik thinks he should have caught.
Fortunately, it’s another inning with Dirk manning first base, and as the next hitter steps up I thank Dirk for putting his energy behind this awesome event. He talks about how cool it is to have that many people supporting the cause, and having a good time.
Dirk has no business being as unassuming and normal as he is. It’s pretty great.
This was also my first time to be around Dez, and while he’s not unassuming, and not normal, his energy is infectious and irresistible. What an awesome dude.
I take third on a base hit, and score on a grounder to short. I’m sent out to right field for the bottom of the ninth, watch Lance Dunbar effortlessly flag down a shot between us — Lance Dunbar is a great guy — and jog in to line up in the middle of the diamond to celebrate Blue Sox 17, White Sox 5.
Postgame spread. Fireworks for the fans. Some really great conversations back in the clubhouse with some of my sports heroes, and other guys I’d just met. A lot of kids, one by one, asking me as I walk back out onto the field to cross back over to the home side if they can have my bat or glove.
(Sorry, buddy, no. They’re the only ones I’ve got.)
(Plus, you really don’t want them.)
Saturday night’s should have been the best sleep ever. I was exhausted, and exhilarated, and when my head hit the pillow I was out.
But every time I moved an inch throughout the night, something barked. And woke me up.
Sports-sore is the best. I miss it, and feel super-alive when I get to do something that brings it back on.
But I’ve never gotten the chance to do something like that. Your name over the PA (set to rock music), your face on a 2,700 square foot video board, you and the pitcher, the opportunity once again to compete.
In this case, for a really great cause. Lots of kids get a big hand from the Dirk Nowitzki and Heroes Foundations, which have raised more than $3.6 million for Dallas-area youth. The Heroes Game is the signature event annually, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it any better.
It was one of the great non-family experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. If I could do this, I would:
I’m doing it in my head, at least.
And Saturday night, I got the chance to take something I’d done in my head a thousand times since I was a kid, and play it out on a diamond, in an exhibition where numbers like 17-5, and 2 for 3, meant nothing compared to that $3.6 million that will kick up even further next year.
This time, my kid was in the stands, watching Dad. It was a reversal of roles of sorts, for a moment, and I think Max was just as OK with it as I was, for a weekend.
I’m super-grateful for the opportunity, at a level that Charlie and Ben and Skin and Dirk and everyone else involved probably couldn’t expect.
It was an absolutely unforgettable experience, and to suggest it was on the bucket list for me would be to give too much credit to the rest of the list.
Ring tone sounds (“Out of Touch” by Philadelphia’s own Hall & Oates). Ruben picks up his phone.
“Yo. You got R.A.J., bay-bee. Who dis?”
“Jon! Man. Six straight, huh? Six!”
“Whatcha got, Ruben?”
“Our manager stepped down yesterday, Jon.”
“Who should I hire?”
“Is that your call?”
[Thad Levine flips on Neftali Feliz’s walk-in music.]
“Dude. What’s that?”
“I dunno. I thought I heard Neftali Feliz’s walk-in music. Remember when he struck out A-Rod, Jon? That was awesome!”
[twirls fake moustache] “Yes it was, Ruben. Yes it was.”
“You mentioned Nef the other day and I checked — did you know he’s perfect in his career in Philadelphia?”
[begins growing real moustache and twirling it] “Didn’t realize that, Ruben.”
“Hey boss — what does ‘small sample size’ mean?”
“Ruben, I’m kinda busy. Whatcha got?”
“Tuesday is Cole’s day to pitch.”
“Cool. Good luck to him.”
“He could pitch for you against Baltimore instead. Cole hasn’t done real well against the Orioles in his career, but hey, neither has Cliff Lee, and remember that brutal debut he made for you in 2010 — against the Orioles — and how you went to the World Series three months later? It lines up, dude! Gimme Chi Chi and Nomar and a lot more, Jon!”
“Not happening, Ruben. This is nothing like 2010.”
“Man, Jon. That trade was awesome! All you had to give up was Smoak and Beavan and Lueke and Lawson!”
“Ruben, a few months before that you traded Cliff to Seattle and all you got was Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gillies.”
“Anyway, give me a lot for Cole! I don’t have many players who are good at baseball.”
“Ruben, think back to the Royals team last year. Their World Series club.”
“Yeah, yeah. I think I watched some of that.”
“In 2010 the Royals traded Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers — ”
“Yuni. I’d like to sign that guy. I think he and I were teammates back in the day. Maybe not.”
“Anyway, for Greinke and Betancourt they got Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress.”
“Wow. That’s awesome.”
“They later flipped Odorizzi in a deal that got them James Shields and Wade Davis.”
“Is that good?”
“Ruben, you know where those guys were ranked in the Milwaukee system going into that 2010 season?”
“No. Want me to go find out? I can call you right back.”
“Alcides was No. 1. Lorenzo was 8. Jake was 9. Jeremy was 21. And Milwaukee had a middle-of-the-pack system.” [Jon skips the part about Jake and Jeremy breaking out in 2010.]
“Jon, man, can we get back to talking about baseball?”
“Ruben, you can make a smart deal and get your team back on track without Chi Chi and Nomar.”
“Dude, you said Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect!”
“Everyone in baseball had Neftali ranked ahead of him.” [Thad twirls Jon’s aggressively sprouting moustache.]
“Ruben, I get it if you’re using us to try to leverage other teams to give you what you and Pat and Andy are going to want for Cole. I get that. And on one level I don’t mind it. But if you’re serious about us you’re going to have to back up a little.”
“Jon, do you know who Pat Gillick is?”
“Yes, Ruben. I know who Pat Gillick is. I just mentioned him to you.”
“He has a friend — I think his name is Don — who I think might have worked for you.”
“Ruben, he worked for you guys, too.”
“Ruben, you there?”
“So I think maybe Pat is asking Don who I should ask you for. I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you that.”
“Don’t you think he might tell Pat to ask for more than we’d ever give up because Don’s team wants Cole, too?”
“San Diego, Ruben. Where Cole is from.”
“Ruben, should I offer Leonys Martin and something to Doug for Carlos Gomez?”
“Man, I don’t know where you’re getting your intel, but I don’t work for the Brewers.”
“Why do you want Gomez anyway? You’ve got Gallo starting in center field today.”
“Ruben, that’s not long term.”
“Hear ya, man. I don’t even like thinking long term.”
“Tuck this name away, Ruben, because you and I are going to talk about him soon: Jake Diekman.”
“OK. I’ll look him up.”
“See ya, Ruben.”
“Jon, man, are you gonna play the X? Cole Hamels, man!”
“Talk to you later, Ruben.”
Ring tone sounds (Ruben Amaro Jr. telling reporters: “Fans don’t understand the game,” on a loop) . . . he picks up his phone:
“Yo. This is Ruben. Who this?”
“Ruben. Dude. It’s Jon. You’ve called me 20 times since March. You know who this is.”
“Oh, hey, Jon! What’s shakin’, boss?”
“You called me. I’m calling you back.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Hey, man — you need a pitcher. Wandy was real bad yesterday.”
“So was Cole.”
“Yeah, never mind that. He’s got a bad track record against American League t—I mean, you know, seeing-eye singles and stuff.”
“He got rocked.”
“Semantics, Jon. Don’t get all caught up in that analytics mess.”
“Whatcha got, Ruben?”
“Those Astros keep winning, man. Wow, right?”
“They’re pretty good.”
“And imagine Cole Hamels in a Houston uniform, dude!”
“Houston’s on his no-trade list, Ruben.”
“Semantics, man. And negotiable!”
“Whatcha got, Ruben?”
“You know, that reporter guy in Houston says the Yankees are in on Hamels. See that?”
“That Houston reporter guy says they are!”
“Heyman says they’re not.”
“Reporters don’t understand the game, Jon.”
“Whatcha got, Ruben?”
“So I may or may not have had a scout at Chi Chi’s game on Tuesday, and when he was driving away from the park he heard on the radio that you guys would trade Chi Chi and Joey and Nomar and Jorge for Cole. So — do we have a deal?”
“Ruben. That was a couple callers to a postgame talk show who said that. And one of them identified himself as ‘Ruben Jr., from Philadelphia.’”
“Let’s talk about Mazara.”
“Let’s talk about Brinson instead.”
“And about Chi Chi.”
“You’re gonna need to ask about Eickhoff or Asher instead.”
“Nick Martinez! Jake Thompson!”
“No-trade. And no-interest.”
“Jon, I mean, man, we like Jorge and we like Jurickson, but they need to be pieces 3 and 4 since they’re hurt. Huge risk on our part to even consider taking either one.” [twirls moustache]
“Ruben, are you twirling your moustache? And when did you grow a moustache?”
“Hey, man — [lowers voice] — Andy’s coming in. He’s probably going to have some ideas. I’ve heard he’s like that. I’ve gotta score on this deal. Helps me a bunch to get Cole out of the NL so we don’t have to face him while I still have a job. That’s actually probably not true but I don’t really understand the game.”
“Ruben. You gave Cole a partial no-trade, and he made it so that the only AL teams he can’t block trades to are the Yankees and us. And it looks like the Yankees are out.”
“I did? He did? They are?”
“Have you had someone sitting on Round Rock lately? Michael Choice has been raking. He basically forced our hand, and we brought him back up. Interested?”
“And you’re going to trade Papelbon. We don’t want him. But you’re going to trade him, and Neftali might make some sense for you. You’d be buying low.”
“You know who Jayson Stark is?”
“Yes, Ruben. I know who Jayson Stark is. I work in baseball.”
“He wrote the other day that ‘clubs that have talked with the Phillies are still complaining that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. remains “fixated” on players those teams have continuously balked at trading, with one exec saying that at some point, Amaro will have to be “more creative” to get a deal done.’”
“Yeah, Ruben. I think he’s right.”
“Anthony Ranaudo grew up an hour from Philly, Ruben.”
“Oooh, nice.” [twirls fake moustache]
“If we’re going to go down this path, Ruben, you’re going to have to tell me you’d pay Cole’s contract down in a big way if we’re going to toss around the names you want to toss around. Love the pitcher, but $90 million is something I just can’t absorb, even for four pennant races. Gotta subsidize the thing big if you want what it sounds like you want.”
“Yeah, man. I’ll chip in, like, $150k. Hundo fitty large ones, broseph!”
“Gotta go, man. Talk later?”
“Stark thinks I’m going to trade Cole to you 37 days from now.”
“Hey, man — if the deal’s right, we don’t need to wait. But you gotta make the deal right.”
“What if I trade him somewhere else?”
“Go for it.”
“Remember when I traded for Cliff Lee?”
“Yeah! You want him too?”
“Remember that deal?”
“Not really, but I think I heard about it.”
“I put Smoak in that deal, and other prospects I wasn’t crazy about moving. But I got Mark Lowe back in that trade, too.”
“Ken Giles.” [twists fake moustache]
“Later, chief. Talk soon.”
“Counting on it.”
I’ve been at this long enough to know that a handful of you will unsubscribe today. If you’re one, thanks for reading as long as you did.
Really, truth be told, this one isn’t for the rest of you, either, though I appreciate your patience or your indulgence or your polite tuneout, or whatever allows you to let this one slide.
This one’s basically for me. Because I’d like for it to end up on half a page in this year’s book. And since yesterday was Father’s Day, I’m ignoring instinct and writing this down, and sending it.
Our son Max isn’t the best player on his baseball team. Far from it, actually, and that’s the kind of team I’d love for him to always be able to play for, or the kind of theater group I’d love for Erica to always be able to sing and act with.
He’s not the best hitter on the team. He’s not the best pitcher on the team. And I can say he’s not the best teammate because that’s a dead heat between a lot of the boys on Coach Tovar’s 10U AAA Dallas Pelicans, a team full of great kids who work their tails off and play the game right and pick each other up.
Max typically hits somewhere in the bottom half of the lineup, and when he pitches, which isn’t that often, it’s usually either in relief or possibly on Saturday. Not on Sunday, when each game sends you home if you don’t win it.
But he was given the ball for a Sunday start in this weekend’s tournament, and when he found out, it put one of the first smiles on his face all week, as he’s a few days into living with a set of braces in his mouth.
The idea from the coaches was to get three innings from Max if possible, with a hope that the team could score enough runs to advance without having to burn one of the frontline pitchers, on a day that could include up to four games.
Through three innings, Max had thrown 44 pitches, for him a really efficient number. Thirty-four of them were strikes. He didn’t go to a two-ball count until the 14th batter, who grounded out to second to end that third frame.
But earlier in that inning, the Parker County three-hole hitter, a left-handed kid named Reep, went about 190 to straightaway center, taking Max deep for a three-run bomb that gave the Express a 4-3 lead.
But in the bottom of that inning, Max turned on a 2-2 pitch and doubled it down the left field line, plating Jake and Drake to give the Pelicans the lead back. Ty’s double to the wall made it 6-4, Pelicans, and the coaches decided to send Max back out to the mound for the fourth.
A kid named Blevins ripped his second pitch of the inning for a double.
But then Max struck out the next hitter.
And the next hitter.
And the next hitter.
Another Pelicans run in the bottom of the fourth made it a 7-4 game.
And the coaches sent Max back out for the fifth, with the top of the Express lineup due.
First hitter: Comebacker. One out.
Second hitter: Lineout to short.
Third hitter: Reep. Whether a 10-year-old kid is able to forget giving up his first home run a couple innings earlier, I’m not sure, but Max walked Reep on four pitches.
It was the first walk he issued on the day.
And the last batter he faced. Because he promptly picked the runner off of first, ending the inning.
Time expired with the Pelicans hitting in the bottom of the fifth.
It was a complete game for Max, his first, with seven strikeouts in his five innings of work. Sixty-eight pitches, 48 for strikes. And, at the plate, a 3 for 3 day on which he drove in runs each time up.
It was part of an 8 for 12 weekend for Max with a pair of doubles, and, in the game that followed his pitching effort, a walkoff single (after a 45-minute lightning delay) to help send the Pelicans to the semi-finals of the 14-team tournament. He thinks it was his first walkoff hit in two years of kid pitch, and when you see how a group of teammates reacts to a moment like that, I’d trust the kid’s memory.
He’s not the best pitcher on the team and he’s not the best hitter on the team, but Max contributed this weekend, a Father’s Day weekend spent an hour away in Benbrook, and he did it while not feeling great thanks to an orthodontist, and that part — fighting through it — may be the part I’m as proud of as any.
That, and not losing composure or confidence or focus after giving up a majestic homer and the lead.
And the kind of teammate that he and nine other kids have grown to be.
Max will probably hate that I wrote this.
Some of you will, too, and I know that.
Some of this I do self-indulgently. Very little of it, if I can help it. But some of it.
It was Father’s Day, and I decided to write this down.
I doubt I’d ever forget about this weekend. But I wanted to make sure.
You’re facing a Rangers team that, because the Dodgers refused to schedule an afternoon start on getaway day, flew overnight and got to their hotel after 7 a.m.
You’ve got Chris Sale going, the hottest pitcher in the league, and maybe its best.
Texas doesn’t have its best pitcher going. Or its second. Or its third. Or its fourth.
They’re all on the disabled list.
But they’ve got a 35-year-old missing his original hip on the mound.
Your team had a headline-grabbing winter, trading for Jeff Samardzija and signing Melky Cabrera and premier closer David Robertson. Hopes were high.
Texas was coming off a brutal season, finishing with the worst record in the league, and then breaking camp with its rotation blown to bits.
The Rangers are holding down a playoff spot. The White Sox have the second-worst record in the American League.
But you’ve got Sale going, and he was on a roll of seven straight quality starts (5-2, 1.52, 79 strikeouts and 10 walks in 53.1 innings, .146/.197/.249 slash), six of which deserved a different nickname if one existed.
And in that stretch he’d toyed with the Rangers in Arlington, going 7-3-0-0-2-13 on them in a 9-2 White Sox laugher.
Texas was coming off a big win against Clayton Kershaw and a grueling 1-0 loss to Zack Greinke, and those had to be draining, even without the red-eye flight afterwards.
Sale is perfect through five, with eight strikeouts in that span. Tyler Flowers rockets a Lewis pitch out of the park in the bottom of that fifth frame, and with Sale’s stuff at its dominant best, 1-0 felt like 11-0.
But it was 1-0.
It would have been 2-0 had it not been for perfect and powerful throws from Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus that put the ball in Robinson Chirinos’s mitt before Avisail Garcia’s slide on Conor Gillaspie’s double to the wall in the fourth.
But it was just 1-0.
You’re Chicago, and though Sale was coming off a season-high 125 pitches against Tampa Bay, he’d had an extra day of rest before that one and, man, Robertson is a great closer with Sale-like numbers and this is what your team pays him to do.
So you applaud Sale’s eight innings of awesomeness and count on Robertson shutting things down.
Pinch-hitter Rougned Odor pops out to shortstop.
Robertson gets Shin-Soo Choo down 1-2.
Then walks him.
Elvis Andrus isn’t bunting.
He singles to center.
It’s hard being a White Sox fan this year, with high expectations giving way to the second-worst record in the league and a feeling of hopelessness and it’s not even Father’s Day yet.
Joey Gallo is up, having struck out and struck out and struck out against Sale, and even though a wild pitch during his at-bat against Robertson moved the tying run to third with one out and the go-ahead run into scoring position, he struck out for a fourth time on the night.
You walk Prince Fielder, because it sets up the potential for a force at second and because of course.
Adam Rosales is on deck but you are well aware that Mitch Moreland is available on the bench. Josh Hamilton isn’t available and Adrian Beltre isn’t available, but Mitch Moreland is.
But you walk Fielder on purpose because you’re not about to give him anything to hit in that situation, and another ball kicking away from Flowers behind the plate would be devastating.
And because Mitch Moreland is no Prince Fielder.
Your big-money closer delivers ball one, and then a strike, the latter of which Moreland rips to right field to plate Choo and plate Andrus, and there goes the lead and Sale’s decision and, a few minutes later, the game.
Eight straight White Sox losses. Seven of them in close games.
Sale to reporters afterwards, asked if he feels he needs to fire a shutout just to get a win: “That’s kind of a crappy question to ask, really. You think I’m gonna say something bad about one of my teammates, you’re dead wrong.”
You’re Chicago, and all you have in your head right now is a bunch of crappy questions.
Happy Birthday to my friends Suzy and Robin, and to erstwhile Rangers pitchers Logan Verrett (9 innings) and Bruce Chen (10 innings), and to Dirk Nowitzki, who turns 37 today.
Logan (righthander) and Robin (defensive end) both played at Baylor, 20 years apart.
Suzy and Bruce played for a combined 11 big league franchises.
Me and Dirk? We have sons named Max.
There are so many other things Dirk and I have in common:
- One sister
- Rangers fan
- Lifelong friendship with Grubes
- One-legged fadeaway [except for me]
And now the list grows by one.
We’ll face off on Saturday, June 27 – you know, much as the Rangers/Cardinals World Series was the Adrian Beltre vs. Gerald Laird Classic – in the Dirk Nowitzki 2015 Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game at Dr Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders.
Among those expected to play in the game (the proceeds of which will benefit the children’s charities of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation and Heroes Foundation) are Dirk, Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Nick Van Exel, Michael Young, Kevin Mench, Mike Bacsik, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Cole Beasley, Joseph Randle, Dan Bailey, Terrance Williams, Tyler Seguin, and Ben and Skin. Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons, Rick Carlisle, and Michael Finley are also expected to be on hand.
Dirk, Nash, and Fin back together. First time in more than a decade.
Gates open at 4:30. There will be a Special Olympics All-Star Softball Game at 4:45. The nine-inning baseball game begins at 6:00. I will likely get hurt at some point before the postgame fireworks show (if not before the first pitch).
Tickets are on sale here. Take note: Last year’s game sold out.
The Rangers play in Toronto at noon that day, so you won’t be missing any baseball by coming to Dirk’s Game that night.
(Of course, you may see just about zero “baseball” if you do show up. Except when Michael Young is doing Michael Young things.)
Dirk might even sing this at the end of the ballgame, which would be all kinds of awesome.
But not if the Michael Young Crew can help it.
Seriously: You should go.