Author Archive

This is Gary McGraw.

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He lives in Gaston, Oregon, and watches high school and college baseball games.  In Oregon.  And in Idaho.  And in Washington State.  And in Montana.  And in Wyoming.  And in Canada.  And in Alaska.

He’s spent 26 years in pro ball, the first of which he spent playing in the Idaho Falls A’s outfield alongside 17-year-old Oakland 15th-rounder Jose Canseco, and the last 14 of which he’s spent scouting high school and college ballplayers for the Texas Rangers.

I found a bio on McGraw in which he says: “I have one hobby: my family and anything they are involved or interested in.”  He didn’t mention wiffle ball, an apparent passion.

Just family.

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This is Keone Kela.  He turns 22 years old today.

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In 2012, Gary McGraw pounded his fist on the table on Draft Day – Gary was wearing cowboy boots and a sport coat that day, which I know because a number of his colleagues say he’s worn cowboy boots and a sport coat to every meeting he’s ever been to, and that it’s been the same pair of cowboy boots and the same sport coat every single time for more than 20 years – until Texas called Kela’s name in the 12th round.

McGraw looked past Kela’s challenging background and the 91-95 velo he flashed at Everett Community College and believed there was more.

There was.

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This is Julie McGraw.

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She was an athlete at Portland State University, just like Gary.  They were college sweethearts.  They got married in 1982, a few months after the summer when Gary hit one Idaho Falls homer, and Canseco hit two.

They’ve been married since, and have three kids, Jamie and Jessica and Jake.

Julie has been a longtime volleyball coach in Oregon, at both the high school and club levels.

Julie had a massive stroke while coaching her club volleyball team at a tournament three months ago.  Julie and Gary’s daughter Jessica prefers not to say her Mom “suffered” the stroke, or even “survived” the stroke.  Jessica prefers different wording.

The battle has been formidable one – you can read a bit about it by clicking the link in the previous sentence – but the athlete and the coach in Julie has responded and competed and fought, and she’s winning.

There are all kinds of challenges ahead, one of which is financial.  The family’s insurance coverage will be exhausted long before Julie’s medical attention and rehabilitation will be, and a GoFundMe account has been set up by friends of the McGraw’s to help the family.  Among the things they are hoping to be able to do is modify their home to make it wheelchair-accessible and buy a wheelchair-accessible van, and to secure 24-hour care as long as Julie needs it.

The account has raised over $7,500 in 11 days.  The goal is $200,000.

Julie has coached hundreds of kids.  Gary has given nearly as many an opportunity to play baseball professionally, and he’s also known for the energy he puts into mentoring young scouts, helping to give them their own chance to advance their careers.

They’ve both given so much to many people – including, in one sense, you and me.

If you’re in a position to give something back, and feel like doing that, it would be an awesome thing.

 

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No angel.

Arte Moreno, Carole, Josh Hamilton, Katie, Stella, Sierra, Michaela, Julie

Two and a half years ago, Josh Hamilton left.  He said at his glitzy Disney presser in Anaheim, which starred the slugger and his wife, that the Rangers’ decision not to lock him up before he shopped around as a free agent was a “blessing in disguise” that led him to the Angels, and he added: “I’m so excited to hear an organization say we’re happy we got you, no matter what the risk is.”  

No matter the risk.

Mm-hmm.

Last night’s loss wasn’t the worst of the young Rangers season, under any objective measure, but it still bothers me a lot this morning, and not just because it busted up the L-W-L-W-L-W-L sequence that teed the game up or because Ross Detwiler couldn’t make his team’s early offensive explosion stand up.  There’s schadenfreude, and then there’s schadenfreude, and I wish a whole lot of failure on the Los Angeles organization now, more than I ever have.  

I admit that that December 2012 press conference gave me a good amount of closure on what was an imperfect but extraordinary career in Texas for one of the two or three best baseball players I’ve ever watched play.  The things he said — and the things Katie said — made it fairly easy to feel OK about his departure, even to a division rival.  

But now I feel bad for the guy, who’s battling a sickness I’m not going to pretend to understand, and whose organization — the baseball team that gave him an eighth of a billion dollars to help them find the playoffs again, “no matter what the risk is” — is doing everything it can to blame him for its own badly miscalculated decision to assume that unmistakable risk.  

After that introduction to the Los Angeles press, which was nationally televised, I wrote a little bit about that closure it gave me:

But when he said at his Hollywood premiere yesterday that it would have been easy and comfortable to stay in Texas, and that sometimes you just need to be taken out of your comfort zone so you can impact a whole lot of lives in a different place, well, yeah.

It was a blessing in disguise, he said on Saturday, that Texas didn’t jump out early in the winter to sign him (which his wife is “so glad” about).

I’m not sure I’m buying the disguise part.  Maybe “time to move on” really was a post-Thanksgiving revelation, a “blessing” that came to him masquerading as not-enough-love.  Maybe none of that occurred to him until the last few weeks.

He made $28.2 million in five years here.  He’ll make $125 million in five years there.  I’m not going to say those numbers will end up looking backwards in terms of the production he provides, but I’m sorta confident about which team will have gotten the better deal.

I won’t boo him when he comes to Arlington in April.

But I won’t stand up and cheer his return, either.

He’s just another Los Angeles Angel now. 

Except he’s not even that anymore.

The Angels didn’t put a locker up for Hamilton in spring training, while he was in Houston rehabbing his shoulder and possibly dealing with another substance abuse relapse.  

(We still don’t know who leaked the relapse story.  According to Sports Illustrated, the players’ union “condemned anonymous leaks of Hamilton’s relapse, saying they were ‘cowardly’ and undermined the ‘integrity of our collectively bargained agreements and in some instances have been wholly inaccurate,’” but MLB Commissioner reportedly declined to investigate whether it was the Angels themselves who released the confidential information.)

They didn’t put a locker up for Hamilton this spring, and they haven’t put one up in Anaheim, either.  They needed the space, of course.  Plus they’ve apparently pulled all Hamilton merchandise from their stadium gift shop.  

Classy.

The Angels reacted with nothing but indignation when it was announced last week that Hamilton wouldn’t be suspended by the league for his relapse.  If he’d been a .305/.363/.549 hitter with the Angels, averaging 28 homers and 101 RBI a season with them like he did in Texas, they’d be celebrating the due process that kept him on the field and praising him for self-reporting his apparent slip.  

But .255/.316/.426 with 16 and 62 looks a lot different, especially at more than four times the AAV, and instead the Angels said publicly that the ruling “defie[d] logic” and, asked if he would play another game for them over the three years that remain on the contract the club aggressively offered him, owner Arte Moreno (who reportedly hasn’t spoken to Hamilton in six months) responded, simply: “I will not say that.” 

And that’s apparently because the Angels — who denied at the time of the December 2012 signing that Hamilton’s contract contained any language holding the club harmless in the event of a drug relapse — are now claiming that the contract did contain provisions along those lines after all and may try to enforce them . . . even though the players’ union points out that any such provisions, even if contractually bargained between team and player, are trumped by the CBA and unenforceable.  

“We do have recourse,” Moreno told reporters late last week, adding — ironically — “when you make an agreement, you need to stand up.”  

Bill Shaikin (Los Angeles Times), calling a “divorce [between the Angels and Hamilton] inevitable,” suggests that aside from the “nasty fight” that the Angels organization could pick with the union, the club could freeze the player out once his shoulder is sound by parking him on the bench.  “Hamilton would get his full salary,” Shaikin points out, “but Moreno would make his displeasure clear with every lineup card in which the outfield was manned by three other guys.  The union already is prepared for this possibility.”  

Hamilton’s teammate Hector Santiago, a veteran lefthander who spent only 2014 with the 33-year-old outfielder, told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register: “It’s weird for me.  This is my ninth season and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone on the DL not in the clubhouse.  I have no idea (why).  That’s why it’s such a weird thing.  When we go to Houston [this coming weekend,] is he allowed in our clubhouse?  I feel like he’s part of the team, so why isn’t he here?”

Right.

There are reports that Hamilton “is not expected” to visit the visitors’ clubhouse when the Angels are in Houston, where Hamilton is still rehabbing and staying at a friend’s house.  Manager Mike Scioscia told reporters “hopefully we’ll connect with him face-to-face” but “seemed to have no idea whether that would happen.”  One Angels official told Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times) that Hamilton had “not yet made any overtures to [the] club about stopping by [the] clubhouse during [the] Astros series.”  

I don’t know the answer to Santiago’s question of whether Hamilton is allowed in the Angels’ clubhouse, but would you stop by if you were him, given what the organization has said loudly and on the record?  Would you make overtures?  Would you feel welcome?  

The Angels expressed their level of support of Hamilton and what he’s going through by not having enough space for a locker in the room that belongs to the players.  They’ve made it so a fan in Anaheim can’t show his or her support by buying a new jersey or T-shirt with his name on it.  They’ve taken his banner down from the main entrance at Angel Stadium.  

C.J. Wilson (whose banner was also taken down, following a season that the Angels must have felt was unworthy of the money they decided to promise him) told the Los Angeles press that there’s tension in the room about the Hamilton situation, adding: “It doesn’t seem like any bridges are being built — it seems like a fairly contentious situation. . . . No one is talking to us about it.  We’re supposed to stay out of the loop.  But it’s fairly obvious what their intentions are.”

Wilson is the Angels’ player representative.  He was voted into the position by his teammates.

While Angels players may want to see their struggling teammate in the clubhouse, there are obviously others in that organization not so hot on the idea, having taken every step possible to distance themselves from the player and expressing outrage that he wasn’t suspended (which would have relieved the club of some portion of the $83 million they’re still on the hook for).

If Los Angeles screwed up in its assessment of the risk and evaluation of the player and the determination of the contract it was willing to obligate itself to pay, then wear it.  Don’t dump on the player and complain that you can’t abandon him financially as you have in every other sense.  Assumption of risk.

It’s really disappointing if I’m an Angels fan, or an Angels player.

I’m guessing it’s disgusting and pathetic to a lot of the rest of us.  

The level of support Los Angeles is showing sends a firm message not only to its young players, and to future free agent targets, but also to the fan base the club surely will expect loyalty from when the team hits its next dry spell, which may be a year or two away but can’t come soon enough for me.

I half-jokingly suggested on Facebook a couple days ago that if the Rangers happened to have shelves of Hamilton merchandise packed away in storage that they should box it all up and donate it to Los Angeles-area shelters.  That will never happen, because the Rangers have too much decency to show another organization up.  

Texas would never remove a player’s locker, or pull his merchandise or banner, regardless of what he was rehabbing from.  

Aside from the good old competitiveness of wanting your team to win every time it takes the field — one of those things that makes sports great — I don’t think I’ve ever wanted so badly to see another team lose.  And it’s because of something, sadly, that runs completely counter to the thing that may make sports greater than anything else, at least for me, and that’s the meaning and the power of team, a concept that should run not only horizontally, but vertically as well.

A baseball week.

It can’t get worse.

  That was awesome!

    Well, yeah, it got worse, but now it really can’t get worse.

      That was awesome!

        It got worse.

T minus 157.

I don’t know, either.

Elvis.

When Chuck Morgan roll-calls over 40 men to the first base line at 2:51 this afternoon, it’s a near-certainty that Elvis Andrus will be closer to the back of the line than he’s been on any Opening Day since before the Rangers had ever been to a World Series.  

On Opening Day 2009, a 20-year-old Andrus made his big league debut — just 20 months after he’d turned his Braves Class A uniform in for some Rangers Class A gear — as the starting Texas shortstop, hitting ninth in the lineup as the Rangers hosted Cliff Lee and the Cleveland Indians.  In his first Major League at-bat, Andrus was in the middle of a huge Texas second inning, following up a two-out, two-run Jarrod Saltalamacchia single by rifling a middle-middle Lee offering to right field for a double, moving his former fellow Braves farmhand to third before Ian Kinsler brought both home with line drive single to center.

On Opening Day 2010, coming off a standout debut season (.702 OPS, 85 percent stolen base rate, extraordinary defense, runner-up AL Rookie of the Year honors), Andrus was again hitting ninth on Opening Day, this time behind Saltalamacchia and Andres Blanco.  After eight games, Andrus was hitting .346/.433/.423 and Ron Washington elevated him to the leadoff spot, where he would spend the rest of the year, hitting .262/.338/.297 in that role.

By just about every offensive yardstick, Andrus’s sophomore season lagged his rookie campaign, but when Texas opened the 2011 season at home against Boston, Morgan introduced him right after Kinsler, as Ron Washington plugged his 22-year-old All-Star in at the number two spot in the order — a role he’d experimented with on occasion in 2009 but never in 2010.  With the exception of nine games in which he led off, Andrus would hit second all year in 2011 in games he started.  

And all but five times in 2012.  

Washington experimented a bit more with Andrus in 2013, hitting him sixth (8 times), seventh (3 times), eighth (3 times), and at the top of the order (25 times), though he did hit second primarily (116 times).

In 2014, Washington hit Andrus in the bottom third of the order five straight days in early May, a stretch he entered hitting .220/.288/.288.  He hit second in every other start he made the entire season — by both Washington and Tim Bogar — even though by some measures it was the worst offensive season of the 25/26-year-old’s six in the big leagues.

When the Rangers were introduced at O.co Coliseum on Monday, there was Andrus again in the two hole.  He popped out twice, grounded out to first, and fanned in the opener.  He hit into a first-pitch double play on Tuesday after Leonys Martin had singled to start the game, and then grounded out before singling twice.  In Wednesday’s disaster, Andrus bunted — on his own — after Martin bunted safely to open the game, grounded out to the mound, popped out to second, and flew out to right.

And Andrus’s .182/.182/.182 start was less of a story than the four errors he committed in those three games (later reduced by the scorekeeper to three).

For whatever reason, Jeff Banister — whose reputation suggests he factors statistical advantage heavily into such decisions — moved Shin-Soo Choo up to second in the order for Thursday’s series finale in Oakland, and Andrus down to seventh.  Andrus was the only Rangers starter not to reach base (accounting for six outs in his five trips), but Choo was tremendous (a first-inning single following a Martin walk in what would be a three-run first, and a three-run home run in the fourth to blow the game open) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Banister stick with Choo at two and Andrus at seven today, against Houston righthander Collin McHugh.

Choo has never faced McHugh and Andrus is 2 for 4 against him (single, bunt single, strikeout, strikeout), but if that extremely small sample is even slightly meaningful to Banister or Steve Buechele or Jayce Tingler or Dave Magadan, I’d like to think there’s nothing wrong with looking for a little spark in the seven hole.  

That’s where Andrus belongs, at least for now.  Maybe even eighth or ninth, depending on the matchup and how Rougned Odor and the catchers are going.

I’d like to see a lot less bunting, especially rogue bunts that weren’t called from the dugout.  Elvis Andrus is and has been one of my favorite players to wear the Rangers uniform, but the court sense doesn’t seem to have advanced as he’s entered what should be his prime (let alone the signature contract that now defines him in part), and sometimes the focus seems to be a bit off.  

Maybe hitting down in the order takes some pressure off him at the plate.

And in the field.

Or maybe it just makes the lineup more efficient.

I’m hoping we have to wait a bit longer than we’re used to for Chuck to call Elvis’s name today, and I know that if he is hitting in the bottom third rather than the top third, my reaction is going to be to cheer even more loudly for one of my favorite players in the game, and a huge key to getting this team back where it belongs as he makes an effort to do the same with his own career.

History.

On April 8, 1991, in a game that Montreal second baseman Delino DeShields Sr. led off, Barry Bonds singled the opposite way to lead off the Pirates’ seventh inning.  Pittsburgh would lose, 7-0.

Twenty-four years and one big league Delino later, Ryan Rua singled the opposite way to lead off the Rangers’ eighth.  Texas would lose, 8-0. 

That 1991 Pirates season featured, three months later, the one Major League at-bat that Jeff Banister would get.  

He racked up as many hits in that trip to the plate as Pittsburgh had on Opening Day that year, and as his Rangers would in their opener last night.

There have been 732 teams (I think) that have kicked off a big league season between 1991 and 2015.  Only that 1991 Pirates team and this 2015 Rangers team, with a late-game single the other way by their left fielders, managed just one base hit on Opening Day. 

If you’re looking for a silver lining after last night, you could recognize that the Pirates won 98 games that year, even if they had no chance against the Expos and Dennis Martinez on April 8.  

Or you could be grateful that your kids didn’t get to see any of the game, the first pitch of which the A’s were allowed by MLB to schedule, for fans two time zones to the east, after bedtime on a school night.  (So dumb.)

Maybe there isn’t a silver lining at all, other than the fact that 0.617 percent of the season is now history, and we can turn the page.

Some books start really slow.

Opening Day, and that which cannot be believed.

On the first day of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, five years and a day ago, Scott Feldman got the start for Texas.

Rich Harden started Game Two.

C.J. Wilson, who hadn’t started a big league game in five years, started the third game, followed by Colby Lewis, who hadn’t pitched in the United States, at any level, in three years.  

The season-opening rotation for the Rangers, who had never won a playoff series in their 38 years of existence, was rounded out by 24-year-old Matt Harrison, whose two-year big league ERA was 5.76.

Let me repeat: Rich Harden started Game Two.

Frankie Francisco headed up a bullpen that included 39-year-old Darren Oliver in his third tour with Texas, Darren O’Day in his first year after his Rule 5 odyssey, and rookie Neftali Feliz.  The rest of the relief corps: Dustin Nippert, Doug Mathis, and Chris Ray.

Julio Borbon’s first Opening Day in the big leagues saw him leading off.  Andres Blanco (acquired by trade a week earlier) was the starting second baseman, and was lifted for pinch-hitter Ryan Garko (claimed off waivers four days earlier) in the eighth, which led to Joaquin Arias playing defense in the ninth — and one if not two of those three probably wouldn’t have played in that game (or even made the club) if Khalil Greene hadn’t announced a month after signing as a free agent that he wouldn’t be reporting to Surprise.

On April 5, 2010, Jarrod Saltalamacchia made four trips to the plate.  He’d make one more as a Ranger.  

That Texas club was coming off a camp in which it had posted the worst spring training record (10-19) in the American League and in Arizona, and the third-worst in baseball.  It was also a camp in which the manager announced he’d failed an MLB drug test the summer before.  

But what we couldn’t have expected that day in early April 2010, hours before Duke tipped the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game off in Indianapolis (against Butler), was that Josh Hamilton would boost his OPS by more than 300 points, and win AL MVP.  

We couldn’t have expected that Nelson Cruz, in his age 29-30 season, would increase his own OPS by nearly 100 points and record what remains his career season.  

We couldn’t have expected 115 RBI from Vladimir Guerrero, a year after it looked like his career was winding down.  

We couldn’t have expected that rookie Mitch Moreland, a little more than a year after being given the opportunity to convert full-time to the mound as a minor leaguer, would come up to Texas late in the year and, over a little more than a quarter of the schedule, contribute nine bombs and drive in 25 runs with an .833 OPS.

We couldn’t have expected Wilson to win 15, Lewis to win 12, or Tommy Hunter to join the rotation and win 13 himself.  We couldn’t have expected the 22-year-old Feliz taking the ninth over from Francisco and saving 40 games, or Alexi Ogando, eight and a half years after entering pro ball as outfielder Argenis Benitez, reaching the big leagues for the first time and putting up a 1.30 ERA.

In April 2010 we couldn’t have expected Cliff Lee and we couldn’t have expected Bengie Molina, let alone the moment they would give us three months after they arrived.

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In April 2010, we couldn’t have expected October 2010.  Never, ever, ever.

Understand that I’m not predicting a World Series for Texas in 2015.  That’s not the point here.

The point is that none of were predicting anything close to a World Series in 2010 either, given the franchise’s history and especially after such a brutal spring training, on the field and off, and a regular season that started with Ian Kinsler, one of the club’s two or three best players, parked on the disabled list, and not just for a couple weeks.  

That fourth of Saltalamacchia’s five 2010 Texas at-bats was also the one that ended that Opening Day.  

Toronto brought closer Jason Frasor on to nail things down in a 4-3 game that the Jays — who had no-hit the Rangers until the seventh inning — had never trailed.  

Michael Young doubled to right center.  

Hamilton watched strike three, low and away.  

Guerrero hit an infield single.

Cruz doubled the other way on the first pitch he saw, tying the game and sending Guerrero to third, where he’d pass the baton to pinch-runner David Murphy.

Cito Gaston decided he’d rather pitch to Saltalamacchia than Chris Davis, with Texas needing only a medium-deep fly ball to win the game, and he put Davis on with four wide ones.  

Frasor to Saltalamacchia:

Ball one.

Foul ball.

Ball two.

Foul ball.

Foul ball.  

Slider down and in, lasered to right center field.  

Murphy dashed home, and after he and Cruz and Davis had advanced their 90 feet each they joined 21 of their teammates and dashed toward Saltalamacchia, who’d just rounded first in what nobody would have ever believed would be his final act as a Ranger (save a pinch-hit strikeout looking against Frasor two days later).

But then again, on Opening Day 2010 nobody would have ever believed much of anything as far as where the 2010 Texas Rangers season was headed.

Look: Don’t go anywhere.  

Open the book.

Wash it off.

We’ve all heard Jeff Banister use the expression half a dozen times.

When the day’s over, it’s over.  You wash it off.  You don’t carry it into the next day.  

That thunderstorm that woke me up and just rolled through?  I figured I might have to wait out a power outage before writing this morning.

It’s all good.

Whatever holiday you celebrate today, hope it’s a good one.

We celebrate together tomorrow.

Twenty-four teams will have a win or a loss by the time Texas and Oakland players and coaches line the chalk in O.co Monday night.  Maybe 26, if those new pace-of-play rules work.

By the time Leonys Martin steps in against Sonny Gray tomorrow night, there will be 12 (and maybe 13) teams with more losses than the Rangers, whose 9-19-5 spring record was, handily, baseball’s worst.

Wash it off.

Go time.

All that once was good, and that could be again.

No, the ERA’s and the batting averages and the win-loss records don’t matter, but yeah, I’d be happier if Texas didn’t head into today’s final exhibition on an eight-game losing streak, one that’s capped off a run of 19 basically meaningless games that’s included just two wins.  Picking up just a little momentum, and that feeling of a team meeting at the mound to line up for fist-bumps, with the season just around the corner would be cool.

But you know what?

This:  

http://m.mlb.com/video/v60085883/mlb-players-recite-famous-field-of-dreams-speech

One more.

One yard.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about that one yard for the past 17 days.”  

Russell Wilson said that in a Players’ Tribune article and video just about 40 days ago.

And every one of us can relate, given what happened on a baseball diamond just about 40 months ago.

That lingering sportsache doesn’t go for every player in the Rangers clubhouse these days — in fact, it applies to fewer than a fifth of them — but based on several written accounts this morning, it was clearly a big part of the things Wilson talked about with his Texas Rangers teammates on his day in camp yesterday.

“We had a great conversation,” Wilson told reporters.  “We talked about how you get back to winning and get back to that opportunity where you are there again and the focus that it takes.  It comes down to fundamentals, but also team bonding and that ‘I’ve got your back kind of mentality at all costs.’  I think we have that. . . . You learn from winning, but also how to deal with a loss.  I think consistency in your perspective shouldn’t change.  The idea of having a championship mindset, that shouldn’t leave. . . . When everybody has that championship mindset, you never fear.  You never doubt.”

Wilson apparently brought brand new Bose headphones and speakers for every one of his teammates and every member of the Rangers staff, but it’s the other thing he brought, the stuff you can’t put a retail price on, that for me goes into the stack along with Prince Fielder’s handful of opposite-field square-ups and the strikeout barrage Jon Edwards and Keone Kela fired yesterday, the first with the uniformed Wilson in the dugout hanging with young baseball players and the second just after he’d left the stadium, and now I’m tormenting myself obsessing over how much Kela’s temperament on the mound might have made a difference on October 27, 2011.  One more . . . . 

Stop.

I’m so ready for ball.

Forget counting sleeps at this point.

One more Sunday.

Straight Outta Compton….to New Jersey?

The Keone Kela backstory is familiar to some and will be soon to many more, but the present tense is the story now, with last night providing the latest chapter, and an exclamation point.

Asked to pitch on back-to-back days (which he did only twice in all of 2014 and never before that in his three-year pro career) and for the third time in four days, the between-the-lines read was clear: The Rangers – who haven’t had anyone else pitch on consecutive days this spring – put yet another box in front of Kela to check, as he’s put himself in line to win a bullpen job that the club certainly didn’t plan for when extending the 21-year-old his first invite to big league camp.

Box checked.

Sunday’s seventh inning against the Mariners:

Groundout to third.

Strikeout swinging.

Groundout to second. 

The righty (“built like an ox, with a sturdy and tall frame conducive for a power reliever,” according to Baseball Prospectus’s Tucker Blair) sat 95-97 – but got the punchout on a hammer curve.

Monday’s seventh against Cincinnati:

Walk.

Strikeout swinging (Joey Votto on full-count, 95-mph cheese).

Groundout to short.

After which “Cold Blooded” (maybe I’ll give up on that nickname at some point) handed the ball off to Jeff Banister, with what had to be one of the greatest feelings of the Compton product’s baseball life.

Kela, who became a father at age 21 – which sounds young until you learn his own parents were 15 and 16 when he was born – recently told Star-Telegram writer Jeff Wilson for a Baseball America piece: “There’s a saying, ‘If you’ve got a jersey, you’ve got a chance.’  It’s just about being consistent and handling your business the best you can.  The opportunity is there.  It’s all about how you perform.”

In the last couple days, the Rangers have optioned (in the case of 40-man roster members) or reassigned (in the case of those not on the 40) several key minor leaguers to the back fields to get more reps, as the players earmarked for the Opening Day roster (or at least battling for those spots) start to get more regular work.  Out are Chi Chi Gonzalez, who’s had an eye-opening camp as well, and Joey Gallo, as well as Jorge Alfaro and Tomas Telis and Jared Hoying and Hanser Alberto and Spencer Patton.  They’ll all be back, most of them at some point in 2015.

But for now, they’ll work in minor league games, with a possible “just in case” assignment with the big club here and there before camp breaks.

When the Rangers and Cubs tee it up next Monday night in the Futures Game the two organizations have put together, Gallo and Alfaro may get the chance to step in against C.J. Edwards, the wiry righthander who keyed the Rangers’ deal for Matt Garza in 2013 and who will probably arrive in Chicago sometime in 2015.

It won’t happen for Edwards at the start of the season, however, as the Cubs have already optioned the 23-year-old to AAA, just as the Brewers have done with 23-year-old Corey Knebel and the Blue Jays have done with 26-year-old Matt West, both former Rangers relief prospects with late-inning upside.

Kela, instead, may be pitching that day against Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer in a big league exhibition game, with his usage pattern carefully mapped out so he’ll be ready to go in Oakland a week after that, assuming his charge towards a bullpen role continues on the path he’s carved out to date.

Last night’s ballgame provided big moments by Gonzalez and by Ryan Rua that caused me to overtweet, and I felt great about Prince Fielder’s 0-for-3 that produced four outs, because results don’t matter in Surprise and we could all see how that swing and the action off the bat looks completely different from 2014, but the moment as indelible as any may have been Kela’s, in part because of the significance of the plan but more so in the execution of it.

Kela’s still got that jersey, so he still has that chance.  And it’s starting to look more and more like “chance” is not the right word to use when talking about the odds that the young man, having earned this opportunity and so far blown its doors off, starts 2015 rocking one of those jerseys that says neither “Frisco” nor “Round Rock” across the front, but instead “Texas.”

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