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Author: Devin Pike

The 38th Annual Texas Rangers Festival of High Expectations

The Texas Rangers take off from Surprise today, heading to Oklahoma for a couple of exhibition games before starting off the season on the road (AGAIN). Home opener is Tuesday, April 8 — or, on my calendar, New Year’s Day.

  • There are a LOT of great stories coming out of Rangers Spring Training — Hank Blalock’s resurgence, C.J. Wilson’s assertion that he is the team’s closer, Eric Hurley’s continuing development — but the most ink and pixels have been spent chronicling Josh Hamilton’s rebirth. I can’t wait to see the guy play in Arlington, and pray he’s the real deal.
  • I’ve been to Surprise for Spring Training once, and (for a baseball junkie) it’s addicting. If you think hope springs eternal during Spring Training as a spectator from afar, you really believe it in Arizona or Florida. The Reality Distortion Field at a Spring Training site bundles you up like a warm fleece blanket, pours you a soothing beverage and coos in your ear that “this is your team’s year.” And you believe it unequivocally. I hate myself for not making time to go to Surprise this year, and (as I do every year) I vow to make time to go next year for a weekend.
  • If you’re a coffee drinker / addict, the next two sentences will make perfect sense to you: The first three months of the year feel like I do for an hour and a half in the morning. Once ball clubs break Spring Training and head out to begin the season, the fog in my head clears and things just seem a little bit easier to handle.
  • The best thing about Nolan Ryan’s ascension to Texas Rangers club president: his vow to bring back the red uniforms.
  • It says a lot about your shifting priorities when you really don’t care about where you sit in the Ballpark, as long as you can finagle a parking spot close to the Temple without selling off an organ or a child.

Dear Baseball Santa

Dear Baseball Santa: 

Okay, look – I know people normally drop their letters to you
before December 25th, but I have it on good authority that you spend
your post-Christmas decompression period in Arizona. This means
you’ll be close enough to Surprise to fulfill each of these wish list
items for me (Since you didn’t come through on my original wish for
my own
target=”_blank”>nuclear silo / bunker complex, you can consider
this a “make good,” Herr Jolly.).

As a Rangers’ fan, here’s my wish list:

Pitching. Like every beauty pageant contestant asking for
world peace with their one wish, Rangers fans wish for pitching. So,
there.

A muzzle for Tom Hicks. It seems like every time Tom Hicks has
talked to reporters in the last six years, he’s said something that
fans don’t want or need to hear. There’s a yearly mantra of “If
you people would come to more games, we would get a higher payroll.”
(We know how the economics of it work, Tom, but laying down that
gauntlet won’t make anyone happy.) There was the comment of how much
better Liverpool football fans were than North Texas hockey or
baseball fans. There was the disclosure of how much money he had
sitting on the table for Mark Teixeira to return as a Ranger, only to
be shunned. Really, Tom, we don’t want to know. (If we can’t get
Hicks a muzzle, can we at least get him a handler who stands over his
shoulder and whacks him in the back of the head with a rolled up newspaper when he’s preparing to
say something stupid? No? Okay, stick with the muzzle.)

Validation for John Daniels’ trade skills. I have defended
Daniels to everyone who questioned each big move he’s made. I
defended the Chris Young / Adrian Gonzales trade to San Diego, because
it brought us Akinori Otsuka. I defended the John Danks trade to
Chicago, because the scouts must have seen something in Brandon
McCarthy that made him look like he was Danks, one year sooner. Now,
I’m having to defend him again in sending Volquez to Cincinnati for
Josh Hamilton. Hamilton’s not a pitcher — he’s a centerfielder, and
time will tell just how good he is. (Don’t care about the battle back
from drug abuse, or about his size 19 feet. If he stays clean and
doesn’t step on my cat, I’m fine with him.)

Continued health and happiness for Michael Young. The whole
Rangers world revolves around Young these days — which is great.
Regardless of the accolades writers and coaches pile on him, I still
think Young is one of the most undervalued player in the major
leagues. You could start to hear the frustration in Young’s post-game
quotes last year, including this gem around the time of the Teixeira
trade:

“I’m not trying to guess what I think a rebuilding process
is — I know exactly what it is. I’ve been a part of
it.”

When Young is firing on all cylinders (which has been every single
year he’s been in a Rangers uniform), this team has a better-than-zero
chance of winning every game. Whatever it takes to make him happy,
this organization need to do it.

A resurgent Hank Blalock. When Ron Washington came on with the
Rangers, he said he was taking on Hank Blalock as a project. “Hank
Blalock is mine,” Washington said. “I’ve got Hank. I’m going to make
Hank better.” No one wants to see that prediction come to pass more
than me. Whatever is off in Hank’s game needs to get fixed. If Young
is the heart of this team, Blalock was once the soul. That needs to
come back.

Real, dominant starting pitching from the farm system. We’ve
heard from a lot of baseball writers the Rangers have one of the
strongest farm systems in baseball right now. Time to see a good
harvest. This does not mean power-hitting infielders, or
“role-playing” relievers. It means dominant, hungry starting pitchers
who want to come hard-charging out of the dugout and seven solid
innings. (This may sound like I’m doubling up from the first item on
the list. Sue me, big guy.)

A home post-season win. Okay, I know this may be the hardest
thing to get the elves to manufacture, but one of my fondest memories
as a Rangers fan was watching the Rangers beat the Yankees at Friday’s
Front Row in 1996. Remember how that one win carried baseball fandom
in this town for years? Imagine what it would do to see one here in
town. (I could ask for more wins, even advancing in the playoffs…
but I don’t want to seem greedy. It is, after all, Christmas.)

Posted by Devin Pike, filed under Texas Rangers. Date: December 25, 2007, 6:26 am | No Comments »

First, here’s the short version:

* The Rangers didn’t sign Torii Hunter.
* They non-tendered Akinori Otsuka, who still doesn’t know where he’s playing.
* The word around the campfire is that Jon Daniels is building for 2009.

With those points in mind, I’m reminded of the off-season the Rangers
had leading up to the 2004 season. I’ll get to that in a bit. Let’s
look at who the Rangers did pick up, and quit focusing on the
negative:

Kazuo Fukumori
Looks to step into the eighth-inning role Otsuka formerly occupied.
Last year, for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Kaz was 4-2 with 17
saves and a 4.75 ERA in 34 games. His season was cut short when he
had surgery to take out elbow bone chips. JD says the surgery was
minor, and he’s made a full recovery.

One thing I like about Ron Washington is his reluctance to slot anyone
in a role until after he sees ‘em in Spring Training action. Kaz has
repeatedly said he wants the ball in the ninth inning, but that role
goes to Zen warrior C.J. Wilson until further notice.

Milton Bradley
It’s never a good sign when writers use the term “ill-mannered” about
anyone, especially baseball players.

Bradley’s had issues with anger management in the past, so it
shouldn’t have surprised anyone when he got into a pissing match with
an umpire at the end of the 2007 season. Padres Manager Bud Black
spun Bradley to the ground to keep him from going after Mike Winters,
and tore his Bradley’s ACL in the process.

When he’s healthy (and not being benched or suspended), Bradley’s got
serviceable numbers — .273/.358/.439 in eight years of big-league
work. He’s had a great rapport with Ron Washington, and that goes a
long way with “troubled” players. More importantly (at least to me),
Bradley’s got a lot of competitive fire — something a lot of people
think is missing from the Rangers clubhouse.

Bradley insists he’ll be available to play on Opening Day. We don’t
know if that will be as a DH or in center field.

Edgardo Alfonzo
It’s a minor league contract. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

Alfonzo’s 36 years old, and spent last year with the indie league Long
Island Ducks. He’s been in the bigs for twelve years, and was an
All-Star with the New York Mets in 2000. Last year he hit .266 with
56 RBIs in 105 games. For his career, he’s .284/.357/.425.

If you see him at the big league level for an extended period of time,
it’s not because the Rangers have thrown in the towel.

Finale
So, there’s the Rangers’ off-season (so far). Not a lot to get you to
run to the Ballpark’s ticket office in February… and that’s fine.
If you don’t want to think this team will do anything to distinguish
itself from the rest of the American League, fine.

But every time I look at this roster, I think back to the build-up for
the 2004 season. Our ace was Kenny Rogers; we had an unproven
infield; we had just traded Alex Rodriguez to the Evil Empire.
Everyone thought there was good reason to look forward to 2005, but
‘04 was a “rebuilding” year. Instead, they went 89-73, and might have
made more noise had Frankie Francisco not launched a folding chair
into Jennifer Bueno’s schnozz.

You never know what will happen from year to year (unless you’re a
Devil Rays fan)… but I’m at least intrigued by the Rangers in 2008.

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