Thursday, March 23, 2006

They've Got Your Fix

Looks like MLB is trying to be the high-rollin' dealer for the jones we all have.

For the third year, they're auctioning off Ultimate Fan Experiences, putting ticket and suite packages together for sale to the highest bidder. The Rangers' first 2006 volleys are four tickets to April 4 or 5 behind home plate, with valet parking and $40 food/beverage credit; or 20 suite tickets to April 4, with valet and $300 food/bev credit.

Time to sell that kidney.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Move On

My, how different things could have been.

Timing, apparantly, is everything on this site. Just after I wrote about not wanting Barry Bonds to pass Hank Aaron on the all-time homerun list, word came out about the upcoming book on Bonds that fully documents his steroid regimen. I mean, it was a matter of hours after I posted the entry. I felt like I kind of missed the boat.

Today, however, timing appears to be in my favor. Two days ago I wrote about my favorite Opening Day memory (2004). In that entry, I mentioned how the tone of the season was set by Michael Young volunteering early in the spring to switch positions to make room at secondbase for Alfonso Soriano. Again, how different things could have been.

In his two seasons in Texas, there was never a negative word uttered about Soriano by his teammates. In fact, quite the opposite was true. He fit in very well with the "cornerstones" of the organization: Young, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira. They raved about the comradery of the entire infield and how everyone got along both on and off the field. Soriano was the model teammate.

Popular with the players in New York, popular with the kids in Texas. However, the common denominator of those situations was that Soriano was bringing his cement glove to secondbase.

So what happens when his new team, the Washington Nationals, asks him to switch positions and play left field? Evidently, only eight players come out of the dugout, including just two outfielders.

This could get very interesting. The ramifications of Soriano's protest could lead, as the article linked to above suggests, to Sori being placed on the "disqualified list". And that, in turn, affects his service time. And that could prohibit him from becoming a free agent after the 2006 season. This is awful messy.

Washington GM Jim Bowden said they would pursue trade opportunities in order to get Soriano on a team that would slot him at secondbase. The downfall is that every other team knows that Bowden's hands are tied, so the offers he has received have been underwhelming. Does anyone now want to question Jon Daniels' handling of Soriano and the fact that we didn't get a major league pitcher in return? And what about Daniels refusing Washington's request to talk to Sori before the trade was consummated? Nothing short of brilliant. And Bowden making the trade anyway? Idiocy.

Meanwhile, on the Rangers, Michael Young returns from his WBC tour of duty to take his position at shortstop. He has had back-to-back All Star Game appearances at the position. He was the AL Batting Leader in 2005. And he continues to be a strong clubhouse presence as his stature among his peers grows astronomically.

My, how different things could have been.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I'll Take The Rain

The rain came down...

And, boy, did it. Not only that, but it continues to do so for the third consecutive day with no letup in sight. I find myself taking solace in the fact that I can take a nap anytime I want to today... and that Opening Day is two weeks away.

That, combined with Devin's recent entry, has me feeling wistful and nostalgic. So I allowed my mind to wander back to my favorite Home Opener memory. It wasn't long ago. 2004, to be exact.


The Ballpark in Arlington (aka The Temple to those in the know) was packed. Standing room only. People greedily scooped up obstructed view seats. It was odd behavior considering the recent seasons when the team was carried to last place finishes on the shoulders of the game's best player.

But 2004 was different. It had a different feel to it. An indescribable vibe that began in Spring Training thanks to the selfless act of a true team player. When Michael Young walked into Buck Showalter's office and announced that he wanted to play shortstop to accomodate new teammate Alfonso Soriano, the tone was set. A-Rod's "kids" became a team. And the fans could feel it.

Even the most optimistic among us found it difficult to imagine this group of young players and no-name pitchers (for the most part) winning 89 games, let alone being in the hunt for the division title into the final week of the season. But leading up to the opener, I could not recall being as excited about watching young players bust their butts since 1986 - Bobby Valentine's first full season as Rangers manager.

And, on a totally personal level, I had another reason to be excited about the 2004 season. Devin had recently recruited me to be a writing contributor on the fledgling website. I still consider that to be my first big "break" even if it has yet to manifest itself fully. So I'm sure that contributed to my excitement, but what about the other 50,369 people who were there? They didn't even know I existed. But they knew about the Rangers.

All those things Devin recently described... the sights, the smells, the sounds... were amplified on that April day.

The Anaheim Angels jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to two uncharacteristic errors by Young, playing his first home game as A-Rod's replacement. Soon, however, the kids from Texas fought back. Laynce Nix homered. Gerald Laird and Young doubled. Hank Blalock, three months before he made himself a household name by homering off the untouchable Eric Gagne in the 2004 All Star Game, singled in the go-ahead run.

More scoring ensued, highlighted by dingers from Blalock and the lovable Kevin Mench. By the time the blue-skied afternoon was over, Texas had beaten division favorite Anaheim by a score of 12-4.

Hell, Soriano even made a beautiful diving stop on that day to turn a hit into an out.

Fans went home happy, pleased with these kids. Our team, our kids. We had no idea about the ride this group of tyros was about to treat us to. But on that day, on that absolutely gorgeous, built-for-baseball day, there were things to feel good about. Real good.


Guess what? I have that same feeling about 2006... and these might be the longest two weeks of my life because my skin is itching, my heart is racing, and I see line drives when I drift off to sleep at night. I'm ready. And I think the Rangers are, too.

Time to start up that R.E.M. song again.

I knew you when
I loved you then
The summer’s young and helpless.

You laid me bare
You marked me there
The promises we made

- R.E.M., 'I'll Take the Rain'

Senses Working Overtime

In just over two weeks, the Rangers take on the Boston Red Sawks in the first game of the 2006 campaign. For the first time in years, the Rangers are home for the season opener, and I'm damn near giddy from the prospect of it.

There are clear-cut differences in my perception of the world between when there's baseball being played, and when the off-season is dragging along. I've attempted to note the sensations here.

The Sight. After a long five months with no games, the first time I come around a corner and see that ballpark in Arlington for the first time, a weight lifts off my shoulders. In that moment, something in my brain kicks in lets me know that the New Year is beginning.

The Smell. There's something about the way a ballpark smells on the first game of the year. It's a combination of freshly-cut grass, warm concrete, hot dogs, draft beer, and a dozen other things that probably cause cancer in high doses.

The Sound. It's something that is distinctly baseball, distinctly American. In the second that a wooden bat cracks against a leather-bound baseball, and the crowd starts cheering for the ball to go over the fence, you shed ten years or more. (That is, unless it's the opposing team making the hit, and you gain five years.)

The Anticipation. Even if you've followed the day-to-day events at Spring Training, there are so many unanswered questions leading into the new season. For the Rangers this year, those include, but certainly are not limited to:
  • How much better will the pitching rotation be?
  • Who will be the starting outfield?
  • Is Ian Kinsler just as good at second base as advertised?
  • Will Francisco Cordero's arm hold up for the entire season?
  • Can Hank Blalock "take the safeties off" and rev his hitting back up?
That's just me. What are you looking forward to seeing on April 3?