Breaking Down the 2016 Roster

We’ve all been ready for opening day since the final out of last season. After last week’s excursion to Spring Training, we were that much more excited. And now, we’re about as ready as we can be, after the Rangers announced the Riders initial roster yesterday.

The big excitement, of course, surrounds Lewis Brinson’s return to Frisco after a stellar 2015 campaign. Riders fans can thank the log jam of outfielders in Arlington and Round Rock for the fact that Brinson is coming back, because he’d probably be starting in Triple-A in almost every other organization right now.

But aside from Brinson, there’s a lot to look forward to this summer. Eighteen of the 26 players on this year’s roster (9 pitchers and 9 hitters) donned a RoughRiders uniform for at least part of last season, while some of the organization’s rising stars descend on Dr Pepper Ballpark for the first time.

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Jose Leclerc is a candidate for the starting rotation this season

PITCHERS 

You’d hope the pitching staff can only go up after a rough year in 2015, in which Frisco pitchers combined for a 4.70 staff ERA. There seemed to be a lot of hype surrounding Connor Sadzeck while we were in Surprise. If he can consistently provide strong starts and turn a lead over to the bullpen, that should give the Riders a big boost. Returning starters Frank Lopez, Victor Payano, and Jose Leclerc will be in the running for the starting rotation, as well, but will need to show marked improvement from a year ago, when they combined to go 13-19 with a 5.28 ERA. Reed Garrett started 25 games last year between Hickory and High Desert, and could be another candidate for the rotation.

Out of the bullpen, the biggest intrigue surrounds Matt Bush, who dazzled, sparkled, entertained and then some in his couple spring training outings in major league games (including touching 100 mph earlier this week). If that’s how he threw against major leaguers, imagine how he might dominate at the Double-A level, likely in the back end of the bullpen.

CATCHERS

Alex Burg, Patrick Cantwell, and Kellin Deglan will open the season in the squat for Frisco. Cantwell and Deglan were both invited to major league camp as non-roster invitees this spring in Surprise. Burg, however, might offer the best bat among the three. He hit .271 in 50 games with the Riders last year, launching 11 doubles and 7 homers. Last season was Burg’s first in the Rangers organization after stints with the Giants and Marlins organizations. Depending on how Round Rock’s catching situation plays out, at least one could get the call up at some point in the season. But until then, it will be interesting to see who stakes the starting role.

INFIELDERS

This, perhaps, is the group with the most unknowns heading into 2016. Luis Marte and Luis Mendez are back, but the other three (Ronald Guzman, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Alberto Triunfel) are all new to the Double-A level. Guzman probably has the most upside of anyone, at least from a hitting standpoint. He’s coming off a career year in 2015 between Hickory and High Desert, hitting .283 with 12 homers and 87 RBI, the most in the entire Rangers farm system. He also sports a career .985 fielding percentage. Kiner-Falefa, like Guzman, had a rather strong year between the Crawdads and Mavericks last season, hitting .296 with 12 doubles, 2 triples and 40 RBI. And Triunfel, who jumped straight from the Dominican League to High Desert last summer, offers intrigue as well. It’s a group with potential right now, but until that potential is tapped, it’s hard to say just how strong the Riders infield will be.

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Ryan Cordell is coming back to Frisco after spending time in major-league camp this spring

OUTFIELDERS

If infielders are the biggest question mark, outfield may be the spot with the fewest uncertainties heading into 2016. Brinson, who complemented his hitting prowess by earning Rangers Minor League Defensive Player of the Year honors, is the obvious headliner, but there are some other notable talents out in the grass with him. Ryan Cordell joined Brinson in major league camp this spring and turned a lot of heads. He struggled at the plate last year in Frisco (.217 avg, 5 HR, 18 RBI), but did turn in a perfect fielding percentage in the outfield. With a partial Double-A season and a visit to major league camp under his belt, it’ll be interesting to see how big a step forward he takes this summer. Dallas-native Preston Beck is also back with the Riders, and the versatile player is listed as an outfielder on the initial roster this season. Zach Cone, who provides both power and athleticism, in addition to a .991 career fielding percentage, could be a nice fit in Joe Mikulik’s outfield, too. Joe Jackson is the only outfielder on the opening roster who hasn’t yet been to Double-A, but he comes off a good season in High Desert last year and could eventually work his way into a more regular role, especially as some of the guys in front of him move up to Round Rock.

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Let’s not forget that these are only the guys who will likely be with Frisco on opening day, which is just eight days away at Northwest Arkansas. The incredibly well-stacked Rangers farm system has plenty of other young stars working their way up the ladder. Pitchers, such as Luis Ortiz, Ariel Jurado and Dillon Tate could find themselves in Frisco by the end of the summer, while position players like Michael De Leon, Travis Demeritte, Jairo Beras, and Juremi Profar are all waiting in the wings with High Desert.

You never can quite tell how a roster will pan out, but there’s certainly reason to believe this group canturn things around in 2016. After all, that’s the beauty of Opening Day. Everybody starts with a blank slate and a chance to do some incredible things.

-Ryan

Baseball term of the day: Run for the cycle – For a player to be retired at first base, second base, third base and home (not necessarily in that order) during a game.

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels: Guilder Rodriguez

We spoke with Guilder Rodriguez about transitioning from player to coach. We will have more on RidersTV soon; here is a teaser of our interview with him from our Spring Training Travels Series. All installments from the series can be found here, including Day 1Day 2, Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6, and our mid-trip update.

Although his time in the Major Leagues was short-lived, Guilder Rodriguez is one of the most well-known RoughRiders in team history. The middle infielder is the all-time leader in Riders in games played, hits, and stolen bases.

Coming soon to #RidersTV is an exclusive interview with Guilder about Spring Training as a coach and his upcoming role as a coach in the Dominican Summer League.

Here is a preview:

Nathan

Baseball term of the day: zob – a weak person; a fool.

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels Day 6: Baseball Lifers on the Back Fields

This marks the sixth day of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. In this installment, Steve Goldberg tells the story of a RoughRiders fan who has traveled with the Rangers to Spring Training for the past 27 years. All installments can be found here, including Day 1Day 2, Day 3Day 4, and Day 5.

Nathan, Ryan, and I have spent the majority of our week here at Spring Training out on the back fields in Surprise, covering former RoughRiders and other players that will soon be a part of the team.

When you watch a game on the back fields, it is an entirely different experience than taking in the action at the main stadium. There are small crowds of about 50 people made up of mostly players, coaches, a few writers, and a handful of Minor League baseball fans.

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A groundskeeper waters one of the back fields before a Minor League game in Surprise.

I was watching the Rangers squad play the Royals the other day and encountered a fan sitting next to me who was a Northwest Arkansas Naturals season ticket holder since their inaugural Texas League season in 2008. Every time a former Natural stepped up to bat, she screamed their name and said, “Come on! Hit a home run! It’s your turn now!”

The second day we were here, Ryan and I had just finished talking to Ryan Strausborger when two RoughRiders fans approached us. They introduced themselves and recounted their memories of Strausborger playing at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

Sheree Bernstein and her mother Edie are loyal Riders fans and Rangers fans. Sheree, a founder of the Riders Booster Club, has followed the Rangers to Spring Training for the past 27 years and can frequently be seen on the back fields in Surprise watching the Minor League games.

Sheree and her mother Edie have countless Spring Training stories about their experiences with former RoughRiders and Rangers over the years. They are season ticket holders at Dr Pepper Ballpark. As much as they love attending RoughRiders home games, they also enjoy the feeling of watching past, present, and future Riders play on practice fields in front of very small crowds.

After meeting Sheree and Edie, I asked if they would share their Spring Training story with our readers here on the blog. They agreed. The following words are Sheree’s.

I would consider us “baseball lifers”. We might not have played or started life as fans. But somewhere along the way, the game and interest in those that play it, run it, and also love it grabbed a hold. We don’t foresee a time it’s not a big part of our lives.

Sheree Bernstein

Sheree Bernstein watches from her lawn chair as former RoughRider Jurickson Profar awaits the first pitch of his at-bat.

It all began for me when I became an ‘Astros Buddy’ in the mid ‘70s. Going to Astros games in Houston was a way for me to spend quality time with my dad. My love for baseball evolved over time. Mom and I both have spent time as baseball employees. I was an usher, and Mom was a hostess at Dr Pepper Ballpark’s JCPenney Club.

Spring Training has been a big part of our baseball lives for the last 27 years. We started back at the Rangers’ camp in Port Charlotte, Fla., and continued on to the current complex in Surprise. We love the climate, the scenery, the people, and the immersion of baseball for a couple weeks each year.

Mom likes to remember seeing Elvis Andrus when he was young and shy. She has enjoyed seeing him grow into a team leader. Not to mention, he is also an All-Star caliber player.

We love Spring Training so much because it is an opportunity to meet up with friends and get to see the big league team come together up close. We also reacquaint with former players who have already come through Frisco and those that may soon be arriving. We love the relaxed atmosphere and the chance to see the players develop, grow, and mature from one year to the next.

As you can see, Sheree’s passion for baseball is evident. The small handful of fans like Sheree and Edie who attend the Minor League games feel like they are a part of the action on the opposite side of the chain-link fence.

The back fields provide a much more intimate Spring Training setting than the main Surprise Stadium. The “baseball lifers” like Sheree, Edie, and that Northwest Arkansas Naturals fan know that even though the players on the field may not be superstars yet, their opportunity is just a few steps away.

And that, to me, is the most beautiful thing about baseball.

– Steve

Baseball term of the day: foozler – a lucky base hit

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels Day 5: Checking in with Non-Roster Invitees

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Former RoughRiders Ryan Cordell (center) and Lewis Brinson (right) returned to minor league camp this week after spending most of Spring Training in major league camp.

This marks the fifth day of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. In this installment, we check in with some former RoughRiders who were invited to major league camp as non-roster invitees. All installments can be found here, including Day 1Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

If you’ve been to a Spring Training game, you know the drill. The major leaguers play for the first five or six innings, before you find you find yourself asking “who?” every time an unfamiliar name is introduced as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. These mystery players are often the non-roster invitees.

Non-roster invitees are players with minor-league contracts (i.e. not on the 40-man roster), but are participating on the major league side of camp instead of the minor league side. Often, they are younger players working their way to their first full-time MLB roster spot, while veteran big leaguers are occasionally brought in, too (a la Jeremy Guthrie this year). This spring, the Rangers had 18 non-roster invitees, including a handful of former RoughRiders. While many of the non-roster invitees won’t make the big league roster right away, the opportunity to train alongside some of the game’s best players provides a valuable experience.

“I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself,” said 2014-15 RoughRiders infielder Drew Robinson. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, absorb anything I can from these guys.

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Ryan Cordell works with RoughRiders hitting coach Jason Hart during Tuesday morning’s practice.

And that absorption of knowledge from established veterans can be just as important as refining on-field skills.

“Seeing how they go about their business day to day, I mean, it’s huge because it’s something you have to be able to learn how to do,” said 2015 RoughRiders outfielder Ryan Cordell. “At this point in my career, learning how to become better off the field, how to prepare myself when I come to the field, that’s the biggest part.

Though they’re not a regular face in the Rangers clubhouse during the summer, they’ve been welcomed in as part of the family.

“It’s a good vibe around here,” said 2013 RoughRiders catcher/first baseman Brett Nicholas. “They treat us like we’re part of the team. I’ve enjoyed talking to some of the veteran guys who have been around for a while and just them giving their two cents on what it’s like to play at this level.”

Monday, the Rangers sent nine players down to minor league camp – including Robinson, Cordell and Lewis Brinson. Though they won’t be in Arlington for opening day, they’re another step closer to becoming full-time major leaguers, whether later this season or later on down the road. And perhaps next year, they’ll crack the 40-man roster and can serve as gracious hosts to the newest wave of non-roster invitees.

– Ryan

Baseball term of the day: add a foot – To gain physical maturity and thus increase the velocity of one’s fastball

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels: Mid-trip Update (VIDEO)

The RoughRiders Media Relations Department is at Spring Training in and around Surprise, Arizona. Here is a video update of the trip so far. All installments in the Spring Training Travels series can be found here, including Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

Spring Training Travels Day 4: Rangers Return From San Antonio

This marks the fourth day, third full day, of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. In our fourth installment, Steve Goldberg recaps the Rangers’ weekend trip to San Antonio and the adjustment to getting back in a rhythm at camp. All installments can be found here, including Day 1Day 2, and Day 3.

With two full days of Spring Training under our belt, we move on to our third day here at the Rangers’ training complex. When we arrived in Surprise on Saturday, a group of players were noticeably missing. They were playing two games against the Kansas City Royals in San Antonio.

It was a very enjoyable weekend for the group who made the 850-mile trek back to Texas. The Rangers won both games against the Royals, scored a total of 20 runs, and played in front of 27,536 fans on Friday and 33,592 on Saturday. This was indeed a major change of pace from playing in smaller Cactus League ballparks.

The team experienced many thrills over the weekend, highlighted by former RoughRider Lewis Brinson’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Friday’s 7-5 victory.

Hanser Alberto, another former Rider, enjoyed the change of pace going from Surprise to San Antonio for the weekend. Alberto was a perfect 2-for-2 in the first game Friday.

“The San Antonio weekend was great,” Alberto said. “It’s a good city and it was great to be around the guys. We had a lot of fun there and played very well.”

Alberto

Infielder Hanser Alberto played 150 total games with the RoughRiders during the 2013 and 2014 seasons

Alberto and the squad who made the trip to San Antonio were back at the Rangers’ training complex Sunday. They had a quick turnaround, with a 1:05 p.m. big league game against the Angels looming. Despite the major contrast between playing at the Alamodome and Surprise Stadium, the team had a smooth transition back to the everyday routine of camp.

“It’s the same game, nothing new,” Alberto said. “You see the ball and hit the ball. You make the routine plays and play your hardest. We came back here and are continuing to work hard. We want to keep showing everyone that we’re ready.”

For Alberto, his first taste of Major League action last year has impacted his mindset at this year’s Spring Training. He continues to receive valuable advice from the experienced players in the clubhouse that have helped him with adjust to playing in the big leagues.

“I have learned a lot from the veteran guys,” Alberto said. “It’s been a great experience. Now I have a better idea how to work and concentrate. The results are going to be different every day, but now I feel comfortable at every point in the game. I am more ready than ever.”

Strausborger

2012-14 RoughRiders OF Ryan Strausborger records exclusive content for RiderVision

There are many other former Riders in a similar position. Chi Chi Gonzalez, Keone Kela, and Ryan Strausborger all made their Major League debuts with the Rangers last season and bring that experience with them to this year’s Spring Training.

As mentioned in our Day 2 post, this is my first time at Spring Training. One of the most noticeable and pleasantly surprising things has been observing the interaction between Major League veterans and the up-and-coming prospects throughout all levels of the organization.

Everyone here is striving to improve and advance to the highest level of the sport. The veterans have a visible presence at the camp giving their tips and offering advice to the younger players, who are learning as much as possible in their quest for success.

– Steve

Baseball term of the day: freight delivery – slow pitching

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels Day 3: A Sitdown with the Great Tepid Participation

This marks the third day, second full day, of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. In our third installment, Nathan Barnett sits down with Tepid Participation, @TepidP on Twitter, to talk who he is looking for on the back fields, why he comes out to Spring Training, and the Choctaw Lazy River. This interview took place on Saturday, March 19. All installments can be found here, including Day 1 and Day 2.

Nathan: Welcome out to Surprize, Arizona and today we are joined by TepidP of Lone Star Ball. If you’re a fan of the Rangers minor leagues, you know who he is. Michael: first, thanks for joining us

TepidP: No problem.

N: Like us, you’re here on the first day of your Spring Training Trip. How long will you be out here this year?

T: I’ll be out here about five days this year (Editor’s note: same as us! Not planned)

N: Is this an every year trip for you?

T: Every year, man. It’s a blast.

N: I know you have fun out here, but what specifically brings you out here?

T: Just looking at the new kids mostly. It’s one of those opportunities–you see all of these kids who get drafted in June–this is one of my opportunities to see a lot of those kids. A lot of Dillon Tate, Mike Matuella–even if they are not pitching, like in Mike’s case. You still get your first set of looks at some of the new guys and then see some of the progress that some of the guys may have made away from Frisco.

N: So, first thing you did, you got off the plane and came straight here. Who was the first guy you were looking for, the first person you wanted to see out here?

T: After you guys!?! I would have to say it was G-Rod (Guilder Rodriguez). I love seeing Guilder, and I am so happy for him to make that transition into the second part of his baseball career, which may or may not end up being even more fruitful than the first part of his career. He’s going to start coaching; I had the chance to catch up with him the first few minutes that I was here, and he’s really excited about the opportunity. I am happy for him. He had an amazing career, and all RoughRiders fans will remember him, and he’s a legend.

N: Now we have to give you some credit here. As many who knew G-Rod as a player, you knew he would be a coach six or so years ago.

T: Everyone did! He’s always been a coach. You know, he was a coach who every once in a while would fill in at shortstop. He’s done that for the last, I don’t know, half-decade of his career, and even he’s known that. It’s nice that he finally made the transition, and he just told me “no more pressure. No more pressure of going 0-for-4.” I just laughed at him. He’s really excited about the opportunity, so I am happy for him.

N: First games are about to start today. Who are you excited to watch today specifically?

T: Well today we are going to get to peek at the starters. Actually, a couple of guys probably bound for Frisco. We’ve got Jose Leclerc on one field, and we have Connor Sadzeck on the other. Those guys will probably go a couple of innings, and obviously those are guys who can dial it up, but also need to work on refining their command, and refining their mechanics, and perfecting their delivery, and they will have a chance to do that today. Hopefully, we will see them for a little while in Frisco.

N: Okay, I am going to put you on the spot: if you had to guess the starting nine position players in Frisco for Opening Day, who would you guess they will be.

T: Oh geez, that really is on the spot. I would say: “Condor” Guzman (Ronald Guzman) over at first. Isiah Kiner-Falefa at second. I’m going to say Luis Marte at short. Third base…uh…I’m not really sure honestly. Then I think Royce Bolinger will be in the outifeld, probably Preston Beck in right, and I’d probably go with Chris Garia (Christopher Garia) in center?

N: And the designated hitter on Opening Day? 

T: Me?

N: We will see what we can do! You tweeted last week about Matt Bush, who is a new guy with the organization who has, let’s called it a “checkered past.” You heard he was throwing upper 90s, with a good hard slider. How excited are you to delve into his story?

T: It’s fascinating, you know. It’s never not going to be fascinating to have a guy who was literally in prison the last three years who has been given an great opportunity by the Rangers. We will have to see if he can take full advantage of it. The skills seem to be there, so it will be up to him.

N: Now let’s talk a little off the field stuff. You are a guy who covers baseball but you’re also into the business of baseball. What was your first reaction when you heard about the Choctaw Lazy River going into Dr Pepper Ballpark this summer?

T: (laughs) My first reaction was “cannonballllll.” I think it’s great. I think its a great opportunity for you guys to get more people out to the park for some great family fun. It’s not a big surprise that at the minor league level, you are marketing the experience even more so than the players. This is another opportunity to put another thing in front of people that will be a draw and get people to be excited about coming out to the park. I think it’s absolutely the coolest thing going.

N: Now you are usually working when you are out at at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Do you have plans to bring the family out and enjoy the lazy river as a fan?

T: I am just going to do a cannonball in my clothes. I am just going to run out there on the first day and put my notepad to the side and just do a cannonball, and we will inaugurate it like that.

N: Well, we will warn the ushers about that. Last thing, what story lines are you watching coming out of spring.

T: Obviously Triple-A should be amazing. With all of the guys that have come through Frisco the last year or so, Triple-A should be great. You’re going to have Jurickson Profar, and probably Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara, and Lewis Brinson, if he’s not down with us in Frisco. You’re going to have an amazing opportunity there to watch some really great potential future superstars. Then down at the A-ball level, you have guys in the next wave coming along. Guys like Dillon Tate, guys like Luis Ortiz. Eventually later this summer you will see Mike Matuella and guys like Eric Jenkins and Josh Morgan, kind of the next generation of guys who will become household names and future Rangers.

N: Well thanks for your time! Enjoy your time out here on the back fields!

T: Anytime!

You can follow TepidP on Twitter and in longer, equally eloquent form, over at Lone Star Ball.

– Nathan

Baseball term of the day: bite – the sharp downward break, late or fast, of a curveball or slider.

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels Day 2: The World Beyond Surprise Stadium

Pitchers Instruction

Minor league pitchers go through an instruction session during Saturday’s workout

This marks the second day, first full day, of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. All installments can be found here, including Day 1

We made it to Arizona! Each of us comes to Surprise with slightly different levels of Spring Training experience. Nathan is the most experienced of the three of us, already having been five times previously. For Steve, this is his first ever visit to Spring Training (and we hope it’s not his last).

I’m somewhere in the middle. This week marks my fourth visit to Arizona for Spring Training. But those first three visits were spent exclusively in the major league parks, casually taking in America’s pastime under the sun. Don’t get me wrong; each of those visits was quite enjoyable. However, this year, I’m exploring the minor league side of the complex too, and it’s taking my Spring Training experience to the next level. CIMG0696

On the back fields, you get a little bit of everything. Whether it’s Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre sharing a morning laugh in major league camp, all the minor league pitchers gathering for some morning insight and advice, or just the constant crack of the bat coming from some of the organization’s up-and-comers in one of the various batting practice setups, there’s an interminable feel of baseball in the warm, Arizona air.

After taking in the morning workouts, we stayed in Surprise for the afternoon to take in some of the minor league games against Kansas City. It’s a much different feel than a major league game out here. Not only are the crowds significantly smaller, but they’re mainly composed of other players, coaches and scouts in the organization, as opposed to fans. Nonetheless, it’s still fun to watch a hitter battle through a long at-bat or a pitcher find a way out of trouble. After all, baseball is baseball is baseball, whether it’s played in Surprise Stadium or on Field 6 of the complex.

Beck

2015 RoughRiders 1B/OF Preston Beck takes a hack in one of Saturday’s minor league games

One of the big takeaways from my first day on the back fields was the intrigue of seeing the Rangers organization together as one, with seven practice fields separated by just a few hundred yards. In one moment, you may be looking at the current major leaguers, while the next moment may lead you to the rising stars that will don a minor league uniform this summer in Frisco or elsewhere in the farm system. And sometimes, the major and minor league worlds collide, in the case of non-roster invitees. I’ll have more on them later in the week here on the blog.

Until then, I’m looking forward to spending more time on the back fields. If you’re like me and have only ever seen Spring Training from the major league parks, I’d recommend venturing around the complex a bit more next time you come to really soak up what Spring Training is all about.

The fun is only beginning here in Surprise. Steve will have another update for you tomorrow.

-Ryan

Baseball term of the day: Agate – The baseball. The term may have derived from “marble,” another name for the ball. Agates and aggies were popular forms of marbles.

(term from The Dickson Baseball Dictionary)

Spring Training Travels Day 1: And We’re Off!

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This marks the first day of the RoughRiders Media Relations Department’s travels at Spring Training in and around Phoenix, Arizona. All installments can be found here.

The offseason is a blur. It feels like just a few weeks ago that I had the amazing honor of calling a Carolina League Championship with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and now, here I am, four months into a job of my dreams, getting ready to head back to Spring Training.

It’s easy to get romantic about Spring Training–so I am going to indulge myself. The high skies, the dry mountain air, the popping of mitts, the cracking of bats, the buzzing of the diehard fans, and the crackling of cleats on the concrete walkways all coalesce to make for baseball heaven. Fans have the opportunity to experience the ballpark aromas, the pace of a baseball game, and the sounds of the public address announcer bouncing around the ballpark well before the season truly begins in April. It’s like getting a sneak peek of a blockbuster movie: it’s totally legal–you’re even invited. Yet it feels like somehow, despite being a John Smith or a Jane Doe, that you get to pull the curtain back in a way that can make you feel like you have special insider access.

With-a-doubt, this was and still is true for me (now, I am just fortunate enough to have a little more access). Even before I ever went, Spring Training was stuff of legends. My baseball-loving grandfather got in the habit of taking grandchildren out to Rangers Spring Training (then in Port Charlotte), and I looked forward to the chance for years. My older cousins came back with stories of meeting our heroes, of watching them up close, and of spending time in a baseball lover’s Mecca.

Then, grandpa got older, didn’t feel up for making the trip, and my excursion to the Sunshine State never happened.

Ten years later, I made it (this time to Arizona), and it was magical. A buddy of mine and I drove from LA to Goodyear to watch the Rangers and Padres…and drove back all in the same day. That’s how badly we wanted to go. That day, Josh Hamilton hit his first Rangers homer, a grand slam in a Rangers blowout.

Now that is one serious group of hitters

Now that is one serious group of hitters (March 2014)

I was hooked. I made it out to Spring Training each out of the next two years while in college.

Then I started working in baseball. Schedules made things tough, but I did make it back my first year in Myrtle Beach back in 2014. Lo and behold, one of the Rangers broadcasters was sick, and I was asked to fill in on the radio side with Matt Hicks. Cue terror and utmost excitement.

The point is not to show off that I had the chance to call a big league Spring Training game (don’t worry I did plenty of that back then). The point, rather, is that Spring Training is Magic Kingdom for me: The Most Magical Place on Earth.

The point, is that today it begins. In a week there will be tons of great stories to tell, and we cannot wait to tell them to you. Over the next six days we will be posting here on the Riders Insider Blog and on Riders social media channels, including our BRAND NEW, “Riders Media” twitter account, which will be more focused on providing in-depth content on Riders players, statistics, and insights from me, Steve Goldberg, and Ryan Rouillard on a daily basis.

So, until tomorrow…when we will be out in baseball’s favorite desert…so long!

– Nathan

Baseball term of the day: bleeder – a batted ball that, as the result of an erratic roll, pop, bad bounce, or overall slowness, becomes a base hit. 

(term from The Baseball Thesaurus)

 

Meet the Press: 2016 Edition

To our loyal blog readers,

It’s been awhile since our last post. Apologies on that.

You can expect to see consistent content here moving forward. Since last we wrote, much has changed. I, Nathan Barnett, have returned to the organization, filling the role as the leader of the Media Relations department here in Frisco, taking over after a well-lead four-year effort by my former mentor Alex Vispoli. Some fans may remember me from the 2013 season, when I served as a Media Relations Assistant under Alex.

But enough about me. I am thrilled that I will be joined by two excellent up-and-coming stars in the business that are sure to entertain our fans here on this space and on the air as well.

So, without further ado, Steve Goldberg and Ryan Rouillard, in their own words.


Steve Goldberg

Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, once said, “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

This holds true not just about writing, but also about everything in life. No matter how grueling your schedule may be on a given day, it is a thrill to have a job that you love. For many people, that may love may stem from things like art, history, and literature. Or architecture! (Seinfeld fans, anyone?)

But the love and inspiration for my career comes from baseball. It always has been, and it always will be. Every time I broadcast a game or write a feature story, I recall the experience of the first baseball game I attended and the emotions I felt that day.

I was born a few blocks from Fenway Park in Boston, so baseball naturally slipped into my blood. But my first game was not in Boston. My family moved to Houston in the summer of 1998, and my father took me to the Astrodome the following year.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in May, but the rain outside was not an issue since the Astros played indoors. The Astroturf field was very bizarre, certainly not like the grass fields I played tee-ball on. I could not stop looking at the roof high over the diamond and the giant American and Texas flags hanging above the wall in deep center field.

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The game began, and I was amazed with how much better it was to be there in person instead of just watching it on television. The roar of the crowd, the crack of the bat, and the smell of fresh hot dogs created the perfect atmosphere to enjoy America’s pastime.

I stared up at the press box and envied the broadcasters, who I heard (and imitated) nearly every day from home. They truly lived the dream, sitting in the catbird seat at a baseball stadium every single day.

Later in the game, I asked my father if we could leave our seats for a few minutes to get an ice cream.

“Let’s watch this next batter,” he replied. “Then we can go.”

The mighty, right-handed hitter for St. Louis stepped into the box moments later. Two red birds sat perched on a yellow baseball bat atop the word ‘Cardinals’ in script on the front of his grey jersey. On the back of the uniform, he donned the number 25 with the last name ‘McGwire’ printed in red letters above.

This Mark McGwire fella had just set a new single-season record by hitting 70 home runs the previous year. But I had no idea, at the time. I was just a five-year old, starry-eyed boy awaiting the upcoming events in the game but battling with an ever-present craving for ice cream.

My father was keen about watching this one particular player bat, so I made sure I paid close attention too. Sure enough, McGwire connected with the baseball, and it soared far beyond the outfield wall. As he rounded the bases triumphantly, Dad turned to me with a grin below the moustache on his face.

“Let’s go get some ice cream.”

I returned to my seat with a Chipwich, an ice cream sandwich nestled between two chocolate chip cookies. I still vividly recall how delicious it tasted. Every time I have seen a home run since, I think back to that Chipwich and remember my feelings after McGwire hit that monstrous home run. I knew from that day forward, I wanted to be a part of the ‘larger than life’ game of baseball forever.

Nobody can recall every single pitch, but there should always be key points that stand out to viewers. As a broadcaster and a writer, I keep this in mind when considering the defining moments of a game. You never know what five-year-old, starry-eyed kid in the crowd may be gazing up at the press box envying your job. While eating a Chipwich, of course.

It has been almost 17 years since I first realized my passion for this sport. My first year working in professional baseball took me from my alma mater, the University of Missouri, to Charleston, S.C., and then all the way to Melbourne, Australia.

Now, I am ready to begin the 2016 season as a Media Relations and Broadcasting Assistant for the RoughRiders. Just a four-hour drive from my childhood home in Houston. Back in the Lone Star State.


Ryan Rouillard

I hit my growth spurt in 6th grade, well before most of my friends. As a result, I grew up hearing people tell me I had the bulk to play football, or the height to play basketball. Despite all the outside noise, baseball has always been the clear number one in my life.

Growing up just a few miles east of Seattle, Safeco Field was my home away from home in the summers. I couldn’t get enough of venturing into the Emerald City with my dad and taking in the unique buzz running throughout a baseball stadium.

I grew up idolizing local stars, such as Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki (I missed Griffey’s first stint in Seattle by a few years). My desire to be like them someday led me to start playing baseball at a young age. But over time, I found a new member of the team to idolize: legendary Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus.

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Niehaus, a Hall-of-Famer, was my companion through the airwaves whenever I wasn’t at the ballpark. His unbridled passion and love for baseball only furthered my love for America’s pastime. He would commonly say he never worked a day in his life because he was having so much fun behind the mic, and it was obvious to me listening at home. He became so special to me that I felt like I had lost a family member when he died in 2010.

With Dave as an inspiration, I was the kid who muted the “Backyard Baseball” broadcasters and did it myself. Even sometimes at Safeco Field, I would sit in section 330, just above Dave, and try and call my own game. My dream of broadcasting withered for a few years in high school, but in my senior year, I had a chance to resurrect it when I called Mercer Island High School basketball games on the school’s station. Even though it wasn’t baseball, I had so much fun behind the mic, further understanding why Dave sounded as giddy as he did every night.

When I got to the University of Oregon in 2012, there was no question in my mind that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I got actively involved with the campus radio station, KWVA, during the school year. That place has been – and still is – a great influence on my career. In the summers, I broadcast collegiate summer wood-bat baseball in the West Coast League. I was in Victoria, BC in 2013, before returning stateside to work in Yakima, WA the last two summers. My time in the WCL, where I was calling baseball almost every day for two months, only strengthened my love for baseball and being around such a special sport.

Now, here I am, just a few weeks from graduating and beginning what I know will be a fantastic journey with the RoughRiders. Maybe I could have made it work had I tried football or basketball, like everyone suggested, but I’m not sure either of those would have made me as happy as I am now. Baseball is, and will always be, where my heart lies. I can’t wait to spend another season behind the mic, where I hope my love of the game radiates through the airwaves, just like it did for me with Dave.


Nathan Barnett

As for me, I introduced myself to our readers back in 2013, and, to borrow an old cliche, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Since my time in Frisco, I had the privledge of working with the mighty Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Carolina League during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the first as a member of the Rangers farm system and last year as a Cubs affiliate.

We made the finals in 2014 with a handful of past and future RoughRiders: Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Chris Garia, Preston Beck, Royce Bolinger, Kellin Deglan, Jose Leclerc, Cody Ege, Cody Buckel, Chad Bell, Chad James, Luis Parra–the list goes on. That was a special team, a special group of guys that had put together an absurd 2013 season with the Hickory Crawdads (we had Joey Gallo, and Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams, and Chi Chi Gonzalez all earlier that year). The club came up just short of a title, skippered by Joe Mikulik by the way, falling three games to one in the Mills Cup Finals.

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The team captured the crown in year one of the Cubs era in 2015. It was a joyous ride, and I was incredibly proud of those players too.

I cannot wait to get going in the 2016 season (okay–there is still a lot to do before then, so I CAN wait, but still excited!).

Fortunately for all three of us, we don’t have to wait until April 7 when the team plays the season opener in Springdale against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. We will be headed to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona next weekend and will be sure to share our thoughts from the desert!

Until then…

Nathan

Baseball term of the day: hamfatter – a vociferous baseball fan

(term from The Baseball Thesaurus)

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