Results tagged ‘ Ron Washington ’

Day Three in Surprise: Chi-Chi, Cacti and Camelback Ranch

Tommy Hansen faces the White Sox at beautiful Camelback Ranch.

Tommy Hansen faces the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

This week I’m taking in my first visit to Surprise, Arizona for Rangers Spring Training, and I’m bringing you with me. Click the links if you missed the earlier recaps of my trip: Day One ….  Day Two.  

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I had never been to Arizona prior to this trip (29 states down, 21 to go).  I had an expectation as to what it would be like out here, but I was a little bit jarred seeing cacti and palm trees almost equally share this suburban landscape.  Sure, I was expecting the saguaro, prickly pear and barrel cacti; but I didn’t know about the palm tree prevalence here.  The sight of such disparate plants juxtaposed with each other makes for a strange sight, but I guess there were some people who also thought it bizarre to combine soft serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream into a magnificent swirl of tasty goodness.

I might argue that baseball in the state of Arizona presents a bit of a dichotomy. Here you have a place that is mostly desert with its capital city receiving just eight inches of rain per year.  When you fly over the area, the predominant color is some combination of beige/brown.  A baseball field’s most striking color is green.  When people walk into a stadium for the first time, they don’t often remark about the infield dirt; it’s the lush green grass that catches the eye.  And the grass gets that green because groundskeepers need to regularly douse it with tremendous amounts of water.

I’m not trying to make some sort of environmental case against baseball in Arizona.  I’m just saying it’s always interesting when you see two things put together that don’t naturally seem to belong.  That was the theme I kept coming back to as I took in my final full day in the Valley of the Sun.

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Alex Rios waits for his turn to hit during batting practice.

Alex Rios waits for his turn to hit during batting practice.

9:15 a.m. – I get to the complex a little later this morning, which is no worry because the back fields are still empty by the time I arrive.  Fields 1 & 2, however, are a different story.  The big league club is active with batting practice and Ron Washington is holding court in an otherwise empty dugout at Nolan Ryan Field with a larger media contingent than we’ve seen the last few days.  The reason is two-fold: the Round Rock Express front office has just gotten into town and arrive with several members of their local media, hungry for information on the 2014 squad.  Also, Matt Harrison is making his spring debut in the “B” game this morning against the Royals.  There’s a definite buzz in the air that I hadn’t felt the previous two days here in Surprise.

As I attempt to poke my head into the media scrum, my attention is drawn away by Rangers PR man John Blake, who asks if I can help him with a media request involving minor leaguer and longtime RoughRider Guilder Rodriguez.  One of the DFW TV stations wants to do a story on a veteran player in the minors who helps teach the younger guys how to play the game and Guilder (pronounced “WHEEL-dair”) is the perfect candidate.  I’m happy to help, but I’m also struck by the unusual request.  With all of the great players in camp, some of them brand new to the Rangers (Fielder, Choo), this station wants to report on a 30-year-old Venezuelan utility man with two home runs in 13 professional seasons.  It’s not an easy story to sell the average fan back home, who will likely never see G-Rod play in a game.  Impressed by the request (I’ve never known TV sports guys to be the most enterprising of reporters…), I head to the back fields to tell Guilder that he will be interviewed later in the day.

Matt Harrison delivers to Eric Hosmer in the "B" game on Tuesday.

Matt Harrison delivers to Eric Hosmer in the “B” game on Tuesday.

10 a.m. – They let the fans in a little early today so they could catch the “B” game and Harrison’s start.  The “B” game is played on one of the Rangers practice fields and not in the main stadium.  It looks very much like a minor league spring game, given the spartan surroundings.  But this is no quaint exercise in pitchers simply getting their work in.  It can’t be when the Royals bring over prized big leaguers Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Danny Valencia and Mike Moustakas to play in the contest.  Over on Field 2, batting practice with some of the big leaguers is still going on while Harrison unleashes a fastball for strike one to get the contest started.  He retires the first batter thanks to a superb sliding catch down the right field line by second baseman Rougned Odor, gives up a hit, but retires the next two batters to complete his work for the day.   Harrison says after his outing that he felt good and the recovery into Wednesday will be key to determining the next step for him as he comes back from three 2013 surgeries.

Harrison is the only “regular” playing for the Rangers in this game; most of the others will be suiting up later in the day against the White Sox. Odor ends up providing all of the offense in the “B” game, stroking an RBI triple and a two-run home run off lefty Everett Teaford.  I wasn’t there to see it, but Odor allegedly flipped his bat after going yard.  In an unrelated note, the RoughRiders open the season against the Royals-affiliated Northwest Arkansas Naturals on April 3.

Rougned Odor and Engel Beltre strike a similar pose in the "B" game.

Rougned Odor and Engel Beltre strike a similar pose in the “B” game.

Greg and Mike Maddux get a good look at the pitchers along with the Royals coaches.

Greg and Mike Maddux get a good look at the pitchers along with the Royals coaches.

10:30 a.m. – I spy Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez nearby and chat with him for a bit about his first Spring Training.  Because I want you to learn a little more about the Rangers’ 2013 first round draft pick, I recorded the interview so I could post it here.  I’ll transcribe it when I’m back in Frisco, but here’s a link to the audio for now.

11 a.m. – I head to the back fields for the start of more intersquad games between the Rangers minor leaguers.  Just like yesterday, the teams are mixed up pretty significantly, with Triple-A guys playing alongside short-season guys in some cases.  After the final out of each half inning is recorded, the team on offense sends up a player to bunt so that both sides can work on bunt execution.  The players seem to forget that they’re doing this every inning, so most of them begin running off the field after the third out is recorded, only to have about eight people yell “BUNT PLAY!” at them so they stay in their positions.

Alec Asher, a prospective 2014 'Rider, pitches to Nomar Mazara. Asher sat 94-95 with his fastball and looked sharp.

Alec Asher, a prospective 2014 ‘Rider, pitches to Nomar Mazara. Asher sat 94-95 with his fastball and looked sharp.

Many of the players found themselves away from their natural positions.  Travis Demeritte, a shortstop by trade, played at second base.  Ryan Rua, an infielder, was in left field.  Catcher Jorge Alfaro was at first base, as was outfielder Jared Hoying (who also saw time at second base in a “B” game earlier in Spring Training; he reportedly impressed Ron Washington with his performance).  The reasons for moving players around like this include building up a player’s versatility, experimenting to determine if a new position might be a better fit or protecting a player from injury.

Jared Hoying plays in on the grass at first base.  Jairo Beras lingers off the bag.

Jared Hoying plays in on the grass at first base. Jairo Beras lingers off the bag.

11:45 a.m. – I get permission to watch some of the games from up in the tower that sits between all four of the minor league fields.  Many of the coaches will shuttle between the observation tower and field level to watch the action.  It’s a great way to keep an eye on as much of the games as possible.  Some of the coaches who are up there with me include Field Coordinator Jayce Tingler, Infield Coordinator Casey Candaele, Special Assignment Hitting Instructor Harry Spillman and some guy named Ivan Rodriguez.  Yeah, I’ve never heard of him either.

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It won't be framed anywhere, but here's a good look at the view from the observation tower.

It won’t be framed anywhere, but here’s a good look at the view from the observation tower. (Click to see a bigger image)

Once the intersquad games are complete, I make one last lap around the facility and say my goodbyes to folks.  I fly back to Texas on Wednesday morning and won’t be back at Rangers camp on this trip.

Pudge is still a pretty popular guy with Rangers fans.

Pudge is still a pretty popular guy with Rangers fans.

A scout's view at Camelback Ranch.

A scout’s view at Camelback Ranch.

2:30 p.m. – Following a quick lunch, I make my way to Camelback Ranch, the Spring Training complex in Glendale that is home to the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Rangers are playing the Pale Hose in another Cactus League matchup and by the time I arrive, it’s 5-0 Sox in the sixth inning.  I saunter over to the scout seats behind home plate and find my friend Jason Cole.  Known to many Rangers fans as the publisher of “Lone Star Dugout” and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, Jason was also the color commentator for our RoughRiders TV broadcasts the last few years.  During the off-season, the Tampa Bay Rays recognized his talents as an evaluator and hired him to be a professional scout (read more about it here).  Sadly, Jason will no longer be able to join me on the air, but I’m very excited for him and his new path in baseball.  He’ll still make it to Frisco every now and then to scout the Rangers (maybe picking out the pieces in a future David Price trade?), so there will still be future opportunities to make him laugh at my awful jokes when he’s up in the press box, as he’s dutifully done in recent seasons.

2:45 p.m. – I take a lap around the ballpark to see the sights of one of the newer facilities in the Cactus League.  It is located just south of University of Phoenix Stadium (the home of the Arizona Cardinals) and the land around the ballpark is mostly desert scrub.  If you look at the surrounding area on Google Maps, you see what appears to be a large river flowing near the complex.  Sadly, the Agua Fria River is completely dry.  Check out the same map through the satellite view and you’ll see what I mean.  It is not a picturesque area near the park, however inside the complex it looks and feels like a resort.  Man-made ponds, winding pathways and an elaborate collection of trees make Camelback Ranch feel quite different from the land around it.  I will say, it is a very nice facility and it has the most unique design of the three complexes I have visited on this trip.

Resort, or baseball complex?

Resort, or baseball complex?

This is the view you get when you walk into the ballpark from the center field gate.  You wouldn't even know it's a baseball stadium.

This is the view you get when you walk into the ballpark from the center field gate. You wouldn’t even know it’s a baseball stadium.

Bring a hat to Camelback Ranch, because there is very little shade for a vast majority of the seats.

Bring a hat to Camelback Ranch, because there is very little shade for a vast majority of the seats.

Looking in from left field.

Looking in from left field.

The Dodgers' offices are located beyond left field while the White Sox have an identical building beyond right.

The Dodgers’ offices are located beyond left field while the White Sox have an identical building beyond right.

Brett Nicholas (bottom left) and Wilmer Font (upper right), both 2013 RoughRiders, help man the Texas bullpen.

Brett Nicholas (bottom left) and Wilmer Font (upper right), both 2013 RoughRiders, help man the Texas bullpen.

The park looks empty, but most fans have flocked to the shade, leaving the tan seats baking in the sun.

The park looks empty, but most fans have flocked to the shade, leaving the tan seats baking in the sun.

One of the reasons I especially wanted to come to this game was the fact that the White Sox were the Rangers’ opponent.  Prior to

My former skipper Joe McEwing waves home a White Sox player.

My former skipper Joe McEwing waves home a White Sox player.

joining the RoughRiders, I spent two seasons as the broadcaster for the Winston-Salem Dash, the High-A affiliate of Chicago.  In addition to seeing many familiar players suit up for the White Sox, I recognized a few coaches.  The Dash’s manager in 2010, Joe McEwing, is now the third base coach for Robin Ventura’s squad, while the bullpen coach is former Winston pitching coach Bobby Thigpen.

During my walk around the park, I spy “Thiggy” in the home bullpen and call down to him during a lull in the action.  He’s happy to see me and we have a short chat that is interrupted by an usher.  He tells me to not stand next to the bullpen railing or converse with the coaches during the game.  I sheepishly say goodbye to Thiggy and then make my way back to the concourse, feeling like an embarrassed third grader who was caught talking during class.

3:45 p.m. – After the Rangers rally to take the lead in the top of the eighth, Chicago ties it in the bottom of the inning and then wins it in the ninth to send Texas to a 7-6 loss.  Afterwards I grab dinner with the Rays’ newest pro scout and bid adieu to Arizona baseball.  In the natural scheme of things, it might not make a lot of sense, but watching so much baseball in the desert this week was a blast and I’m already looking forward to another trip next year (not to mention Opening Day in about three weeks).

Getting over my palm tree-cactus complex.

Getting over my palm tree-cactus complex.

I’ll have more from my trip to Arizona over the next few days, but it’s back to DFW for now.  As always, thanks for reading.

- Alex

Back fields, bees and Buckel: Day Two in Surprise

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The all-seeing eye of the back fields, providing a prime view of four diamonds at once.

This week I’m taking in my first visit to Surprise, Arizona for Rangers Spring Training, and I’m bringing you with me. If you missed the recap of Day One of my trip, check it out right here.

From what I can gather, you go through a few different phases during Spring Training as a player,coach and executive.

1. There’s the initial burst of excitement over getting back to a baseball field and rediscovering your passion for the game you love.  This period is great – until you grow weary of the numerous of meetings, practices, simulated situations and other minutia that, while important, is not why anyone signed up to be a part of this game.  All during this time, you’re chomping at the bit to start playing something that at least resembles a game.

2. You eventually do move into this phase, but they’re not real games (granted, Spring Training games are not really like real games, but at least it’s somewhat close); they’re more like scrimmages that you play against the same people you’ve been practicing against for the last week or two.

3. Just when you get to the point where you’re mentally over the idea of facing the same opponent day after day, you start games against other organizations, which is a major refresher for the mind.

4. Then, you just get sick and tired of being in Arizona for up to two months and playing the role of “human sunny-side up egg” in the roasting desert sun.  You want to get the season underway and start playing games that count (with real stats too).

The big leaguers are in the midst of Phase 3, while the minor leaguers have just gotten to Phase 2, which I watched begin in earnest on Monday morning at the Rangers’ Spring Training complex in Surprise.  Along the way, I witnessed the start of a comeback, a rebirth, the long-term future and the bizarre before finishing the day with a Hall of Famer.

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Hypoderm Sunscreen & 99¢ Only Stores, two lifesavers.

7:45 a.m.  – As I alluded to at the end of yesterday’s post, I was not going to play the role of fool two days in a row (at least in this specific respect) and get microwaved by the southwest sun once again.  Upon the recommendation of the helpful hotel lobby person, I headed over the nearby “99 ¢ Only Store” (because dollar stores are considered too bourgeoisie here) to purchase some sunscreen.  Now, I was just as suspicious as you probably are reading this about buying 99-cent sunscreen.  “Wouldn’t splashing a layer of water on your skin be at least equally effective?”  Yeah, that ran through my head, but my faith in “Hypoderm Sunscreen” (Note to anyone who thought, “Why didn’t I think of an amazing name like that?”: it’s not a registered trademark, apparently) was rewarded. My burns from Sunday were reasonably contained and my skin did not start falling off at any point.  And I feel like a true bargain hunter after spotting this attempt on eBay to charge some poor sap $12.99+shipping for three of these babies. The whole episode felt a little like hitting a three-point bank shot that you didn’t call.

8:15 a.m. – Things are still fairly quiet by the time I reach the complex, probably due to the fact that fans won’t be let into the facility until 10 a.m.  There are a few hitters getting some early work in and some of the big leaguers are trickling in for the day.  The Rangers clubhouse is divided into two sides: one for the major leaguers and one for the minor leaguers.  The minor league clubhouse is a lot bigger, but more crowded because there are so many more players in that camp.  I am a bit surprised at how nice the minor league clubhouse is, however.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting Bull Durham or some high school level accommodations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly equal in many respects to the big league side.  The lockers are made of wood (like the major leaguers) and are certainly an acceptable size, the flood is nicely carpeted and it has a welcoming tone to it.  It’s much better than many road stadium clubhouses (and some home ones too) I’ve seen in my baseball travels.

On this particular morning, I meet Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez in the clubhouse and we talk about his outing in the big league “A” game the day before.  He allowed three of the four men he faced to reach base before being removed after hitting his 20-pitch limit.  A pair of meekly-hit grounders were able to sneak through for hits, so he isn’t overly negative about his performance even though all three men came home to score later in the inning.  As for his nickname (which he prefers to go by, by the way), Chi-Chi says it was given to him by his grandfather’s brother; he nicknamed Gonzalez’ two older sisters Nina and Nene, so Chi-Chi seemed to fit the bill for Alex.

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Uniform reinforcements are on standby outside the clubhouse.

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Lots of players in camp means lots of broken bats. There’s an overflowing cardboard box filled with them.

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Approximately one-sixteenth of the baseballs they’ve got in camp. These ones haven’t yet met a bat or blade of grass.

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It’s hard not to look forward to the future when you see a foursome like Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara hitting together.

9 a.m. – Pockets of minor league hitters are taking batting practice out on the back fields (the big leaguers practice on the two fields closest to the stadium/clubhouse).  I stumble upon the BP group that folks who love prospects dream about: Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara.  Like many, I’ve heard a lot about these players but have never seen them in person (Ronald Guzman and Jorge Alfaro are also among the super-prospects who are super-young and populated Hickory’s Avengers-like squad last season).  Like many, I am impressed at first glance.  I didn’t realize how big they all were.  At 6’3″, Brinson is the shrimp of the group.  The others are either 6’4″ or 6’5″ and aren’t just tall rods with pine tar on their batting gloves.  They’re built like stallions and we may see one or two gallop to Frisco by the end of 2014 if things go well.

I have a nice conversation about Cody Buckel with rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock, who says that Buckel is throwing the ball as well as he ever has.  Buckel, the Rangers’ 2012 Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year, suffered a bad case of the yips last season and spent most of the campaign rewiring himself mentally and mechanically.  I hadn’t heard much about Cody since the end of the season and am excited to see him pitch later in the day.

9:30 a.m. – The pitchers meet as a group with new farm director Mike Daly right next to the tall observation structure pictured at the start of the blog entry and it’s not long before Daly is about to give another talk to the hitters.  It’s recommended that I join the group if I want a cool history lesson.  Daly proceeds to educate the players about notable players from the 1966 MLB draft.  The first overall pick was Steve Chilcott by the Mets – a seven-year minor leaguer who never reached the show.  The second pick did slightly better.  His name is Reggie Jackson.  Daly tells the group about Reggie’s career and his epic performances in the World Series before finishing up by talking about the sixth overall pick from that draft: none other than Tom Grieve.  I later speak with Daly and we talk about his history lesson.  He’s concerned about the relative lack of knowledge many young players have about players who came before them, so he makes it a point to relay some history during camp through his own lessons and visits from legends like Pudge Rodriguez and others.  Hopefully Texas’ minor leaguers can avoid the fate of Josh Hart.

10 a.m. – After the meetings wrap up, it’s more practice time on the back fields. The four fields are filled with defensive drills, bunt plays and batting practice.  I’ll see infield work before games throughout the season, but never 20-30 minutes’ worth with every pitcher also taking part in these simulated situations.  These are the minor leagues, and the minors are all about development.  We see that over the course of the season, but the foundation is laid right here.

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Jason Wood hits grounders and calls out simulated scenarios for the fielders to respond to like they were in an actual game.

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Ryan Rua sizes up a Jason Wood pitch during BP.

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Greg Maddux about to hit a grounder back to Nick Tepesch as he joins Matt Harrison and Tommy Hanson for fielding work.

11:30 a.m. – Most of the big leaguers have left the practice fields to get ready for that afternoon’s game against the Reds, but not everyone has headed back to the clubhouse.  On the infield-only field, Greg Maddux is hitting ground balls back to Matt Harrison, Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson.  So not only the minor league guys work on fielding, and what better mound defender to learn from than Maddux, who only racked up a record 18 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career.  With not a whole lot else going on, a crush of fans flock to get in prime autograph position for when the session is over (for Tepesch, obviously).

On my way back to the big league side, I have a short chat with Rangers manager Ron Washington who is about to drive his golf back to the clubhouse.  I wish him luck this season at the end of our conversation, to which he responds, “Well thank you baby!” and drives off.

12 noon - I meet Brandon Boyd, who is one of the Rangers’ clubhouse managers and also a former RoughRiders employee.  Brandon oversaw the ‘Riders clubhouse from 2005-09 before moving on to Arlington.  He takes me into the big league clubhouse, where I catch up with several familiar faces: Mitch Moreland, a RoughRider in 2009 and a rehabber in 2012 & ’13; Ryan Feierbend, a 2013 ‘Rider who would throw a scoreless inning in relief of Yu Darvish later in the day; and Brett Nicholas, Frisco’s best offensive player in 2013.  Nicholas has been with the big club for the spring, mostly as a catcher after spending nearly all of last year at first base. Most of the clubhouse is vacant, but that is probably because it is when media is allowed in for interviews (nobody likes the media, especially radio guys).

On my way back to the minor leaguers, I stop to talk to Harrison, who I met during his rehab stint with Frisco last summer.  Harrison will pitch for the first time in Tuesday’s game and says he feels completely healthy for the first time in a very long time.  He says 2013 was agonizing, but feels like he is in great shape and is ready to get back to what made him an All-Star in 2012.

12:15 p.m. – I return to the back fields to watch the three intersquad games being played (the start of Phase 2 of Spring Training).  Basically, all of the players in camp are mixed into random teams and pitted against one another for games that would last approximately five innings.  This is once of the coolest parts of the day.  On Field 5 I see Jorge Alfaro lace a Kevin Pucetas knuckleball to right-center for a triple.  Pucetas is reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher after toying with the pitch in Frisco last season.  Despite the Alfaro three-bagger, the knucklers dance enough that Pucetas does not allow another baserunner.

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Kevin Pucetas readies a knuckleball while warming up in the bullpen.

The lineups for one intersquad game.

The lineups for one intersquad game.

Wait a minute, let's get a better look at that Jason Wood baseball card.

Wait a minute, let’s get a better look at that Jason Wood baseball card.

When I turn to Field 4, I watch Alex Claudio end an inning with a pickoff at second base with Juremi Profar batting and later Jon Edwards hits 98 on the radar gun.  It is tough to keep up with all three games at once, so I miss some action but thoroughly enjoy what I did see.  And the players seem to enjoy playing in games for the first time since last season.  The minor league guys will play intersquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday before squaring off against other organizations beginning Thursday.

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Nomar Mazara attempts to square up a pitch during an intersquad game. That’s Jorge Alfaro behind the plate.

Soon enough, it’s Buckel’s turn to pitch and I am not disappointed.  Cody looks a lot like the 2012 Cody; the one who struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings and displayed impeccable control.  Buckel gets a strikeout and ultimately retires three of the four men he faces.  Afterwards, he tells me that it felt good to finally pitch in his first game action since a pair of early-August AZL contests.  He says he didn’t attack the strike zone the way he has in recent bullpens, but chalks that up to the long delay in facing live batters.

As an aside, I don’t want to make Buckel’s outing out to be more than it was.  It was a good step in the right direction after a nightmare 2013, not a guarantee that he will never struggle again on the mound in the minors.  I hope that he can string outings like this together and get his career back to where it was, and then beyond.  Monday was not a definitive answer to anything, but it certainly was encouraging to see.

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Cody Buckel looked completely different than the last time I saw him pitch in 2013, when he struggled to throw strikes.

2 p.m. – Following the intersquad games, I head back to Surprise Stadium, where the Rangers and Reds are well underway.  But before I can enter the stadium through the team offices, I encounter an obstacle I just am not expecting: bees.  Lots of them.  A stone column that sits between the office and the stadium concourse apparently gathered an enormous mass of bees over the span of an hour.  There was no hive there previously; they just all swarmed to that spot and just stayed.  I’m told it’s probably not safe to walk past them and that pest control is on its way.  I agree that missing an inning or so of a Spring Training game in exchange for avoiding hundreds of simultaneous bee stings is probably a fair trade.  It isn’t long before a group of close to a dozen people (including Rangers special assistant and former pitcher Darren Oliver) join me to watch the extermination.

A photo essay of the kill:

The swarm of bees were approximately the size of a basketball and it seemed to be growing.

The swarm of bees was approximately the size of a basketball and it seemed to be growing.

Nonchalant pest control showed up on a moment's notice.

Nonchalant pest control showed up on a moment’s notice.

You know it's memorable when even the exterminator is snapping photos. But he was crazy close without much face protection.

You know it’s memorable when even the exterminator is snapping photos. But he was crazy close without much face protection.

Getting to work. They put a tarp down to help collect the dead bees.

Getting to work. They put a tarp down to help collect the dead bees.

He's not spraying any sort of insecticide or poison; it's actually just soapy water, which apparently messes with the bees pretty badly.

He’s not spraying any sort of insecticide or poison; it’s actually just soapy water, which apparently messes with the bees pretty badly.

The whole group didn't fall at once.  The bees came out in fist-sized clumps.

The whole group didn’t fall at once. The bees came out in fist-sized clumps.

After about five minutes of spraying, the coast was clear and I dashed into the ballpark.

After about five minutes of spraying, the coast was clear and I dashed into the ballpark.

2:15 p.m. – The Rangers and Reds are in the fifth inning by the time I get past the bees and into the stadium.  Yu Darvish is finishing up his outing and both teams get ready to send in position players that 95% of the stadium has never heard of.  Now 11 years old, Billy Parker Field at Surprise Stadium holds up very well and seems to be an enjoyable place to watch a game.  There’s a big Monday crowd on hand; hopefully most of them do not leave with bee stings.

The second level view from right behind home plat.e

The second level view from right behind home plate.

A look from the third base concourse. The Rangers team offices are housed in the building in the back.

A look from the third base concourse. The Rangers team offices are housed in the building in the back.

Looking homeward from the outfield berm. That grass the fans are seated on is actually a plastic synthetic surface that feels and looks like real grass.  I had to pluck one from the ground to confirm it wasn't the real deal.

Looking homeward from the outfield berm. That grass the fans are seated on is actually a plastic synthetic surface that feels and looks like real grass. I had to pluck one from the ground to confirm it wasn’t the real deal.

Want to cool down after the game? There's a community aquatic center across the street from Surprise Stadium.

Want to cool down after the game? There’s a community aquatic center across the street from Surprise Stadium.

The Rangers bullpen is down the right field line. Under the screen you can see 2013 RoughRiders Randy Henry, Jimmy Reyes and Brett Nicholas.

The Rangers bullpen is down the right field line. Under the screen you can see 2013 RoughRiders Randy Henry, Jimmy Reyes and Brett Nicholas.

Kansas City's offices are located on the third base side of the park, exactly opposite (an equal, by all appearances) of the Rangers'. These kids must know that they could never be Royals.

Kansas City’s offices are located on the third base side of the park, exactly opposite the Rangers’. These kids must know that they could never be Royals.

New to me: a souvenir store in a ballpark tailored to women and children.

New to me: a souvenir store in a ballpark tailored to women and children.

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Team-themed coozies are among the specialty products for sale at the “women and kids” team store.

3:15 p.m. – Because I did not get the chance to see him on Sunday, I make a stop by the Rangers’ broadcast booth to see Eric

Eric Nadel (left) and Matt Hicks giving listeners every Josh Wilson detail they could ask for,

Eric Nadel (left) and Matt Hicks giving listeners every Josh Wilson detail they could ask for,

Nadel.  I’ve met Eric a few times at Rangers games and he has always been kind to me.  Rangers fans are lucky to have had him for so long and I wasn’t the only one who was very happy for his Hall of Fame election this past off-season.  I don’t want to take too much of his and Matt Hicks’ time during the game, but I congratulate Eric on the honor during an inning break and then scoot out of the booth.  In the radio booth right next door, fellow Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman is broadcasting for the Reds’ radio network.  Eric calls Marty one of his career mentors.

3:40 p.m. – The Rangers wrap up an 8-2 win over Cincinnati as former RoughRiders Neftali Feliz and Nicholas form the game-ending battery.  It’s Texas’ first win since Thursday against San Diego and the last game I’ll see at Surprise Stadium during my stay in Arizona.  The team heads to Camelback Ranch in Glendale to play the White Sox on Tuesday and I’ll be there for at least some of it as I hit the home stretch of my stay in the desert.

The Rangers assume the victory formation after an 8-2 win over the Reds.

The Rangers assume the victory formation after an 8-2 win over the Reds.

As always thanks for reading,

Alex

One month away…

Nights like this will be back again in one month. (Photo credit to Alex Yocum-Beeman)

Nights like this will be back again in one month. (Photo credit to Alex Yocum-Beeman)

Today is a day for minor celebration, not necessarily because it’s “311 Day,” but because we are now exactly one month away from the home opener for the 2013 season at Dr Pepper Ballpark.  We are also 22 days from the RoughRiders-Express exhibition game in Frisco and 24 days away from the official start of the regular season in North Little Rock.

All of the Rangers’ minor leaguers (excluding the ones who had big league camp invitations) reported to Surprise one week ago and they will begin their spring training games against other organizations on Thursday.  We’ll do our best to get you whatever information we can on those games, though the Double-A team that takes the field against their Royals counterparts on Thursday is guaranteed to look much different than the one that arrives here in the Metroplex come late March.  That’s mainly because off all the roster mixing that goes on in the spring, with many players playing a level higher than they will ultimately be on once the season starts.

As for the big club, we are still not at a point of complete resolution with the Nolan Ryan situation, though it looks like we are moving closer to that point.  The Rangers released a statement from him yesterday that basically said he’s been meeting with ownership about his role with the team and that those discussions will continue.  It’s not much to read into, but I suppose it should be taken as a positive sign that there is a chance that they work this all out and come out a happy family once again.

In other developments, Craig Gentry of all people is hitting home runs, Jurickson Profar’s stint as starting spring training shortstop (I love alliterative phrases) is likely coming to an end as Elvis Andrus’ stay at the World Baseball Classic was a short one, and Derek Holland gets more time to play on the “big” stage.

Ryan will remain CEO for time being, continue to search for understanding of role - Evan Grant gives you the basics of yesterday’s developments with Ryan’s full statement included.

More time on WBC’s big stage can only help Rangers’ “wildcard” Derek Holland (subscribers only)Tim Cowlishaw thinks the continuing experience for Holland on the US team will be good for him.

Josh Hamilton brought sizzle to Texas, but new Ranger Lance Berkman could offer just as much substanceHighlights from Cowlishaw’s Sunday column on why there might not be so large a dropoff between Hamilton and Berkman.  (A major caveat should be added – IF Lance stays healthy.)

Gerry Fraley bits on emerging slugger Craig Gentry, Elvis Andrus taking some ribbing, a sleeper from the Michael Young trade, and Adrian Beltre re-thinking the WBC.

(Daily FWST disclaimer: most articles on their site are subscription-only, but you can easily read the articles around the sign-in pop-up)

Positive spin on Ryan staying takes another negative turnRandy Galloway (who has practically been the writer-of-record on all things Nolan Ryan) says that, in spite of yesterday’s statement, Ryan staying on with the Rangers is no sure thing at all.

Long journey may lead Rangers’ Martin to center fieldFrom a couple of days ago, but a good read from Gil Lebreton nonetheless about Leonys Martin.

Despite Ross’ struggles, Rangers hold on for 7-6 victory over IndiansRobbie Ross says he was not distracted by the ZOOperstars, who performed at yesterday’s game in Goodyear.  Thank goodness for that.

Ross struggles for first time this springESPNDallas.com’s Ron Matejko has more reaction from Ross on his tough start (2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 4 BB).

Is there still time to get Nolan Ryan to stay? - Richard Durrett gives his thoughts on the latest developments with Ryan.

Tepesch still auditioning for roleRon Washington and Mike Maddux talk about 2012 RoughRiders pitcher Nick Tepesch and his odds on winning the fifth spot in the Rangers’ rotation.

- Alex

A new Lowe for the Rangers

Maybe the weirdest baseball card a player has ever had?

Maybe the weirdest baseball card a player has ever had?

We interrupt today’s edition of “Nolan Ryan Talk” to bring you the latest development involving the guys who are actually on the field: last night the Rangers announced the signing of veteran pitcher Derek Lowe to a minor league deal.  Lowe split last year between the rotation and bullpen for the Indians and Yankees, going 9-11 with a 5.11 ERA and one save in 38 games, 21 starts.  The big sinkerballer has bounced around the last few seasons, but is best known for being one of the chief “idiots” on the 2004 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, earning the clinching win in all three series that post-season.

While he’s not on the Rangers’ 40-man roster at the moment, you would have to think he’s a at least a decent bet to make the club out of spring training given his versatility, the team’s lack of experienced middle relievers, and the fact that the Rangers were facing the prospects of going into a season without a pitcher named “Lowe” for the first time in four years (Mark signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers last month).

As someone who grew up in the Boston area and remembers when Dan Duquette pulled off one of the greatest heists in big league history – trading Heathcliff Slocumb for Lowe and some guy named Jason Varitek – I have a special place in my heart for the Michigan native.  I watched him go back-and-forth from the starting rotation to the closer spot and have success in both positions, pitch a no-hitter in 2002 against the Devil Rays, and put a lot of Boston nightclub owners’ kids through college.

It’s a smart, low-risk move for the Rangers, who could benefit tremendously if Lowe can locate his sinker and be effective for a couple innings at a time when called upon (or even fill in as a starter).  If he doesn’t work out, he didn’t cost you much to begin with so there’s no obligation to keep him.  He should be a strong clubhouse presence as a player who has succeeded on the biggest stages and is known to be a good teammate.  And, at the very least, his acquisition has slowed down some of the Ryan talk that has become a distraction for the organization.

***

The Rangers won a 3-2 decision over the Cubs in Surprise yesterday and got some strong pitching from Robbie Ross (4 IP, 4 H, 1 R) and Alexi Ogando (3 IP, 6 K, 1 R).  Lance Berkman also homered as the team won its second straight Cactus League contest.

Jon Daniels has the power; Nolan Ryan has the love(Note: read around the “sign in” bubble to take in the article) Before we get to the on-the-field items, this Randy Galloway column is a must-read for fans interested in the Nolan Ryan story (i.e., pretty much all Rangers fans).  Galloway has been all over this story from the start and says that Daniels was actually offered the full CEO job that belonged to Ryan, in addition to the president title, back in November but turned it down.  More interesting stuff to chew on.

Berkman confident about health as Opening Day approaches - Jeff Wilson has the Big Puma feeling good about his ability to be ready to go come March 31.

Rapid Reaction from Texas winRon Matejko’s fast facts on yesterday’s victory.

Robbie Ross continues to impressWith Perez out until May, the former RoughRiders lefty may have cast himself as the new favorite to take the fifth starter spot after yesterday’s outing.

Alexi Ogando rewards Ron Washington’s faithGiven the way his first two spring outings went, Ogando’s strong performance was maybe the most encouraging thing about yesterday’s game.

Derek Lowe gives club versatilityRichard Durrett gives his thoughts on the Lowe acquisition.

Astros should woo Nolan RyanESPN.com’s Johnette Howard argues that Jim Crane should be pulling out all the stops to swipe away the Rangers’ CEO.

Angels’ Hamilton primed for monster year — but holds no grudgesSome interesting nuggets on CBS.com’s Jon Heyman’s interview with former Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, including Hamilton saying that Nolan Ryan wished that Texas hadn’t dragged its feet in the negotiations.

Rangers don’t plan to return Alexi Ogando – and maybe Robbie Ross – to bullpen (subscription only)Gerry Fraley thinks that the starting rotation is the final destination for both Ogando and Ross.

Ogando, Ross giving Rangers confidence in rotationT.R. Sullivan’s report on the two pitchers impressing Ron Washington yesterday.

Rangers press on despite Ryan’s uncertaintySullivan has plenty of quotes from Daniels on the Ryan story.

Olt, Martin pulled out of Rangers’ lineupSullivan’s notes column has injury updates on Mike Olt (tooth pain, not the Rory McIlroy type), Leonys Martin (hamstring), Kyle McClellan (shoulder), Tanner Scheppers (hamstring) and Yoshinori Tateyama (back).

- Alex

Elvis’ ink gives Profar a chance to shine

The detailed tattoo that kept Elvis Andrus out of the lineup yesterday.

The detailed tattoo that kept Elvis Andrus out of the lineup yesterday.

Things were progressing in a nice and dull manner out in Surprise until yesterday’s news that Elvis Andrus would be scratched from the Rangers’ spring training game against the Indians.  Missing the game itself wasn’t as noteworthy as was the reason why: his left arm was sore after spending nine hours on Wednesday getting a new tattoo, a memorial to his late father.  Publicly, the Rangers haven’t seemed too upset over the ink stink, which overshadowed their 10-0 win – the team’s first of the spring.  It also may have been a blessing in disguise for Jurickson Profar, who filled in for Andrus at shortstop and tripled in his first at bat off Zach McAllister (the same Zach McAllister who Profar took deep in his first major league at bat last September in Cleveland).   The whole “incident” won’t mean much in the long run – which is a good thing – but it certainly made for an eventful Thursday in the desert.  On to today’s links:

Andrus sits out due to sensitivity from new tattooA.J. Cassavell of MLB.com talks to Andrus and Ron Washington about the new tattoo and missing yesterday’s game.  There’s also some good notes about Derek Holland’s impressive performance, Mike Olt in the outfield and Robbie Ross feeling a little sore.

Berkman looks like usual self in first spring at-batCassavell has a look at Lance Berkman’s spring debut, which included a hit, a walk and two runs scored out of the leadoff spot.

Lance Berkman doesn’t show rust in debutMore on Berkman, from Ron Matejko of ESPNDallas.com.

Holland leaves for WBC on high noteThe Rangers lefty tossed four scoreless innings yesterday against Cleveland and now leaves to pitch for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic.

Gerry Fraley on Mike Olt in the outfield, a new addition that won’t play but will be useful for the Rangers, and Lance Berkman

Spring break: Rhode Islander trying to catch on with Rangers – Jeff Beliveau is trying to become the first player from the Ocean State to suit up for the Rangers, per Drew Davison.

‘Tattoo soreness’ and other significant developments in the Rangers’ camp – Randy Galloway gives his thoughts on the news of the day and Lance Berkman.

- Alex

Rangers Links (Don’t Panic Edition)

It's a little too early to start feeling like this about the Rangers' spring training.

It’s a little too early to start feeling like this about the Rangers’ spring training.

Repeat after me: the games don’t count.  It’s reassuring to remind yourself of that every time you see results like yesterday.  Or the day before.  Or any of these spring training games.  It’s only natural to have at least a small amount of concern that the Rangers have yet to put anything other than a bagel in the “W” column, especially given that wins were a rarity over the final few weeks of last season.

(By the way, did you notice the only other team that has yet to post a spring training victory?  They play their regular season home games at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, to give you a hint.)

To get worked up over early spring training results is a quixotic endeavor, given the relative rust on the players and the individual tasks they set for themselves  that may give way to garish performances.  A pitcher’s goal in a spring training game may simply be to throw his fastball for strikes, results be damned.  Maybe a hitter is working on a new aspect to his swing.  Maybe a player simply isn’t ready for the season at this point in late February.  I don’t have problems with any of that.  When spring training is over and the battles for the number five starter, utility infielder and regular centerfielder are over, I’m willing to bet (like many others) that the Rangers will have a unit that will be very competitive for a playoff spot in the American League West.  Until then, practice your anti-Kevin McCallister face.

Rangers’ Ron Washington says prospect Mike Olt trying too hardGerry Fraley has the Rangers skipper saying Mike Olt should not put so much pressure on himself to perform.

Hamilton on Michael Young & the Rangers - It seems like everyone has an opinion on how things went/ended with Michael Young on the Rangers, including Josh Hamilton.

Despite villainous reputation, Rangers’ A.J. Pierzynski a winner, ex-mates sayFraley writes about the Rangers’ new catcher, who won a World Series with Chicago in 2005 (subscribers only).

Alexi Ogando’s continuing struggles could throw wrench in rotation plansWith most of the focus on the Rangers’ fifth starter competition, everyone is kind of assuming Ogando will step in and be the guy he was a few years ago as a starter.  Might not work out quite so smooth, based on early returns.

Rangers not about to ignore Ogando’s early strugglesJust because the results don’t count doesn’t mean that Ron Washington is paying no attention to Ogando’s troubles, writes Drew Davison.

Rangers’ survivors say change is goodRandy Galloway says that the holdovers from a tumultuous off-season are still confident that this club can win a World Series.

Leonys Martin staking claim to CF jobA trio of stories today from Ron Matejko, who is filling in for new ESPN Radio host Richard Durrett.  The first has Leonys Martin starting to emerge as a favorite for a more regular role with the Rangers.

Alexi Ogando still working out some kinksOgando and Washington talk about the right-hander’s struggles.

Robbie Ross aiming for last rotation spotThe 2011 RoughRider talks about his desire to join the Rangers’ rotation.

Burns stepping forward in Rangers’ bullpenT.R. Sullivan has Washington giving some kind words to bullpen-hopeful Corey Burns.

Berkman ready for first Cactus League actionSullivan’s notes column touches on Lance Berkman’s expected spring debut this afternoon, Ogando and injury updates for Engel Beltre & Craig Gentry.

- Alex

Rangers Spring Training Links – 2/22/2013

The view from above of the Rangers' and Royals' complex in Surprise, Arizona.

The view from above of the Rangers’ and Royals’ complex in Surprise, Arizona.

As someone somewhere once said, “Let the games begin!”  Today marks the start of Cactus League play as the Rangers and they won’t have to go far to play their opponent.  In fact, neither will opponent.  Texas will play the Kansas City Royals this afternoon in the stadium they share out in Surprise, Arizona.  Derek Holland will get the start against Will Smith while Carlton and Uncle Phil might make an appearance as well.  On to today’s Rangers links:

Pudge Rodriguez hired to front officeThe big news yesterday was that Ivan Rodriguez was rejoining the organization as a special assistant to Jon Daniels as well as an instructor and ambassador.  As a result, we might see Pudge in Frisco this summer like we did with Greg Maddux last year.  Drew Davison gets Pudge’s thoughts on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro and also notes the Rangers players who will be competing in the World Baseball Classic.

Five Rangers to watch in spring trainingJeff Wilson says that the Rangers could greatly benefit from big springs from these five players.

Spring Break: New Rangers reliever Josh Lindblom embraces the cold -Davison talks cold weather baseball with Josh Lindblom, who played his college ball in the Big Ten.

Lighter Moreland has heavier role with RangersThe AP writes that former ‘Rider Mitch Moreland is lighter this spring, both in weight and attitude.

Jim Bowden on Profar/Cano and Ron Washington’s Job Security Former major league GM and ESPN Insider Jim Bowden appeared on the Ben & Skin Show on 103.3 ESPN Radio yesterday and had some interesting things to say, especially his hypothetical 2014 Rangers middle infield.

Jon Daniels on Profar and PayrollThe Rangers GM held a chat yesterday and The Dallas Morning News is providing some of the highlights.

Small in stature, LHP Joe Ortiz making big impression - Richard Durrett profiles former RoughRider and dark horse relief candidate Joseph Ortiz (he told me he prefers Joseph, but the Rangers insist on using Joe on their rosters with him for some reason).  Last season in his two months with the ‘Riders, former big league all-star Brad Hawpe said that Ortiz was one of the three toughest lefties in the Texas League along with Midland’s Sean Doolittle (who pitched with Oakland by mid-season) and Corpus Christi’s Kevin Chapman.

Rangers hire Pudge as special assistantT.R. Sullivan has more on the Rangers’ hiring of Ivan Rodriguez.

Holland believes Classic will give him an edge - Sullivan talks with today’s starter, Derek Holland, about the upcoming WBC, in which he is excited to be participating.  Some worry that the WBC is bad for pitchers, but don’t count the former RoughRiders lefty in that camp.  On an editorial note, how great would it be to see Holland matched up against the Netherlands at some point?

- Alex

Baseball And Bacon

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon is a popular party game where people try to link themselves to the Hollywood star. During a brainstorming session, the idea came up and all of us started laughing. We never realized that we would find not one, but four links to the Frisco RoughRiders. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Circle of Bacon.

The first chain begins with none other than Kevin Bacon. He was in A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise, which is a great movie by the way and it has a baseball tie-in because Cruise’s character loves playing baseball. Back to the chain, Tom Cruise was in Interview With A Vampire with Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt was in Moneyball with Brent Jennings who was portraying Ron Washington. Ron Washington is the manager of the Texas Rangers, which is the parent club of the Frisco RoughRiders completing chain one.

The second chain begins much like the first. Kevin Bacon was in A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise who was in Interview With A Vampire with Brad Pitt. The chain changes because Brad Pitt played Billy Beane. Billy Beane played for the Jackson Mets, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets that were part of the Texas League, from 1982 to 1984. The Jackson Mets moved to Binghamton and joined the Eastern League in 1991. The Houston Astros took over the Double-A franchise renaming it the Jackson Generals, where the team remained until 1999. Nolan Ryan and his group took over and moved the Generals to Round Rock eventually becoming the Round Rock Express where they claimed the Texas League title in 2000. The owners of the Round Rock Express acquired the Triple-A franchise in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and moved that club to Round Rock. The Double-A version of the Round Rock Express moved to Corpus Christi eventually becoming the Corpus Christi Hooks who compete against the RoughRiders in the Texas League.

Through Corpus Christi we can complete the third chain all the way back to the original source, Kevin Bacon. Hooks’ broadcaster Matt Hicks was an extra in Major League which starred Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen was in The Three Musketeers with Kiefer Sutherland. Kiefer Sutherland was in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon completing the circle of bacon.

Lastly, we decided to have a little fun and make another connection to the RoughRiders family. Kevin Bacon was in A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise was in Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman was in American Buffalo directed by Michael Corrente who shot the movie in his hometown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Pawtucket is the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. The lead broadcaster for the Red Sox is none other than former RoughRiders’ broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith.

These chains explain how everyone in the world quite possibly could be connected to Kevin Bacon. Are you?

Written by: Jarah Wright

Graphics by: Alex Yocum-Beeman

Pics from the Winter Meetings’ Gala

Last night I had the great privilege of attending the Winter Meetings’ Gala at the Ballpark in Arlington. Here are some pics I took throughout the night to share with you.

View from the Nolan Ryan Suite.

View from field-level with the Rangers' dugout behind me.

Closer look at the recent construction that will dramatically change the look in center field.

Where the Rangers' workout.

Ron Washington's office.

The locker of former RoughRider Ian Kinsler.

Thanks to the Rangers for putting on a great event.  The Meetings next year, in case you’re curious, will be held in Nashville.

-AG

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