By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
As I set in on him about the woeful pitching, the bond on my front tooth--the one that cosmetically covers a chip and a gap--comes loose and almost chokes me. I manage to fish it out of my mouth, while Showalter looks on, and deposit it in my pocket. The manager has a curious look on his face--he's either amused or confused.
Before I can figure out which one, I'm saved by a slender, short Japanese man who interrupts us. Politely. Showalter embraces the man warmly. His name is Akira Ogi, a legendary manager in the Japanese baseball league and a friend of Showalter's. With the translator in tow, Showalter drags Ogi over to meet John Hart, who is talking to a throng of reporters a few feet away.
"Excuse me," Showalter says. "But I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Akira Ogi, and he was a great manager in Japan. Any time his team would win, the headline in the newspapers would read 'Ogi Magic.'"
Without pause, Hart adds: "Around here, we're looking for some Buck Magic."
Hart was trying to be funny. What he probably didn't realize was that his words were a backhanded indictment of this club.
They'll all tell you they want to win. That's natural. But the Rangers will sacrifice winning now in favor of going with younger players who can grow into their roles. It's the formula used by the Oakland A's and the Minnesota Twins to great success. It's a good idea, but it's also a slow process and far from guaranteed.
"People bring up the experience factor, but we have a lot of guys who have already gotten their feet wet," Showalter says. "That helps. I think we have a lot of guys who are gonna pop--get to that next level, whatever it might be for them. Developing young guys, bringing along talent--that's a two- or three-year prop for most guys and especially pitchers, and shame on us if we don't have the guts to go down that road. Stay the course. Walk the walk."
Fight the fight. Remember the Alamo.
True, they have some talented young players, but it's likely going to take time before you see that ability translated into wins. Even then it may not happen.
If there is going to be improvement this season, it will be in the infield, one of the best in the game, regardless of age. Teixeira played well as a rookie (.259, 26 homers, 84 RBIs a year ago) and figures to man first base. Mike Young, formerly the second baseman, moves over to shortstop now that A-Rod is gone. He's an excellent fielder--he was second in Gold Glove voting--and had a .306 average, which was tops among second basemen in the AL. Blalock, an all-star last season with impressive numbers (.300, 29 homers, 90 RBIs), will be at third.
Alfonso Soriano, whom the Rangers affectionately call Sori, will play second base. If he sticks around. There have been rumors circulating that Texas was looking to deal him to the Mets.
"That's absurd," Hart says, almost spitting. "It's a fabrication. I'm not responding to this. It's beyond belief what's out there."
Right, because trading the team's best player couldn't happen. Not on this team. Not after the GM huffs and puffs and swears it won't.
If Soriano is here long enough, he could make a significant contribution with his bat and his legs. He had 35 steals last year, by far the most among these Rangers. Showalter says he'd like to run more this year, or at least keep his options open. But managers always say that in spring training.
"The offense has been good at one thing especially: scoring runs," says Showalter, whose outfield will be decidedly less stable than his infield. On any given day, you're likely to see a new combination of David Dellucci, Kevin Mench, Brian Jordan and Laynce Nix, and possibly Ramon Nivar. (Brad Fullmer, if you were wondering, will serve as the designated hitter--partly because he's skilled with a bat, partly because he's terrible with a glove.) "It's been good; it's hard to knock it. But, as a manager, it's nice to have potential in the lineup if, late in a game, you need to run rather than waiting on some fat-ass guy--shouldn't say 'fat ass'; power hitter--to get a big hit off the relief pitcher.
"Now the speed doesn't always show up in runs. You'll see it first to third and first to home. I call it speed under way. That's what it is; that's what we have. It makes a big difference. We have six or seven guys who aren't burners--they don't have plus speed--but they can definitely run.
"These guys have a chance to grow now. It's already happened. You see guys more at ease now because they're not worried about stepping on anyone's toes. That's good. I want them to be themselves. And we don't want to use our inexperience as an excuse to get our brains beat out. That's the last thing we want to do. But no one is going to take pity on us."