Play It Again, Sammy

Can the Rangers' oldest rookie leave his diva days behind and deliver?

The pitching rotation, for decades Texas' kryptonite, includes ace Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, Robinson Tejeda and Kameron Loe. The bullpen should be the strength, anchored by set-up man Akinori Otsuka and veteran closer Gagne. Tejeda, who often neutralizes his electric stuff with short-circuited strategy, is scheduled to start next Friday's home opener against the Red Sox.

"If we pitch, we're as good as anybody in baseball," Washington says.

Sure, if Cruz hits and Tejeda survives and Gagne regains his old, unhittable magic, the Rangers can challenge for an American League West division crown they last wore in '99. And if Britney Spears doesn't marry Kevin Federline or have babies or start smoking or go commando or shave her head or check into rehab or ever take off her "oops" schoolgirl skirt she's still smokin' hot, right?

With his return to the Rangers, Sammy Sosa is hoping for a fresh start.
Tony Blei
With his return to the Rangers, Sammy Sosa is hoping for a fresh start.
Sammy Sosa was 20 when he smacked his first MLB home run for the Texas Rangers.
Sammy Sosa was 20 when he smacked his first MLB home run for the Texas Rangers.

Says Teixeira, "For us, it's a very winnable division."

Ignorance and naïveté be damned, there are positive Ranger vibes from Arizona to Arlington.

In addition to providing his players with a psychological booster chair, Washington promises more stolen bases, sacrifices and manufactured runs, giving Texas a chance to win games not just 11-2, but 3-2.

"Things are about to fucking change around here," Washington says. "We've got a clubhouse full of winners. And we're going to win."

The Rangers re-signed Young, securing the face of the franchise. And they reclaimed and upgraded their house, adding a 1,200-space parking lot, changing the order of pre-game batting practice so fans will have a better chance to catch the home team and, thankfully, ditching that cumbersome corporate partner and its giant, incongruous bell in left field.

The stadium has endured more name changes than Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Whatever, but trading "Ameriquest Field" for "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington" is a victory.

As is signing Slammin' Sammy, who, at a ridiculously discounted salary, just might provide essential marketing pizzazz and offensive pop.

"If he hits the way he can and the way we think he will," Daniels says, "we've got ourselves a hell of a bargain and a hell of a story."

Honestly, Sosa could help this team by being half the man he used to be. How about .250, 30 homers, 80 RBIs and zero incidents involving loud music, quiet escapes, plugged bats or positive tests?

"There's no reason for me not to hit 40 home runs, even more," Sosa says. "My head is right and my body is right. I've been gone for only a year. I didn't die or something."

To the contrary, Sammy Sosa is very, very much alive.

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