Rained Out

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If the Rangers can somehow get six innings out of their starters--they can only get better after once again finishing with the worst staff ERA in the Majors last year--the bullpen might be able to lend an assist. Maybe. Nelson is a capable setup man, and Francisco Cordero, who saved 15 games last year, could be worse. But the Rangers will need a significant contribution from Jeff Zimmerman, who missed two years because of elbow surgery.

"Look around," Nelson says. "It's no secret what's going to have to happen for us to win. The lineup we have, some of the hitters, we have some real talent here, some good power. Soriano isn't a player to be named later--he's a potential 40-40 guy. I don't think we're going to have any problem there.

"It all depends on the pitching. If the starters can stay healthy, with probably the deepest bullpen they've ever had here, a lot of good things could happen. It boils down to pitching."

I think I have the answer. What they need are more guys like Erick Burke. In the first spring training game against the Royals, Burke struck out Garth Brooks (yeah, that Garth Brooks). Did it on three strikes, swinging, and then gave a little fist pump as though he'd just won a decisive September contest. Gotta love spring training.

Off to the right, through the glass partition that separates the scorer's box from the press box, I can hear Gregg Elkin. He's the new PR dervish for the Rangers. He held the same position with the Mavericks but made the move to baseball when longtime Rangers spin-master John Blake was promoted.

"This might be the best-attended game in exhibition history," Elkin tells the scribes, or at least those of us who are listening. The intra-squad game is three innings old, but that's three innings too long if you ask most of the writers, many of whom have a glazed look in their eyes.

Elkin is right about the turnout. There are maybe 200 people here, and they're loud. What Elkin mentioned in passing is that the fans were bused in from nearby West Point Elementary. It was the kind of tactic that Nixon and his former press secretary, Ron Ziegler, used to employ--pay a bunch of union workers to turn out, hand them signs and then double or triple the attendance figure before telling the media something on the order of "this is the best-attended rally... ev-er."

Right. In fairness, Elkin was kidding. To his credit, he disseminates information with humor, and he's good at his job. Not so with some others in the Rangers' employ.

There are, as usual, issues with this club. They're not all as glaring or oft-discussed as the team's poor pitching, but they could be equally ruinous. Aside from Elkin, few in Rangers management seem interested in good public relations, and fewer still are adept at it. Elkin gets paid for it, but that hardly excuses the rest of them. The problem is endemic, and it starts at the top with a disdain for fans and the media, sometimes covert, sometimes not.

Hicks is the worst offender. Following the A-Rod trade, someone asked the owner if ticket holders--chiefly those who bought in after the "he's not going anywhere" comment by Hicks--would be given a refund. "There won't be any refunds," Hicks said, sounding like Paul Dooley in Breaking Away. "Of course not." It would have been less offensive for him to roll around in a pile of hundreds while screaming, "Fuck you, suckers!"

The real stink of it is, at the same news conference, Hicks promised the fans that he'd "put money back into the payroll." Hmm, not yet. Not really. (Various team figureheads keep promising me it takes time. Whatever.) They threw a five-year, $15.2 million deal at Blalock, as well they should, but that's been about it. They had a chance to lock down Young, a solid second baseman last year and an exemplary person, but they didn't. Instead, they signed him to a one-year deal worth $450,000--barely more than the $300,000 league minimum. Now that was partly the result of baseball's bureaucracy and semi-complicated rules that you have to have players signed by certain dates, but they easily could have tendered Young a better deal if they so wished.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez

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