Elvis Andrus is learning tough lessons on his way to greatness

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton If Elvis Andrus could, he would raid this Rangers season's cookie jar.

He would sneak away with manager Ron Washington's car keys and go for a joy ride.

He would giggle all the way to the pennant.

When Andrus plays shortstop for the Texas Rangers, he reminds us of the way we felt when we ourselves first learned to play baseball. His innocence and eagerness shine, no matter the inning, no matter the score.

When he stands on the infield dirt, he makes us think that there is no place on Earth that he would rather be.

Elvis Augustus Andrus, born in Maracay, Venezuela, is 22 years old.

And there is his manager, Ron Washington, daily tightening the bungee cord on his young shortstop and symbolically demanding to see Elvis' ID.

It's called Raising Elvis, and Washington is trying to be the good parent.

Greatness seldom comes without its lessons. And if you've been paying attention for these past three seasons, you know that Andrus has the chance to be great. Not just good -- but great.

But first, the hard lessons. Like the play that Andrus didn't make in the eighth inning Sunday night, a slow bounder behind the pitcher's mound that he fielded on the hop and then decided that he didn't have a throw.

Instead of the inning being over, the Florida Marlins went on to score four runs and eventually win 6-4.

A lot of us who watched thought that Hanley Ramirez's slow hopper could easily have been scored as a classic infield hit. But the official scorer and Washington both saw it as an error.

"This is the big leagues," the manager unwaveringly told the media after the game. "That's a chance for a major league shortstop to make, and he didn't make the play. There are no excuses -- he didn't make the play."

Coming after one of the season's toughest defeats, Washington's pointed words came across as harsh.

Andrus, however, later said that he understood the manager's message.

"Those kinds of plays are always going to be tough," Andrus said. "The runner was kind of fast. The grass we've got right now is kind of hard. The ball bounces every way, so it's hard sometimes to remain focused between hops. It's always going to be a tough play.

"If I had caught it cleanly and thrown it, I'm still not 100 percent sure that he was going to be out."

But in a season where the Rangers' defense has often let them down, a season where Andrus already has as many errors (16) as he had all of last season, Elvis said he realizes the point of Washington's postgame message.

"I don't blame him," Andrus said. "I'm alright with it. I know how it is."

If anything, Andrus has seemed to occasionally fall into the habit this season of failing to finish a play with urgency. In Tuesday night's game against Baltimore, for example, Elvis didn't charge a slow grounder by Nolan Reimold and his throw to first arrived too late.

If maybe you're Omar Vizquel, one of the best infielders to ever play the game, you can flip the cruise control switch and still make all the plays.

Andrus isn't there -- yet. He plays major league shortstop with a playfulness that is a joy to watch. But Elvis needs to remain focused on the next out, the next pitch.

Washington described it thusly:

"You could look at some of the plays out there and say the problem is focus. But then you could also look at some of the plays and say it's only been physical.

"You don't play this game without making mistakes. It's just that we're too good to make as many of them as we've made. That's all."

His young shortstop, Washington knows, is on the path to greatness. But he doesn't want Andrus' focus to stray.

Message sent and received, both the manager and the shortstop said Tuesday afternoon.

"The message has already been sent," Washington said. "They've got to do better. I wish there was a perfect message. There isn't.

"They know, though. We're going to keep working, and we feel like pretty soon it'll get better. But it's not a secret. We've just got to catch the ball."

If he could, Andrus said, he would tell people that he realizes he still has a lot to learn.

In the meantime, his smile is genuine. Elvis Andrus understands what the tough lessons are all about.

GIL LeBreton, 817-390-7697

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