SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Anyone who has driven near Amarillo knows all about the high count of patrol cars the Texas Department of Safety has roaming Panhandle highways.
Neal Cotts' brother didn't know, though, and he got tagged as he accompanied his brother from St. Louis to the Surprise Recreation Campus.
The officer, as officers do, wondered aloud just where it was they were headed at such a high rate of speed.
The answer was spring training with the Texas Rangers, sir, which caused the officer to get even chattier.
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"I'm a little worried about them," the officer said to Cotts. "They didn't have a very good off-season. All they did was sign a darn 36-year-old catcher."
Cotts and his brother broke up in laughter. Cotts was teammates with the catcher in question, A.J. Pierzynski, for two seasons, winning a World Series together in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox, and knows a little something about him.
"I think you're going to like that 36-year-old catcher," Cotts told the officer. "He's pretty good."
Pierzynski arrived at the Surprise Recreation Campus on Tuesday, the day Rangers pitchers and catchers were to report for spring training. He quickly jumped into the mix, and is going to be in the mix much of the season.
The Rangers finally have an everyday catcher capable of starting 120 games. It's a role Pierzynski covets and the kind of catcher Ron Washington has wanted during his first six seasons as manager.
The 36-year-old catcher, coming off a career year at the plate and another quality year behind it, might wind up as the most valuable addition the Rangers made during the off-season.
"I think it's going to be a big difference," Washington said. "He has an idea of how to get pitchers through games. Another thing we haven't had is he also can make a difference offensively, too.
"He's a guy who shows up every day wanting to catch every day. To catch 115 games, I think that'll be easy for him. The fact that he'll get the majority of the games will make a difference in the pitching staff."
The biggest issue facing Pierzynski this spring is to learn a new group of pitchers. He sprung into action Tuesday, long-tossing with the rehabbing Colby Lewis and catching Derek Holland's first bullpen of camp.
The process will continue throughout camp. Pitchers and catchers have their initial spring workout this morning.
"I need them to wear nametags for me so I can figure out who's who," Pierzynski said. "I'm going to go out and catch whoever I can and go from there. Catch as many as I can, talk to them as much as I can about what they like to do and how they like to go about it. It's just a daily learning process."
Washington said that Pierzynski won't play 162 games, giving way to Geovany Soto whenever he needs a day off. The Rangers consider Soto to be a very capable backup, so much so that he was in line for 100 starts until Pierzynski signed just before Christmas.
While having good chemistry with both catchers is a must, a steady diet of Pierzynski behind the plate will make Rangers pitchers more effective. Cotts said that Pierzynski is at his best when using a pitcher's strengths to attack hitters rather than just sticking to the scouting report.
He will be entering his 15th season with an American League team, so he knows the league and its hitters. He also knows the scouting reports the White Sox used to exploit Rangers pitchers.
It's a level of experience the Rangers haven't had behind the plate for a decade.
"I hope it leads to continuity," said Pierzynski, who has caught 1,559 career games. "I take a lot of pride in going out there every day and playing. It allows you to have a better game plan on how you're going to attack a certain team."
Holland pointed to another factor that will get the Rangers going: Pierzynski's competitive nature. Some of that riles up opposing players, but Cotts said that Pierzynski is the type of player everyone wants on their team.
He's on the Rangers' roster now. Get used to seeing him. The Rangers are going to lean on him this season.
"He knows the game, and he knows the league," Washington said. "I'm excited to have him, really. Plus, he's a winning player. And he's fiery. That's going to be huge, because that's the type of game we want to play."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760