Greetings from the East Valley, which is a whole different world from the far northwest side the Texas Rangers call their spring home.
There’s a lot to like about Surprise. It’s quiet, for one, everywhere except the area around Bell Road and Litchfield and Grand avenues. You’ve got to work pretty hard to get in trouble, and there are golf courses galore.
But trips to this side of the Phoenix metro area make the media wonder what they’re missing by not being in a more urban area.
Alas, this isn’t leisure time despite all the retirees living a leisurely life, and if prime work conditions are the objective, it’s hard to beat the setup at the Surprise Recreation Campus and the fact that there’s never much of a rush hour.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. A keen observer of the Rangers, one who hadn’t seen them since last season, commented Tuesday morning that Delino DeShields was noticeable larger. Welcome to the club.
DeShields’ size has been noted, and some in the organization were curious to see if all the extra muscle was going to slow down their speedy center fielder.
The answer came in a flash in the third inning against Oakland, as DeShields sent a rocket to left field that Coco Crisp misplayed and allowed to the ball to get to the wall. That was enough opening for DeShields to reach third with an RBI triple, regardless of the throw going home.
Any worries about his speed?
“Not at all,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He’s got a football body. He looks big, but he can still fly.”
12 Bunt hits in 2015 for Delino DeShields, most in the American League and tied for second in the majors behind Dee Gordon (16)
2. Of note from manager Jeff Banister before Tuesday’s game is that he revealed that he has had a few conversations this spring with left-hander Derek Holland about not being so hard on himself.
Holland is a notorious shouter into his glove, and he can be cruel to himself in his postgame pressers after a loss.
But Holland has always responded well to his manager. Ron Washington used to go to the mound when Holland wasn’t on the ball, and those talks were usually very one-sided.
The one that comes most to mind was July 30, 2011, the day that the Rangers traded Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for Koji Uehara. That deal came after Holland tossed a four-hit shutout at Toronto, but that came only after Washington went to the mound in the second inning after Holland gave up a walk and a hit with two outs and a 2-0 lead that had just been handed to him.
“He gave me a new one,” Holland said nearly five years ago. “It fired me up.”
Banister likely has been a little more tactful this spring, and Holland would be wise to hear the message.
3. Washington has changed jobs and changed uniforms, back in Oakland green and gold, but his personality hasn’t really changed.
The former Rangers manager continues to love the game and teaching young infielders. He said that there are 13 infielders he’s working with this spring, with sessions beginning at 7 each morning.
He also continues to say what’s on his mind. The A’s, he said, are going to be better than in 2015 and not nearly as sloppy. He thinks that Leonys Martin has a chance to blossom with Seattle after becoming a good center fielder the last two years with the Rangers.
Washington was also bullish on Mitch Moreland, who impressed his former manager with his defense at first base in 2015 and with a nice year at the plate. If Moreland duplicates that, Washington believes the Rangers will be in good shape.
Washington made sure to ask about Holland, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar and Michael Young. He shook hands and hugged a number of Rangers coaches and players, including Elvis Andrus, as they walked in from the team bus.
The Rangers are never too far out of Washington’s mind.
664 Career wins for former Rangers manager Ron Washington, the most in club history and 83 more than runner-up Bobby Valentine
4. Jeremy Guthrie finally made his spring debut after dealing with some tightness in his lower back. He thought he was going to pitch Monday, and even had his family come to the game only to be surprised to learn he wasn’t pitching.
His 2016 Cactus League debut came in the seventh game, and it was two quick innings for a pitcher who is trying to win the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s behind, but he’s not behind.
Remember last spring when Derek Holland didn’t pitch in a game until one inning of a B game March 14. The Rangers flopped him from a possible Opening Day start to their fifth game, the home opener.
That didn’t go particularly well for Holland, who was injured in the first inning, but he had caught up on his innings.
So, there’s still time for Guthrie and A.J. Griffin, who has only one one-inning appearance after some extra caution with his shoulder, to catch up. The Rangers won’t need their fifth starter until April 9.
Jeremy Guthrie has a career record of 91-108 with a 4.37 ERA. The Rangers are the fifth organization in his career, joining Cleveland, Baltimore, Colorado and Kansas City.
5. The Surprise Five has a special place in its heart for Hohokam Stadium.
My first time here was 1985 as a spry fourth-grader who had watched on WGN as the Chicago Cubs won the National League East the previous summer and fall. Major League Baseball was 10 years from dropping the Colorado Rockies into my hometown, so my family decided to get its baseball fix in Arizona.
That’s a long drive, but we did it each year through 1993.
My favorite player in the spring of 1985 was Rick Sutcliffe, the Cy Young winner. My sister had a crush on Ryne Sandberg, the MVP. Yeah, we were front-runners.
It was wonderful, even though I got a sun stroke after laying on top of the Cubs’ dugout day after day in the pursuit of autographs. I still that have that first ball.
HoHoKam has gone through a couple remodels, including one before last year to welcome the A’s to Mesa after the Cubs built a shiny new facility just up the road.
This is the last time I’ll say this this spring, unless the Arizona Tourism folks start sending me checks, but spring training is a must-do family vacation. I might be biased, but I’m not wrong.