The first full-squad workout of spring training arrived Thursday for the Texas Rangers, but only after the moment new manager Jeff Banister had been anticipating since the day he was hired.
For the first time he got to deliver his message to the entire team, not just pitchers and catchers who had reported last week, or the players who worked out during the off-season at Globe Life Park, or the group that participated in the annual January minicamp.
The group included every able body on the spring-training roster, plus a few not-so-able bodies, the big-league coaching staff, minor-league coaches and front-office executives. The floor finally belonged to Banister.
“I thought he hit it on the head,” outfielder Ryan Ludwick said.
Banister said that the theme of his speech was, “Why not us?” He has read and heard the questions surrounding the Rangers and how many prognosticators expect the Rangers to be 2015 also-rans.
But the speech wasn’t just the rah-rah stuff. It was how to go about proving everyone wrong.
Banister wants to see Rangers players be quality teammates, to come together as a team, to compete to win each day, and to just be themselves instead of something that others make them out to be.
Most of all, Banister wanted to make sure that each player had discarded whatever baggage they were still carrying from a miserable 2014 season and was ready to leave the past in the past.
“He says, ‘Why not us,’ like people can doubt us, but it doesn’t matter,” right-hander Phil Klein. “What it comes down to it is you’re there to win the day and get you’re work in, and let people say what they want to say. Oh, my God, I loved it. It gives you goose bumps.”
Klein is in his first big-league camp, so he missed the previous speeches from the always energetic Ron Washington. Those received rave reviews because they came from the heart, weren’t rehearsed and included what the players needed to hear.
Ludwick, entering his 13th season, is no stranger to pre-workout speeches, nor is he unfamiliar with Banister. Ludwick headed to the back fields at the Surprise Recreation Campus believing the players heard exactly what they needed to hear from a speech he thought had been delivered perfectly.
“It was so good I thought it was possibly scripted,” Ludwick said. “It can be tough for a first-time manager, and I thought he did an outstanding job.”
Banister, who impressed the Rangers during the interview process with the way he can command a room, was well aware of the potential impact his first speech could have had if it flopped.
He felt that it was important to speak from the heart, to not use note cards and to seem genuine. He said that he felt some butterflies before the speech but likes to think that the players got his message.
“You only get one opportunity to get up there for the first time in front of everybody,” said Banister, who was hired Oct. 17. “I wanted them to see how much I care about them, how much I honor this position and the opportunity to serve them and lead them.
“This is where they get to hear your voice collectively, hear your voice and see your face. In the end, it was what was in my heart and what meant the most to me. I felt they deserved that.”
By the end, when he showed a video of the 2014 highlights that included Adrian Beltre fighting for a hit rather than making the season’s final out, the energy he hoped to convey had been felt.
“Why not us” seemed to become the motto for many players as soon as they hit the field.
“You’ve got to ask yourself that every year playing at this level,” infielder Adam Rosales said. “It got us all enthusiastic, and it’s contagious. The way he speaks, I felt the energy and I just wanted to get out there and play.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
Turn the page
For the Rangers, it’s easy to envision better days ahead after last season’s debacle:
▪ The Rangers finished 67-95, their most losses in 30 years. They were the first team eliminated from postseason contention.
▪ Power hitters Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland had season-ending injuries. Derek Holland, who totaled 38 wins the previous three seasons, had surgery and didn’t get on the field until September. Yu Darvish was lost in August.
▪ Manager Ron Washington, the winningest manager in franchise history and the only one to take a team to the World Series, abruptly resigned Sept. 5 after admitting he was “not true” to his wife.