Texas Rangers

How Willie Calhoun turned a minor league benching into a benchmark moment

Willie Calhoun knew what he’d done. He knew why he was coming out of the game.

He didn’t need his Triple-A Round Rock manager Jason Wood to tell him anything. But of course, that conversation came anyway.

When Calhoun was pulled from the lineup after not running out a soft, first-inning ground out to second during a game in Omaha on May 27, the message was sent loud and clear.

After the game, Calhoun had his own message to deliver.

That will never happen again, Calhoun told Wood.

“I went into his office and apologized to him,” said Calhoun, who at the time was letting the frustration of a slow start get to him. “I’d say that’s the moment my season kind of turned around.”

Calhoun was batting .266 with a .319 on-base percentage. Not the kind of numbers the skilled hitter was used to in the minors since being drafted by the Dodgers in the fourth round in 2015. The Rangers acquired him in the Yu Darvish trade a year ago.

Since that benching, Calhoun went on a tear. He compiled 65 hits in his next 44 games before being called up to join the Rangers for Friday’s game against the Indians. He hit safely in his second consecutive game going 1 for 3 with a lead-off single in the eighth in Saturday night’s 16-3 loss to the Indians at Globe Life Park.

“Up until then I was struggling bad,” said Calhoun, who admits that some of his early struggles were probably caused by disappointment for not earning an Opening Day roster spot. “I think that had more to do with me being frustrated with the fact that I was struggling and I just dogged it. But then I grew up.”

Rangers manager Jeff Banister said most players have a moment or two in their career when a good look in the mirror is required.

“Wake-up call moments where we self-evaluate or we’re forced to self-evaluate,” he said. “We all have that. Sometimes it’s a coach, sometimes it’s a teammate, sometimes it’s the game. The game can do that to you, too. We all have to get to a point where we do some real self-realization and evaluate what we do, what we don’t do, what we need to do and what we need to pay attention to.”

That all sounds good, Banister added, but for those moments to be career-altering, there has to be a sustained follow-through by the player.

“Guys go through things but can they truly move on and say I’m going to be different from this point forward and continue to grow,” he said. “That’s real growth.”

The reports coming from Round Rock in June were saying just that, which is one of the reasons why Calhoun got the call, Banister said.

“He’s been in a good place, being a good teammate, preparing well. Attitude does matter,” Banister said.

When Calhoun got to the dugout after that groundout in Omaha, Wood told him he could go shower up because he wasn’t playing anymore that night.

Calhoun stayed in the dugout to cheer on his Express teammates. The message was already clear. And he’s still holding onto it in the big leagues.

“Wherever it takes me, that’s where it goes,” Calhoun said. “I’m just giving it my all. I had some stuff I had to work on coming into the season and I knew that. On defense, I feel like that has been my biggest stride and just being a more mature baseball player all around.”

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