To say that Willie Calhoun took his demotion to Triple A Nashville hard would be an understatement, but he’s hardly the first player in baseball history to believe his team made a poor decision.
Players in Texas Rangers history have done it, general manager Jon Daniels said, just not as publicly as Calhoun did Thursday morning after being told he wouldn’t be on the Opening Day roster.
Now, it was his turn to make a choice, the difficult but mature approach of accepting the assignment and continuing to get better by doing his job. Or taking the day off to contemplate, or sulk or whatever, about what had just happened.
He was in the lineup for one of their two split-squad games, but was given the option to not play. Manager Chris Woodward, for one, hoped that Calhoun would swallow the disappointment and make the right choice.
Calhoun found a patch of grass beyond the bullpen at Surprise Stadium and laid down. And stayed down. For a long time. Like, a couple hours.
Assistant coach Jayce Tingler, Calhoun’s workout partner, came to encourage him. So did Josiah Igono, the director of peak performance. He and Calhoun talked for at least 45 minutes.
His teammates looked for him after finishing their morning workout, perhaps to encourage him that the world isn’t ending and to get in the game, but couldn’t find him.
Ultimately, Calhoun made the wrong choice.
Just listening to what some Rangers had to say, they were disappointed.
During an off-season and camp in the which Calhoun was lauded, and rightfully so, for changing his lifestyle and showing signs of maturity, he had a slip. He’s only 24, sure, but players in his peer group who have faced adversity at a younger age haven’t put on the show Calhoun did Thursday.
Here’s the Woodward before Calhoun opted to not play.
“That’s where he needs to be mature and understanding that it’s not just about him,” Woodward said. “I’m extremely proud of him. It was the toughest conversation I’ve had to have with a player. I didn’t expect him to be happy about it, but he’s got to keep this thing going.
“He’s put in a ton of work in the off-season, but there’s guys that do that for 15 years. Ask Hunter Pence. Has he ever taken a year off? He’s done it his whole career. So, Willie’s job is to do that for 15 years or however long he wants to keep playing. This isn’t just a ‘I’m going to work hard for one year and then I’m going to be given every opportunity.’
“I would have loved to tell him he was our starting left fielder or on the team, but is that it? Is that the end of the road? You would have to do far more. You will have to do far more to prove that you are a major league-caliber hitter, defender, base runner. And you want to be an everyday guy? That’s a heavy responsibility. He needs to keep going. Making the major-league roster is just the beginning.”
And the after, while speaking to reporters at Surprise Stadium after Calhoun didn’t play. Woodward wants Calhoun to play Friday.
“He’s angry. I get it,” Woodward said. “We’ll let him cool off. It’s unfortunate. Maybe tomorrow he’ll come back with a more clear understanding of why. He doesn’t have to be happy about it. At some point you have to say, ‘Ok, this is what it is. I’ve got to go down and take care of business.’
“He is obviously frustrated … take a day. We’ll see about tomorrow. We are going to discuss this. I hope he wants to play.”
The decisions that came down Thursday morning – Calhoun to Triple A, Pence and Jeffrey Springs to the Rangers, Rule 5 pick Jordan Romano to waivers – were about giving the Rangers the players who were the best fits on the 25-man roster.
Calhoun isn’t one of them, and barring a trade or an injury, that will remain the case.
Pence was asked about what advice he would give to Calhoun, who was supposed to play with Pence against the Chicago White Sox. Pence wasn’t aware that the news had hit Calhoun like a Mack truck and was sympathetic, but also provided the take on the decision that would have served Calhoun well.
“Willie is a talented baseball player, and I love Willie,” Pence said. “Things have a way of working out, and it could be of benefit. It’s a long season, and we’re going to need him at some point. He’s just that good.
“He’s going to be an everyday guy, getting everyday at-bats, and that can help you a lot in the long run. Being guy that is expected to come off the bench in the American League, it’s a different role for a young guy with his talent to be sitting for a lot of games. This could be a blessing in disguise. I know he has a bright future.”
As Pence suggested, stuff happens in a season. Calhoun, who was part of that stuff in the 2017 Yu Darvish trade, knows that. Or should know that.
The media had asked him as recently as the past week about his shaky roster chances. He knew where he stood. He also said that he wasn’t sure how he was going to react, but he had time to be prepared for the worst case.
Well, the worst case would have been a DFA, or an assignment to extended spring training. But the point is he should have known how to act the right way, the professional way.
As Woodward said, there is a lot of work left to be done. A decade, perhaps. Daniels picked up the baton a little later, saying that, yes, the Rangers were pleased with and proud of Calhoun for his off-season, but, no, he wasn’t the only player who worked hard in the off-season.
Every one of them did, Daniels said.
But Friday is a new day. It appears the sun has come up. Calhoun will have some explaining to do.
It will be another chance for him to show how much he has, or hasn’t, matured.