Choo’s milestone hit was nice, but next one was more important
You would think Shin-Soo Choo has few motivating factors left to inspire him in the major leagues.
But the Texas Rangers veteran, who turned 37 on Saturday, still has plenty. Not the least of which is fear.
Fear of letting down the organization that signed him to a seven-year, $130 million deal as a free agent before the 2014 season.
Fear of being replaced by a younger player.
Fear of not playing up to his own personal standards.
He is having one of the best seasons of his career and showing little wear on his 37-year-old body. His .294 batting average entering Saturday’s game is his best since 2010. His .389 on-base percentage is his best since 2013. His .505 slugging percentage is his best since 2008.
“A lot of guys like that are pretty stubborn in their routines. He’s like: ‘What can I add to that routine to be better? What can I add to my swing, my preparation, my game planning,” Woodward said. “I’m not surprised by any of his success. You don’t see too many guys at this age actually improving. You usually see a pretty steady decline into the 30s, mid-30s, you (production) taper off. He still has a youthful body for being 37.”
Choo has been healthy, too, which hasn’t been the case during much of his time with Texas. His penchant for helping the Rangers strike early in games has been astounding in 2019.
He’s batting over .455 with a 1.305 OPS and five home runs as the Rangers’ first batter in a game this season. He hit his fifth homer to lead off a game this season Saturday night in the Rangers’ 7-6 loss in 11 innings to the Houston Astros at Globe Life Park. He also did it Friday night. The last time a Rangers’ hitter led off consecutive games with homers was Choo in May 2015 against the Royals. Choo has 32 homers to lead off a game in his career, including 21 with Texas.
“It’s preparation. He comes ready to hit the first pitch. A lot of guys ease their way into games. Most guys are ready, but he’s the most ready I’ve ever seen to face that pitcher and that first pitch,” Woodward said. “He is ready to hit that guy’s first pitch every time.”
Choo can’t explain the lead-off success to start a game, except for knowing he’s probably going to see a fastball early in the count.
“I don’t really change. They’re pitching me the same,” he said. “I’m not more focused. I’m not really a home run hitter. I want to just get on base, see a lot of pitches. That’s it. Show a good example to the young players. That’s my job. I’m not trying to hit homers. Just have a good at-bat.”
One of those criteria for Choo especially stands out for the Rangers’ organizational brass and Woodward. Choo’s professionalism, and his success, of course, provides an invaluable asset in the Texas clubhouse. Not only for the young players currently on the roster, but the even younger prospects who get to watch Choo prepare and work during spring training.
“We’re so fortunate to have him. To have that kind of example, especially for a younger group that’s here,” Woodard said. “It’s so valuable for me as a manger and our staff. Here’s a true professional. He’s 37 years old, and he’s having arguably his best season. He’s been open to so many things. He’s the first guy here and he cares so deeply about helping our team. It’s fun to watch because you see the results of all of the preparation.”
Woodward called Choo’s pregame preparation regiment “as good as I’ve ever seen.”
“I’ve been around a lot of players as a player and a coach. You realize why guys are successful. You see it right away,” he said.
Part of the fear Choo carries with him as motivation is based on how much he respects the game and his opportunity.
“He has a healthy fear of somebody coming up behind him,” Woodward said. “He says, ‘I do this every day because I’m terrified somebody is going to take my job.’ That’s why he doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Woodward explained Choo’s “healthy fear” this way. They both make sure their kids don’t take for granted their opportunity to hang out in a major league clubhouse and play catch on a big league field.
“It’s just who he is. A lot of guys don’t have that healthy fear of people coming up behind them,” he said. “He thinks, ‘I’m not owed anything because as soon as I start to fail I don’t deserve it anymore.’ Not everybody has that kind of mentality. He says, ‘I have to work hard every day, otherwise age is catching up to me and it’s going to overtake me. I’m trying to prevent that decline.’ It’s remarkable.”