Give some credit to Ian Desmond, who is under no false illusions about how quickly he will conquer left field.
“I’m looking at it like I’m not going to be where I want to be until it’s all said and done,” the Texas Rangers’ newest player said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can every single day from now until the end of the season to get comfortable.”
Desmond is probably selling himself short. This isn’t Mike Napoli, a former catcher with degenerative hips. Desmond is a former shortstop who can run like the wind.
But, like Napoli, Desmond doesn’t want to embarrass himself or hurt his team’s chances, and he figures the only way to do that is to start playing his new position now.
Desmond will be the Rangers’ starting left fielder Friday at Surprise Stadium, perhaps a bit ahead of the schedule manager Jeff Banister had planned. But Desmond, who also feels the anxiety that comes with joining a new team, is ready to dive into the deep end.
I’m trying to ask as many questions to as many people as I can. I have no shame reaching out to somebody and saying, ‘Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing.’
Rangers left fielder Ian Desmond
“There’s only one way to get comfortable, and that’s by fire. You’ve got to go out there,” said Desmond, who agreed Monday to a one-year deal worth $8 million after an extended stay on the free-agent market.
“When am I ever going to get over it? The quicker I get out there, the quicker I’ll get over it. It’s just an unknown.”
Desmond wasn’t in the lineup Thursday for the Rangers’ second Cactus League game, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy in the morning workout.
Desmond wasted no time getting the jump on his transition from the infield. He said that he immediately spoke with former Washington Nationals teammate Denard Span, a former Gold Glove finalist in center field, and Rick Ankiel, the pitcher-turned-outfielder who is out of the game.
Since arriving at the Surprise Recreation Campus, Desmond has been glued to center fielder Delino DeShields, who came up as a second baseman before transitioning to the outfield in 2014.
Minor-league outfielder coordinator Dwayne Murphy, who won six straight Gold Gloves from 1980 to 1985, and big-league outfield coach Jayce Tingler have been giving Desmond all the work he wants.
“I haven’t played left field since my first tryout in Little League at 10 years old,” said Desmond, 30.
“There’s no easy position on a baseball field. I think every position has its challenges. I understand that I’m way behind. I’m trying to ask as many questions to as many people as I can. I have no shame reaching out to somebody and saying, ‘Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing.’ ”
Ian Desmond is one of only seven major leaguers with at least 19 homers and 25 doubles in each of the past four seasons.
There’s more to playing left field than just catching the ball. Those who have watched the athletic Desmond say that he has a good handle on that.
But he wants and needs to know what to do in every situation that presents itself, and he will need to pick up on the intricacies of communicating with the center fielder while running into the gap at full speed.
DeShields said that he and Desmond have only scratched the surface on communication. DeShields, though, thinks that Desmond will be helped by his background as a shortstop who roamed into the outfield to catch popups.
“I know he wants to be really good in left field,” DeShields said. “He knows if he hears somebody call him off, he’ll back off. We’ve talked a little about who’s in charge in the outfield.
“Stadiums are loud, and you’ve got two people calling for the ball at the same time. I think if there’s one person in charge and they call the ball, that’s how I know I can get to it.”
12 Players who appeared in left field for the Rangers in 2015
Many teams look at left field as a position where a defensive liability won’t hurt them too much, hence the Rangers’ experiment with Napoli there late last season and Boston’s trial with Hanley Ramirez in left field.
But Banister has zeroed in on Desmond during workouts and has seen early signs that left field isn’t going to be a difficult transition.
“He’s a fun athlete to watch,” Banister said. “He was running balls down in the gap, he was running down balls down the line, he was going back. It’s more the subtle things in the game. Those things are probably going to have to happen in the game before there’s a certain comfort level. I don’t foresee too many issues for him.”