Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister was the featured speaker at TCU baseball’s First Pitch Banquet on Friday night in downtown Fort Worth.
His message to the 450 guests packed into a ballroom at the Omni Hotel echoed a familiar refrain ever since Banister was named the 18th full-time manager in club history in October.
He touched on his traumatic past that included cancer and a neck injury that left him paralyzed for days. He described helping to change the culture of losing during a 21-year drought with the Pittsburgh Pirates and acknowledged that his “never, ever give up” mantra has been a bullet point as a character reference since he joined the Rangers.
But his message to the Horned Frogs team, which opens its season Feb. 13 at Lupton Stadium, was about opportunities.
“Don’t waste it,” he told the players. “You have to cultivate them and hold on to them. When you let opportunity slip through you may never get another one. They’re precious.”
Banister jumped at the chance to speak to college players, knowing most of their baseball careers won’t go beyond TCU.
“They’re fresh and they’re wide-eyed, and there’s still a lot inside them that plays for the color of the uniform,” he said during a reception before his speech. “There is that sense of pride. Not every one of these guys is going to go on and play professional baseball. They know, eventually, this might be the end for them. To get to talk to them and look in their eyes and see the enthusiasm and passion in their face, it’s excitement for me.”
Among those in attendance were former TCU players and current major leaguers Jake Arrieta, Matt Carpenter and Brandon Finnegan. Finnegan helped the Frogs reach the College World Series last June before signing with the Kansas City Royals and helping them reach the World Series, the first player in history to do that in the same year.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle urged those in attendance to support Banister.
“This is the leader of the baseball community in the Metroplex, and in my opinion in the state of Texas, no disrespect to the Houston Astros and the Ryan family,” Schlossnagle said. “When the Rangers do well it’s just better for everybody.”
Banister and Schlossnagle hadn’t met before Banister was hired by the Rangers, but Schlossnagle’s reputation had already left an impact on Banister in Pittsburgh. The Pirates used some of TCU’s inspirational videos, including The Daily Grind motivational video from several years ago. Banister said he never stops trying to learn from other coaches, no matter the level.
“When you coach, whatever level it is, you take stuff, you learn from each other,” he said. “I truly believe if you’re not learning from each other, you’re just staying stagnant.”
The Rangers’ job was more than just an opportunity to manage a major league team, Banister said, but a chance to “come home.”
“I loved my time in Pittsburgh, but an opportunity to come home and put a uniform on that says Texas across the front every single night meant the world to me,” he said. “If you’re a Rangers fan at all, feel good, feel proud because there is a group of men that are angry, who are hungry and passionate about 2015.”