Three-plus weeks in the desert, and that’s a wrap. It’s time to pack the suitcase for the trip home.
I figured it out, and my first visit to Texas Rangers spring training came 34 years ago in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Sunshine, beer kegs and spring breakers.
Now they’re here in the West Valley of suburban Phoenix, flanked by tree-less golf courses and retirement communities.
Sunshine, Metamucil and golden-agers driving golf carts on four-lane boulevards.
But the baseball is good, and even the Dodgers and White Sox have joined the Rangers in Arizona. Half the major league teams now train in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
That didn’t help much this spring, however. The World Baseball Classic left craters in MLB teams’ lineups and disrupted pitching schedules. Eight Rangers were called to play in the WBC.
Vacationers hoping to see Yu Darvish or Cole Hamels pitch often had to prowl the grounds and find the right game against somebody’s Class A team.
There seemed to be a lot of batting practice, though, and a fair amount of just standing around. Unfortunately, nobody emerged from a cornfield to liven up the proceedings. There are no corn fields in the West Valley, but they do have lots of cactuses.
The great Charlie Pride, 83 years young, made his annual visit to Rangers spring training — and worked out daily. He’s been attending since the ’70s.
But the days when ballplayers would listen to Charlie’s Kiss an Angel Good Mornin are long gone. Nowadays Bluetooth speakers are parked throughout the back-field practice areas and playing Caribbean hip-hop. The bass is always turned up to 11.
Baseball has always been an endeavor best practiced by dividing up sides and playing a game. I’m not able to judge whether this has been a sub-par Rangers camp, but the daily lineups and results have made it seem like a disjointed one.
And just when you think you’ve bought into the club’s philosophy of building toward the season with a regular pitching routine, no matter who has the bats in their hands, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw storms into Surprise Stadium this week and strikes out 11 major league Rangers in six shut-out innings.
Where’s the passion, a visitor to Rangers camp could have rightly asked? Here, the team answered, “Read my T-shirt.”
Inspiring spring training moments, as it turns out, have been mostly lacking this time around. Delino DeShields, a daily fireball, was the camp’s MVP. Most improved player? Joey Gallo. Yes, he was.
The most memorable artifact of the spring, though? The gag funeral wreath that greeted the eliminated WBC players when they returned to the Rangers clubhouse.
Best moment: When the Rangers were hosting the Indians and both sides of the ballpark, Cleveland and Texas fans alike, began chanting in unison, “Nap-o-lee! Nap-o-lee!” as Mike Napoli came to bat.
So, it’s time to pack the suitcase:
One hooded sweatshirt – needed it for far too many unseasonably chilly Arizona mornings.
Josh Hamilton’s locker. Here one day, gone (forever?) the next.
Jake Diekman’s daily smile – relief pitcher and inspiration for all afflicted with ulcerative colitis. He still has two surgical procedures and a rough recovery ahead.
Assistant GM Mike Daly’s daily injury reports – Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.
Chi Chi Gonzalez’s adhesive patch, where they stuck the needle to give him a platelet-rich plasma injection. He’s probably going to need some other magic sauce to ever get to the big leagues.
Reliever Alex Claudio’s WBC hairdo, Puerto Rican blonde – it’s what all the second-place teams are wearing, apparently. #USA! USA! #weownthisgame
$30 parking tickets – a little something to help the Rangers media and PR crew remember the Alamodome and Big League Weekend.
Jonathan Lucroy’s Team USA catching gear – world championship star-spangled swag.
Matt Bush’s HBO Real Sports report – old news, needlessly rehashed.
Sam Dyson’s death stare – Yes, world. That’s his work face.
Keone Kela’s clubhouse chess board – Remember, men, there’s no fighting in chess.
Seldom in my more than 30 years of attending Rangers spring training camps have I ever been able to correlate what I saw in March with what eventually happened in September.
But it’s readily apparent that this team, manager Jeff Banister’s third, is talented and experienced. Maybe it just didn’t need any spring highlight moments.
Time to head home. For the real baseball and stuff.