As Ryan Ludwick recalls, it was a dandy of a spring.
The Texas Rangers were going to be winners, we had all decided, and Ludwick was hitting homers and turning heads with each at-bat.
“I believe that was before the 2002 season,” Ludwick said Thursday, prompting an awkward pause.
“That was a long time ago. Port Charlotte.”
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Ludwick, then a would-be rookie sensation, was 23 years old that spring. The one who’s back in a Texas uniform, trying to make the roster as the starting left fielder, or the right-handed hitting DH, or a veteran bat off the bench is 36.
He has played for six big league teams since that spring of 2002. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Ludwick has earned nearly $34 million during his much-traveled career.
The Rangers signed him in early February to a minor league contract with an invitation to the major league camp. If he makes the team, Ludwick is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.75 million.
Why is he here?
“A couple of reasons,” Ludwick said. “I’m familiar with a lot of the people here. I think there’s an opportunity to win here. On paper, I felt there’s a chance here. And I live in Austin, Texas, too, so it’s close to home.”
It was a proper answer but not really the one I was looking for.
Why is a guy who’s been a major leaguer for 13 seasons, who once hit 37 homers (2008 in St. Louis) and been an All-Star, back in a spring training camp, trying to make another ballclub?
“I think the main thing is,” Ludwick said, “I still think I can help a ballclub win.”
Manager Jeff Banister spent the majority of his Thursday media session discussing the club’s left field sweepstakes. Ludwick dismissed any notion of a beauty contest with just a shake of the head.
“I’ve been around the block too much for that,” he said. “I don’t look at it that way. I was obviously coming in here to compete, but everyone is here to compete, whether it’s for a job in left field or a pitching job.
“I think I can help this ballclub, whether that be in left field, off the bench or wherever they want me.”
The starting left field spot has been the vacancy most talked about. The job was Ryan Rua’s to lose, and he’s opened the door for that. A conga line of candidates, some like Ludwick with colorful back stories, has emerged to challenge for it.
Banister hasn’t set a timetable for making the decision.
“I want to allow these players to show up and feel comfortable that they’re not hanging on one or two at-bats or just one game,” the manager said. “I’m trying to take the entire body of work, plus assess the needs of our ballclub.
“I think you can get a little shortsighted when you look at just spring training [box scores]. I’m not going to do that.”
Banister ran through the outfield list — Nate Schierholtz, Delino DeShields, Carlos Peguero, Ludwick, et al.
“You can get electric on each one of these guys on any given day,” he confessed.
Clearly, there are jobs available. Not only does Banister need a starting left fielder, but he also needs to find a fourth outfielder and someone who can back up Leonys Martin in center field.
Curious by its absence from the daily discussions has been Banister’s plans for the DH role, where Ludwick has a chance to be a valuable right-handed bat.
The kid who once tore up the Port Charlotte camp is back in a Rangers uniform, just looking for a chance to help.
Any of those spots will do.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697