Gil LeBreton

Rangers’ Rougned Odor can expect to be watched

The first time that I ever saw Rougned Odor in a baseball uniform, he was on a back field in Surprise, Ariz., waiting to go to bat.

But first, he must have figured, it was time to play.

So as the on-deck batter, Jorge Alfaro, was intently studying the opposing pitcher, there was Odor, 19 at the time, tip-toeing up behind him — and flicking Alfaro’s ear lobes, first one, and then the other.

Odor, giggling all the way, did it two or three times before Alfaro finally figured out who it was.

The manager of the Texas Rangers, Jeff Banister, calls Odor a “dirtbag,” and he means that as a highest compliment. When the club made the decision a year ago to send its starting second baseman down to the minor leagues, prominent among Banister’s instructions was this one:

“Go find your edge.”

An eight-game suspension — reduced upon appeal, perhaps, to six games — seems about right for a guy who ignited an on-field rumpus Sunday by delivering a punch that’s been replayed on everything from MSNBC to The View.

But MLB disciplinarian Joe Garagiola Jr. must have had some infield dirt in his eyes to only suspend Toronto’s Jose Bautista for one game and to issue merely fines for Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar.

Maybe the MLB magistrates saw a different tape. But in the one I saw, Donaldson launched himself into Odor, who had already backed away from Bautista, while Pillar was wildly windmilling his fists. Both players escalated the fracas.

For that matter, in my opinion, so did Banister, whose finger-wagging presence in the middle of the scrum didn’t appear to be calming things.

Banister escaped without so much as a fine. Toronto manager John Gibbons, meanwhile, wasn’t as lucky. His late entry into the altercation, after being ejected from the game in the third inning, was not viewed favorably by the MLB office.

It makes little sense, it seems, to attempt to dissect the reasonings behind the 14 fines or suspensions.

In some cases, old-school baseball ethics seem to have been applied. Matt Bush’s fastball to the flanks and Bautista’s resultant hard slide apparently were deemed part of the game.

Players settling it amongst themselves. An ideal, democratic notion.

Except, why not let it end after Bush hit Bautista? If that was the Rangers’ response to The Bat Flip, why let Bautista start another round, especially since it lit the spark to the eventual fight?

Likewise, if old-school thinking figured it was OK to allow Donaldson and Pillar to protect their teammate by hurtling themselves into the scuffle, all well and good. But they should have been suspended for a game or two, too.

Odor and Bautista will survive, of course. Bautista, toasted in Canada but widely despised in the lower 50 states for pimping his home runs and his constant whining about balls and strikes, will have to live with the photos and videos of him getting rocked in the jaw by little Odor for the rest of his life.

Odor, however, is a work in progress. He is only 22, and his billy goat chin hair is the only thing keeping him from looking 17.

Yet, there his old dirty laundry was on public display this week in video unearthed from a minor league game when he was with Spokane in 2011 — when he really was 17.

He made a dirty slide that day, a dirtbag slide, but it was not yet against the rules in 2011. Ditto for his hard slide into San Francisco’s Joe Panik last season and his spikes-high collision with the Angels’ Johnny Giavotella.

Odor plays hard. He runs all the yellow lights.

It’s what his manager and teammates love about him. It’s what makes his future seem so bright.

He probably lost more than a little innocence this week. People will be watching to see what Rougned Odor gets into next. That’s a heavy burden for a kid that’s still only 22.

Hopefully for the Rangers, he’ll let Sunday’s fight strengthen him, not define him.