Mac Engel

Time to add new chapter to Rangers reliever Matt Bush’s story

Texas Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush has been open about telling his story, which now gets the HBO “Real Sports’ treatment.
Texas Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush has been open about telling his story, which now gets the HBO “Real Sports’ treatment. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

For the better part of an hour on Friday, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was quietly grilled by HBO “Real Sports” reporter Andrea Kremer on the backfields away from the crowds.

A request from “Real Sports” is like receiving a call from “60 Minutes” — it should come with a crate full of trepidation. You do these things knowing, whatever the story is, all will be exposed.

The investigative sports news program is producing a segment on Rangers reliever Matt Bush. The piece is scheduled to run March 21.

It has interviewed all of the necessary figures in this well-told story, from Bush to his father, to special instructor Roy Silver. Also scheduled to appear in the HBO segment is Tony Tufano, the motorcyclist whom Bush hit with his car in March 2012, which led to Bush going to prison.

Expect the piece to be long. Expect the piece to be well reported. Also expect it to be graphic. And, finally, expect it to be outstanding. Kremer is a pro, and HBO “Real Sports” spends the money and doesn’t produce junk.

Then do not expect too much more from Bush on this subject, which is fine.

This is why I like Matt Bush: There was a crime. There was a punishment. There has been public admission, remorse and no denial or minimizing of his past. He’s never once dropped the “No comment” line.

As a 30-year-old rookie with the Rangers, Matt Bush was 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 58 games last season.

No one involved believes they can bury this story, nor will it be their an attempt to run from it, but all parties are interested in making Matt Bush more about today and tomorrow rather than yesterday. In this, his first real spring training as a major league pitcher, Bush should be allowed to move on because he’s confronted a past publicly; a past that is going to remind him without any help.

He doesn’t deserve a medal but unlike too many athletes who commit a crime, write a check, and then issue the “I’m just moving forward” line, Bush and the Rangers have been good about acknowledging the reality of this situation. It’s a fascinating, newsworthy story that deserved attention.

From The New York Times to ESPN, nearly all of the major media outlets migrated to Arlington to talk to, and about, their latest recovery project.

“I do watch some of the (pieces that air), or read some of the newspaper articles. I admit, I’m guilty of watching some of them,” Bush told me Saturday morning. “I mean, I gave the interviews. I know the story.

“But it’s nice to be here and give the interviews because it means I’m here. It means I’m in the big leagues.”

In 61 2/3 innings last season, Matt Bush had 61 strikeouts.

Indeed, it’s much easier to talk about this as a Rangers reliever than as a guy working at Golden Corral, which is where Bush was working when he famously tried out for the team two years ago.

Credit goes to Bush, Silver and long-time Rangers’ PR man John Blake for politely dealing with the media attention; every interested outlet had their turn to tell their viewers or readers his story.

Not all clubs do this in these situations. Some just do the general ESPN sit-down, and move on.

Since his promotion to the Rangers last spring, the focus of Bush has been his fall from No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2004 MLB draft to ex-prisoner with the stuff of a high-end closer.

A lot of people were upset the Rangers gave Bush another chance; that he was just another example of a privileged, enabled jock who enjoys double standards because he is good at ball.

That may be true, but Bush went away and served hard time in the ’pen. His arms are covered in many of the tattoos he asked for when he was “locked up,” many of which he regrets, that are constant reminders.

It’s definitely different than what I was used to because I had not pitched in four years.

Rangers reliever Matt Bush on entering this season on the major league roster

Since he made his big league debut on May 13 last year, Bush has been a great story. All of those interviews are a way to keep Bush grounded, even if he doesn’t require a reminder or another lesson.

The Rangers went through a similar process with Josh Hamilton, and it worked. Sometimes with major bumps. He also had a relapse, and some other obstacles.

As is the case with all second-chance reclamation projects, the Rangers are aware the 3 a.m. phone call is always possible. They believe Bush is sincere in his rehab efforts, but you never know.

They experienced it with Hamilton, and although the two men are decidedly different, no one within the club is fooling themselves. Things happen.

What Bush did that night will always be a part of his life, and his personal story arc, but what the Rangers are hoping is the large media narrative evolves beyond just that. Now more of the focus is that of overpowering reliever rather than the ex-con.

He averaged one strikeout per inning in the 61  2/3 innings he worked last season. The Rangers’ closer is Sam Dyson, but Bush has the most overpowering stuff on the team. Don’t be stunned if he’s the closer at some point this season.

He spent much of this offseason working on strength, and flexibility, which included yoga sessions. Bush developed some soreness and discomfort last year, particularly in his hips; that happens after a four-year layoff.

Unlike this time last season, when he was just a minor leaguer with a past, now he’s a major leaguer with value.

“Being here again like this has helped me get more comfortable,” he said, “but I still have that drive and that hunger to prove that I’m capable of being here.”

Matt Bush’s past is a part of who he will always be, but now both he and the Rangers hope the focus will be more about his present and future.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof

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