Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25- Texas Rangers

If there’s one person I haven’t given enough praise to for the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and especially for my time in the MLB Fan Cave, it’s my friend Taylor Smith (@Tayloraksmith). Taylor was born in Louisiana, but spent the vast majority of his life in Portland, Oregon. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been one of the few Texas Rangers fans who can dish a great deal of banter. We first met at Max’s Tavern, the bar that another mutual friend of ours, Matthew Alpert, and I both worked at. I had just gotten off of my shift, 4 PM- 9 PM, and was standing on the patio watching the day’s baseball highlights while smoking a cigarette and enjoying a tall, cold glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon to unwind. Matt and Taylor both walked in through the back entrance and Matt introduced the two of us. What I didn’t now at the time is that all three of us were enrolled in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, so we always had plenty to talk about outside of jokes, music and baseball. Off-and-on we’d spot each other in the hallways; however, all three of us had a different of focus of journalism: Matt was in video production, Taylor in advertising and I was enrolled in news/editorial and magazine writing. With our powers combined we would have made for a pretty badass team.

For only one day in the three years that we’ve known each other can I recall Taylor not wearing a Rangers cap. That day, our graduation day in 2011…

Taylor is in the sunglasses and Matt is the shorter cat with some decent beard growth. At the time I had finished up two of my degrees, one in English and the other in journalism, but my life got a little sidetracked in 2012 when I moved to New York City to be in the Fan Cave and had to put degree number three on hold for a bit.

Most of his Rangers loyalty came to fruition during the 2010 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. He was able to score tickets to Game 2 at AT&T Park, but regretted every second of it when I saw him in Eugene the next day after the Rangers suffered a 9-0 loss at the hands of the Giants. Based on my Oakland Athletics loyalty, it was a hard one to swallow for the both of us.

After graduation Taylor had gotten on with an advertising firm on the East Coast. Despite seeing photos on a regular basis on Facebook, I had totally forgotten that Taylor was living in New York, literally at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. When I got the call to move to New York for the Fan Cave this important little detail didn’t creep back into my head until a few weeks into our experience. In fact, it was Taylor that reached out to me. During one of the few days in which we had after noon games one of the security guards, Robert, yelled at me from across the room to let me know I had a visitor. I remember just looking back at him, lifting my arms up and saying, “Me?” I didn’t know anyone in New York, let alone get a tip from anyone that they would be coming to town. As I got up out of the couch I lurched about three steps and say the bright red Rangers hat I had been so accustomed to seeing at Max’s Tavern staring right back at me. With a wide grin on my face I opened the door, gave him a hug and invited him inside to give him the grand tour and introduce him to everybody.

As it turned out, Taylor and I only lived about a mile away from one another, so we did our best to meet up two to three times a week for a beer or even for him to just stop by the Fan Cave in the evening to catch a few games with us. It was great to have a familiar face from home around when he could, but since he was busy himself his visits became less frequent as the weeks rolled by. What I later found out toward the end of May was that Taylor’s contract with the advertising firm had expired and he was in a bit of a haste to look for a new gig otherwise he’d have to move back home to Oregon. This bit of news he told me over drinks one night at a regular bar we visited, but he did his best to keep a smile on his face.

Finally, on May 29, 2012 everything came to an end. I was given the axe by the Fan Cave and he had booked his plane ticket home. Neither of us, at the time, knew about each other’s news. It would be five days before we were able to see each other again, and the circumstances behind it were accidental. A few days after I had my last day in the Fan Cave I took in a game at Yankee Stadium as the New York Yankees were hosting the Tampa Bay Rays. This was during the period of time when I had also been kicked out of the apartment and moved to a hotel about a half-mile away, so he and everyone else still associated with the Fan Cave had no idea where I was staying. The game that night was a gift from David Price who had hooked me up with tickets on account of the bad news I had received, a pretty sweet gesture if you ask me. Price wasn’t pitching that night and the Yankees won 7-0 to tie the Rays for the lead in the American League Eastern Division. After the game I took the subway back to around the Fan Cave so I could walk by to see if anyone was still there. They weren’t. Instead, I was greeted by another one of the security guards and we chatted for a good hour about everything that had gone down. After we said our goodbyes I headed back toward the Blue Haven, the bar we frequented, for a night cap before heading back to the hotel. As I walked in I was greeted by Ricardo Marquez, Ashley Chavez and Taylor. Most people would normally be happy to see their friends; however, in this case I was confused to see my friend with the people that I worked with. As I came to found out Taylor had stopped by the Fan Cave to see me, they let him in and for a solid 15 minutes no one told him where I was. I don’t remember who he said finally cracked, but dear lord! 15 minutes? I wasn’t upset with Taylor in the slightest. After all, how could he know? As for everyone else, that was the first day I realized that I didn’t have any friends in the Fan Cave, merely acquaintances.

Taylor and I only got to see each other one more time after that which came on my second to last night in New York. The timeframe on my hotel had expired and I was left with not having anywhere to go. I ran through a few numbers at first, but no one had the room or the availability to let me crash. All of my stuff was at one of the apartments until my final day, so I was good on that. Without anyone else to turn to, I hit up Taylor and he happily took me in. It was late and all of his roommates had gone to bed. Always being the good host he let me sleep in his bed while he took the couch despite all of pleading I did to just let me take the couch. Before we went to bed we went up on his roof with a couple of beers and swapped stories on what exactly happened to us as he and I were slated to head back to Oregon on the same day. I t was one of the few perfect night I had in New York. Both of us knew what was going to happen next, but neither of us cared in that moment. We drank our beers, smoked a few cigarettes, talk and just stared into the night sky as the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge shone down upon us.

Taylor and I continued to text back and forth to one another, but we weren’t able to see each other again until July. I had busied myself with my baseball road trip and he found a temporary gig with a firm in San Francisco. On Wednesday, July 18th he had a short day at the office, which worked out swimmingly considering that was the day I was throwing out first pitch for the A’s. I had hit him up a few days prior to let him know and he told me he would do his best to get there. I made sure to leave a ticket for him at Will Call and all I could do was hope that he would show up. The events went off without a hitch, with the exception of my pitch going a little bit outside. As Josh Reddick, the other participant and I walked back toward the dugout I heard someone yelling my name from a distance. As I looked up, I saw a familiar face. This guy.

Both of my parents, as well as my best friend Laurin Mitchel had come to town, as well as my friends Tim and Stephanie from San Francisco, so I made sure to introduce him to everyone. For the majority of the game he hung out with my mom, Laurin and me and we swapped stories from our time hanging out in New York. The game itself was close throughout. Taylor’s Rangers had built themselves a lead against the A’s, but the A’s chipped away it and tied it up going into the ninth inning. With no runners on manager Bib Melvin elected to pinch hit Brandon Hicks in the leadoff spot. What no one expected, including Hicks, is that one pinch hit would lead to his first career home run as well as yet another walk-off win for the A’s. I was pumped. Taylor, not so much.

After the game we all met up in the parking lot for photos and to say our goodbyes. We’ve talked a few times since that day, but we haven’t seen each other since. Taylor got himself a new job in New York not too long afterward, so it’s been a bit tough. He’s doing pretty well. I can only hope to visit him again in the near future.

My timing was a bit off in regard to the Rangers hats I’ve chosen to rite about thus far. My piece I did on Alex Rodriguez is fine, it’s this one and the one I did on January 6 that are causing problems right now. This cap, the all blue with a white “T” and red outline was first introduced as the Rangers’ road cap during the 2000 season. From 2001-2010 it served as the home cap. Since 2011 it has taken over as the team’s game style, while the red cap from January 6 has served as the alternate cap. The reason this causes issue is because I kind of blew it when I decided to mark up the red cap. If you go back and look, I wrote all about Michael Young’s career stats; however, Young hardly ever played under that cap. One guy in particular that I was left to mark up this cap with did, for many years as that. All three of the numbers I threw on this cap serve a particular meaning to the 2012 season. One of the other funny things about this post is that I really should have used it to write about the team’s all-red game cap as that was the one Taylor primarily wore throughout the time we’ve known one another. So, without further ado, watch me try to bail myself out of this little mess I put myself in.

#5- Ian Kinsler was drafted in the 17th round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Texas Rangers out of Arizona State University (Go Ducks!!!). On April 3, 2006 he made his Major League debut as the Opening Day starting second baseman where he continues to hold reign to this day. That season he only played in 120 games and finished a respectable seventh place in the Rookie of the Year vote after going .286/14/55 on the year. If you don’t remember, Justin Verlander won it that year with little-to-no problem. In 2008, 2010 and 2012 Kinsler has been named to the AL All-Star team and in 2008, 2009 and 2011 he finished in the Top-26 in the AL MVP vote each of those three years. A perennial power-hitting second baseman, Kinsler has a .272 career average, 148 home runs, 480 RBI and surpassed 1000 hits for his career a few games into the 2013 season. My connection with him takes place in Boston on Tuesday, August 7th.

I had been staying with my friend Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for a few weeks. Along with two members of the Canadian rock group, The Arkells, we packed up Dave’s car and made the long journey down to Boston for that night’s Boston Red Sox game against the Texas Rangers. Another friend of mine, Neil Beschle, met up with us outside of Fenway Park, as he would be who I was staying with for the next week of my trip. I’ll get to a much more detailed version of the game in October, but all that matters now is that the Rangers won 6-3. Dave and company were crashing the night in Boston, but Neil and I were going to head back to his place in Worchester (pronounced Woostah) that night. Not wanting to leave it on a weird note we all elected to go out for one more beer before moving on. One beer of course meant two pitchers between the five of us, as none of us really wanted to hit the road quite yet. Dave had been to a great bar near Fenway a few years prior and elected that we go there. None of us took issue with that. Apparently the place Dave had been thinking of originally only fit about 150 inside; however, the place expanded into three stories, but we still got our drinks there. The A’s were playing the Los Angeles Angels that night and as long as I had a television on I was in good shape. About 20 minutes into our time there a group of Rangers fans walked into the bar, and quite amused at that. I wasn’t in a bickering mood so I kept to the game I was watching, only moving my head whenever I noticed a large rat scuttle across the floor. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Dave motioning to me so I got off of my chair and walked over to listen to what he had to say. “Isn’t that Ian Kinsler?” he said. I slowly turned my head and made sure to look past the area he motioned to. “Yup,” he retorted. From this point forward I decided to stand, mostly because I was curious to see how this was going to pan out. Kinsler was drinking out of a water bottle and conversing with the group of Rangers fans. I had gone back to watching the A’s game when I overheard a few of them talking about my beard. Nothing bad about it, just talking about it. With that, I knew I had my in. I could tell by his body language that he was ready to bounce, so as soon as one of the members of the group moved out of the picture, I swooped in.

“Hey,” I said. “Do you mind if I snap a photo with you?” This whole exchange was made better by the outfit I was wearing, all Red Sox gear. “Only because you have an awesome beard I’ll say yes,” said Kinsler. With everything in motion I handed my phone off to Neil, lifted up my shirt a little bit and took the photo. Now, the reason I lifted my shirt was to show off the Rangers tattoo I have. Nothing else weird. Upon doing so; however, Kinsler looked down after the photo was taken and said, “Wait a minute, I remember you from Oakland!” He had spotted me showing off my tattoos prior to throwing out first pitch and we ended up chatting for a bit longer while all of his friends got photos of me. Really sweet guy.

#7- This is the guy where I totally blew it and should have reserved the all-red cap for him. Ivan Rodriguez was signed as a free agent out of Lind Padron Rivera High School in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico in 1988. On June 20, 1991 Rodriguez got called up to the Majors where he made him MLB debut and played almost everyday from then until the end of the 2002 season. As for the hat; Rodriguez did wear this cap for three seasons; however, the Rangers wore the all-red cap from 1994-2000 which just so happened to be his best years with the club. That’s my dilemma. Moving on… In 1991 Rodriguez finished in fourth place for the ALL Rookie of the Year award, losing to Chuck Knoblauch. Until 2002, that would be the only year in which he wouldn’t win a single piece of hardware.

Rodriguez made the All-Star team every season from 1992-2001, not to mention every Gold Glove during that time frame too. In 1997 he finished in 16th place for the AL MVP, in 1996 and 1998 he finished in 10th place; however, 1999 would be the one year in which he would take home the prestigious award after batting .332 with 35 home runs and 113 RBI. The other thing to take into account is that he led the league in caught stealing percentage (as in him throwing out batters) every year from 1996-2001. After 21 seasons he finally called it quits officially in 2012; however, his final game was on September 28, 2011.

My connection to him came on the day in which he made his announcement to retire, April 21. I was asked to write a Top-five list on the greatest catchers of all-time, something I found to be quite arbitrary considering that and opinionated piece like that was only going to lead to trouble and argument. I’ve always preferred to analyze my articles more deeply, to educate thus negating any mean for argument. For something like this, people were going to argue no matter what. I, as anyone writing the same list should have, put Rodriguez on the list at number 3. Besides being a great backstop, Rodriguez has the most hits all-time for a catcher (2844), not to mention 311 home runs, 1332 RBI and a .296 average. In a nutshell, with one MVP and one World Series ring to boot, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. You could also contest that he is the greatest catcher of all-time, but I think Yogi Berra will have something to say about that.

#17- Nelson Cruz was originally signed to the New York Mets as a free agent in 1998, but didn’t make his MLB debut until September 17, 2005 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, it sounds weird, but it’s not. The Mets kept Cruz playing in the Dominican Republic for three years until trading him to the A’s in 2000. Cruz played in the Minor League system for the A’s until 2004 when they traded him to the Brewers for Justin Lehr and Keith Ginter. In 2006 the Rangers traded Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero for Cruz and Carlos Lee.

Throughout his career Cruz has only made one All-Star game appearance (2009), but he has been to two World Series. The most iconic of which was the 2011 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in which Cruz misplayed a shot from David Freeze, which could have ended the game, but turned into a two-run triple. The Cards were then able to win the game with a Freese home run in extra innings, forcing a decisive Game seven which they won. Blah! Not being one to just let things go away, I did one of the “jerkiest” things I’ve ever done; made a hashtag out of it.

My connection to Cruz came on the first game of the 2012 season for the Rangers when Cruz once again misplayed a ball which allowed for extra bases by the batter. As a result of the Game six of the World Series, and now this moment, I came up with #NellyCruzed while I was in the Fan Cave. It has started as a subtle jab, but I then let it loose up other suspecting players who were guilty of the same defensive misread on the ball. The importance of this hashtag is that it gave a name to something that should have been marked as an error but is actually called a base hit despite it being a defensive mistake. It caught on so much that other Twitter users started using it, and then commentators started using it, and then MLB Network analysts started using it until the point where an actual stat was created (defensive misread), but not actually used… yet. Who could have ever imagined that something so stupid could spiral into something so big? Actually… I could, as it was merely one of many things I created which are still being used well into the 2013 season. All things which I don’t collect a single cent for at that.

I feel a little bad for Cruz, mostly because he's such a pleasant person. He’s a solid hitter, I’ll give him that, but he’s a pretty fragile dude for as big as he is. He’s off to a stellar 2013 thus far, hitting .300 with five home runs and 17 RBI. He’s the kind of guy who can easily hit 30 home runs and knock in 100 or more runs, even though he’s only done the first half once in his career (33 home runs in 2009). Without Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton around to steal his thunder, I don’t see why he can’t do it. Personally, I hope the best for him. He's great for baseball, great for the Rangers and a whole lotta fun to bust his chops when he comes to Oakland and mixes it up with the right field bleacher crew.

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