Dreams for a September Team
First off, I want to thank all the readers who commented or retweeted my 2016 projection articles. They honestly sucked to write, because 1) my mind wasn’t yet committed to 2016 and 2) the vein of optimism was running a bit strong. Also, they’re the types of pieces that are bound to put forth controversial opinions, and I just don’t hold my opinions about players that strongly. They’re too talented, 1 through 25, for some former high school catcher with a laptop to judge.
So this time, I’m going to do what I like. This one comes from the heart, with some assists from the head, instead of the other way around.
What do I want for 2016? … For it to WAIT 6 months, until pitchers and catchers report. We have enough 2015 left to tide us over.
That’s something I’d have bet money I’d never be saying back in May. So whether we stay in this race or not, here’s what I feel about these Rangers, and what I want September to bring.
For all his singles-hitting glory and lost step at shortstop, I don’t want Elvis Andrus going anywhere. He’s an albatross contract who may have peaked already, but he’s OUR albatross contract. He’s a link to 2010 and 2011 who can still play better than most shortstops in the AL, and unless he completely tanks, I will not complain if he’s here until his contract runs out come 2022. By which point, he’ll have accumulated enough hijinks with Rangers- and Baseball-Hall-of-Famer to be Adrian Beltre to make up for any drop in production, just for the memories.
Why should we love Elvis? Because he’s truly one of the guys. Go re-watch the replay of Delino Deshield’s first big league homer a few weeks ago against Minnesota. You know who was the most giddy, leaping out of the dugout? Little E. So do the metrics and economics say to unload Elvis? I can make a case. But does my sentimental heart want him gone? No, I want him to kick that darned leg as high as he wants and keep hitting singles (at least at a .250 clip, please Elvis?) so long that we think of he and Rougned Odor the way they think of Tinker and Evers in Chicago, but on speaking terms with each other (look it up).
I want this thing going down to the wire, and I want guys like Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, and Keone Kela on the bench and spot-starting in a Wild Card race in September, learning what it means for every game to feel like the turning point of the season. I want to see Gallo trotting around the bases on a game winner with Kela closing out a Jackson vulture win, with Mazara greeting him at the plate following his own gap double. I want Chi Chi to get his mojo back and remember that he’s a sweet-spot-missing-son-of-a-gun who CAN win that way, even in the big leagues, because he’s smarter than any pitcher his age ought to be and a bulldog to boot.
I want the real Josh Hamilton to please stand up and deliver in September like he’s slipped, hit his head, and awakened in 2011 (although I really shouldn’t make an injury joke about him). I want Shin Soo Choo to continue his recent awakening into the offensive on-base machine and plus defender we all know he can be, and I wouldn’t mind a few more 90-MPH strikes like the one that nabbed Logan Morrison, either. I want Will Venable to look like the hitter I saw in spring training four years ago, when it seemed like he cut a slash across the greater Phoenix area with line drives; I want him to know what a dugout with Beltre and Mike Napoli is like, as I think it’s something we all should experience. I want Cole Hamels to know what it feels like to get roughed up in a home park where the fans will STILL cheer you off the mound for giving it hell, win or lose. Then I want him to go out and earn an ovation with the kind of stuff that brought him here. I want Gonzalez and Jackson at the elbow of Hamels and Colby Lewis, learning all they can about the most important lesson for any big league pitcher: how to win on a day when you have NOTHING that day.
I want Jeff Banister to get at least a handful of votes for Manager of the Year. With all due respect to Ned Yost in Kansas City or A.J. Hinch in Houston, I want to see those guys take a team with this roster and these injuries and coax it along into September with a better-than-punchers chance at real October baseball. As someone not in the clubhouse and not around the game, I can only go off what I see and read, and by all accounts, Banister is a high-character manager and man. He’s a baseball lifer with that classic manager’s pedigree – the cup of coffee to show for in The Show—and he treats his players like men until they prove unworthy. He has that in common with the only other two Rangers post-season managers—Johnny Oates and Ron Washington. Remember, too, that September baseball is not going to faze him. He’s been through that crush as recently as last season, with Pittsburgh, but he’s also been through enough to realize a ballgame is just a ballgame. This man overcame cancer and seven leg operations in high school. His perfect 1-for-1 as a big leaguer was a small win by that score, even as large as it sits in any players life; September baseball is just baseball to Banister, which is why he’s exactly who Texas needs right now. I want his story to get some national play against the backdrop of pennant-race baseball.
I want Napoli to incite a near-riot every time he comes to the plate. I want the ballpark full of stomping, chanting fans waiting for him to pop another button loose sending a hanging high curve somewhere near Grand Prairie. I don’t care that it’s not 2010 or 2011, because baseball matters in September. I think if we can say that, we can afford to squint and believe the hulking righty coming up to face random southpaws can still carry a team like he did this one in October four autumn’s ago.
But mostly, I want a team with no business doing so to climb on the shoulders of it’s leader, Adrian Beltre, and ride into October baseball. Early in the year, I wrote an article suggesting this club could let go of Adrian Beltre via trade to build up a youthful core. I made it clear I didn’t WANT that, but that it made sense. What do I want? Easy. I want Belts to retire a Ranger. I don’t ever want him wearing another uniform, and I want number 3,000 to come wearing a Rangers uniform, so we can get the glorious swan song Raffy and ‘Roids robbed us of a decade ago. I want him signed to a personal services contract for DECADES the day he hangs ‘em up, because he’s an ambassador extraordinaire. Five years after his last strike across the diamond, he’ll go one step further towards correcting the horrendous imbalance that is the lack of third basemen in Cooperstown. By then, in service time, level of fan love and cementing of all-time greatness, you could argue that he should wear a Rangers cap in bronze. But I don’t want that. I want him hat-less, so I can go up and rub the top of his sacred head on that plaque, for the sake of sentimentality.
This is Rangers baseball; for we who love it, it always matters. Still, nothing matters quite like winning down the stretch, especially when you win with feeling. In the dugout, on the field, and in the stands, when this Ranger team wins, it has the feeling of something out of a dream. And I don’t want to wake up.