The Main Course

ST
The equipment trucks have arrived in Surprise, pitchers and catchers have reported, and Texas Rangers baseball is back for the first time in 130 days.

Thirty MLB teams will kick off Spring Training this week with hopes of putting together a magical season.  For some teams that means living up to expectations, and for others it means exceeding them.  Young players across the league will fight to make their big league debut on Opening Day in 2013, while veterans will look to shake some of the dust off that has collected during the offseason.  Newly signed free agents will join their new teams, bringing both new personalities to their clubhouses as well as excitement for the fans to see them in their new colors.

I doubt 130 days ever goes by quickly when you love this game, but it sure seems like it’s been a long time since Josh Hamilton and Ron Washington got into it in the dugout over a fly ball.

Back in October we all thought this off-season would go differently.  It’s a tired subject.  From Koji Uehara to Nelson Cruz, suffice it to say that it just hasn’t been the kind of fun that makes time fly.

The discussions around Spring Training are always focused on youth, regardless of how the off-season went or what the expectations of the team are for the current year.  It’s about what is new. What do we have this year that we didn’t have last yearthat will help us take the next step?  What makes us better?

That’s why you won’t see many Spring Training articles about David Murphy or Joe Nathan.  That’s why everybody would rather talk about the 19-year old middle infield prospect than one of the best double play combos in baseball.  Should the Rangers move their stud third base prospect to right field?  Who can be the next Robbie Ross?

Is it exciting?  Sure it is.  It’s food for the baseball-starved fan in all of us.  But while we focus on guys like Leury Garcia and Michael Kirkman – that isn’t what we’re really excited about.  After the past four months, focusing on whether or not Martin Perez can hold down a spot in the rotation isn’t quite the rush that Dodgers fans probably feel seeing Zack Greinke in blue and white.

But it’s only the appetizer.  And while the appetizer of Jurickson Profar’s quest to carve out a “meaningful role” will hold us over, the main course is what we should be excited about.

The way Yu Darvish makes baseballs move in ways that make baseballs extremely difficult to hit.  The way he loves striking guys out so much it borders on being a problem.  The way he approaches attacking a hitter with a delightful combination of you-don’t-know-what’s-coming and you-can’t-hit-this-pitch-anyway.

I’m excited to watch balls that are hit to the left side of the infield, where it’ll have to get past the best defensive left side in the game to get into the outfield.

I can’t wait for Adrian Beltre to fire the ball back to the pitcher so hard before the start of an inning that you just know it makes the pitcher a little uncomfortable.

At some point this year, Nelson Cruz will throw a guy out at the plate from right field with the cannon that reminds you of one of the reasons why Nelson Cruz is a right fielder and not a designated hitter.

Mitch Moreland, no matter what kind of season he has this year, will hit a HR so hard and so far that your jaw will drop.

I’m anxious to see when Lance Berkman will come to the plate in the late innings of a tight game and work a pitcher for a 10 pitch walk that leaves the pitcher visibly frustrated before he faces Adrian Beltre.

Can Ian Kinsler play right field?  Will Julio Borbon ever have any value?  I don’t know.  But I bet Joe Nathan strikes out the side in the 9th inning a few times this year.  I bet Craig Gentry successfully steals second base on a pitch when everybody on the field knew Craig Gentry was about to try to steal second base.

The appetizers don’t make or break you.  They deserve a look, but that’s not what you came for.  No matter how this Spring Training goes, whether there is a surprise on the Opening Day roster or not, it’s just a taste of what is to come – a feast of really fun baseball in Arlington.

Robert Pike is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Robert.Pike@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @Bob_Pike

Robert Pike

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