The Timeless Rangers Team of 2016
Take a picture in your mind of this Rangers team. Today. And hold it there. Forever.
That’s how special this team is. Regardless of their record, regardless of October.
Take your picture and hold it in your mind forever. You’ll thank yourself later.
Take a snapshot of Adrian Beltre. It can be anything that’s “quintessential Beltre” to you. For me, he’s always going to be at the plate, tied and late, runner on third. He’s stoic, but not stolid; there’s that slight wiggle in his feet and twitch in his bat. There’s a look in his eye: I am unbeatable. Right now, it’s you and me, and I’m right where I want to be. How about you?”
Right now, those guys in that dugout would take him over Ted Williams or Ty Cobb. Over Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. You name it; right now, these guys would rather see #29 at the plate than anyone in history. And so would I. And that’s the picture. I don’t need to see what he does. That part, my dreams fill in. But that picture of him, at the plate, coiled, almost cold, but still radiating confidence – unconquerable. That’s Beltre.
I’ve got my shot of Rougned Odor. He’s in his follow-through, looking high and deep into right field, following the flight of something parabolic that ought to have been shot out of something, but really just left his bat. His socks are high, but his eyes and head are about to drop as he starts his trot. I don’t need to see the ball. That drop and trot tells me the ball is gone. It tells me everything I need to know about Rougie, our warrior. He’s won. This one is gone. See you next time around, and I’ll be swinging as hard as I can if you get it anywhere near where I’m looking. Bring it. Please. It’s not a dare; it’s a game.
Right now, I’d take him over Ryne Sandberg, or Joe Morgan, or Rogers Hornsby. Right now, on this team, he’s the best second baseman for THIS team there could ever be. His eyes drop, his trot starts, and my picture moves on. But unlike the ball, it’s never, ever gone.
With Elvis Andrus, he’s smiling. Not grinning. He never grins. It’s a full-on, block-out-the-sun, ready-for-my-close-up set of bright whites every time. He’s just finished clowning with Adrian and tried to touched Adrian’s head. That smile took a popup from Adrian – or tried to. He’s just walked to the mound and reminded a struggling Colby Lewis that, yes, this is just a game, but right now, the game is his game, and he’s their Cobra, and they’d take him, right now, over anybody in baseball to have the ball. It doesn’t matter if we would or wouldn’t.
The way Elvis says it, with just the right glint and just the right crooked smile, let’s Colby know he’s right where he’s supposed to be; fastball on the black at 89 ends the inning – get it done. Or he’s drilled a classic Elvis shot through the right side to the gap, and he’s taking crap from the bench because anyone else would have hit it out. Or maybe he just ranged 10 feet to his right and threw from his knees because that’s where he ended up, and it got to Mitch Moreland on one hop. Maybe he got the runner.; maybe he didn’t. Either way, the 100-watt smile is bright as ever. That’s my Elvis snapshot.
Mitch Moreland’s not smiling. He’s at the plate and has tweaked his stance again. Maybe his hands are a little lower, or a little more forward. Maybe he’s added a leg kick, or cut one. He’s not looking to pull – he never does. Line shot over the shortstop is all he’s thinking. Maybe he’s cold and this will be a grounder to second. Maybe he’s hot and it’ll end up deep and in the opposite field bullpen. Doesn’t matter. Right now, none of that has happened, and there’s nothing but potential. That’s the Mitch Moreland shot I choose to hold onto. The country mechanic, ever tinkering. Not always the best, not always going to get it done, but he’ll give you an honest day’s work, every day, and damned if he won’t try to fix that swing.
Here’s Nomar Mazara, he’s at the plate, too. He’s mid-swing, just making contact. He’s caught it just a bit out in front, but there’s so much balance, and so much strength and the launch angle is so right. At worst, this thing is a tennis volley over short; most likely, it’s upper tank in right. He’s already balanced himself perfectly in the box, waved the bat out over the plate and then cocked it back and high. He’s done that kick, and let his hands fly.
This is the thing that made him a major leaguer, and a special one at that. This is where those hands do their magic – the most educated hitters’ hands in this ballpark since some guy named Rafael Palmeiro had the fastest six inches from launch to contact as anyone in baseball. He is our Nomar. A decade from now, high school kids all over North Texas will be doing their best to imitate that swing, just like kids of my generation kicked to the sky and let fly like Nolan Ryan, trying to touch 100. He’s our natural.
There’s Ian Desmond. He’s in follow-through, just having hammered a high fastball through the right side on a hit and run. The run’s home. He’s done his job. That’s what he does. Forget the stats. He’s all about the situation. He was our All-Star, our first-half MVP, the guy we pulled out of the bargain bin and dusted off to uncover platinum. He’s just about to tear off towards first, running hard because that’s what he does, thinking two because that’s what he does, looking for some new way to beat you.
Because that’s what he does.
He’s our Most Valuable Reclamation Project. He also might embody the soul of this team better than anyone this side of Beltre. Forget the numbers; forget the run differential. Think situation – then get it done. Pure professional. All team.
There’s Cole Hamels. He’s our ace in the hole. He may not be the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s the best pitcher for this team, this year. Right now, we’d give even money on Cole vs. anyone, ever, because he’s been baptized in the Powerade bath and buys into the program. In my mind, he’s pitching from the stretch, crouched over. The ball is behind his back and he’s rolling it in his hand.
The Texas Hold Em’ player rolling his chip between his fingers, one after the other; you don’t know what he’ll pull, but bet on pocket aces. His face is hard; there’s not a hint of a smile. There’s not a hint of anything. As a hitter, you had better know the book on him, because he’s not giving away anything on the mound, and he can outthink you. He’s not dealing from the bottom; this is coming straight at you, on the black, maybe with a hard hump to it, maybe with a little sizzle. Either way, it’s on his terms, not yours. Deal with it.
Here’s a shot of Jonathan Lucroy. He’s trotting off the field, mask in his hand, tools of ignorance looking as light on his body as the uniform on most. He’s probably just gunned down someone who disrespected his arm strength and release. Or maybe he’s coaxed a ground ball from a struggling Martin Perez to turn a twin killing and get out of a jam. Maybe he’s just framed a perfect Matt Bush strike on the black, lower than you thought the strike zone could go, because he gets so low in that crouch – the lowest I’ve ever seen – that even a pea at the knees looks like it’s at the waist.
His red beard is offset by the dust on his face, and he’s already switching into hitter mode mentally, but his heart is still out there in the middle of the diamond, with his guy on the mound. That’s Lucroy; that’s why he’s been a Ranger from Day 1 and will be as much a part of this team – now his team.
Yu Darvish is in mid-motion. He’s poised at the top, balanced like a Crane on a pier. You don’t know what’s coming. Worse yet, you don’t even know what time zone it’ll arrive in. It could be 95 and at the letters or knees. It could be a 68-mph curveball. It’ll all come from the exact same release point, with the exact same motion. That’s what makes him so dominant. He’s a modern-day Juan Marichal, throwing five different pitches two or three different ways for the best repertoire in baseball.
Cole is our ace, but Yu is the once and future king. On any given day, he could throw a no-hitter. He has that in him, any day, every day. It’s all in that shot, mid-windup; poised, balanced, focused. Not the hint of a smile or a glint of give-in. It’s a shot loaded with potential for something we’ve maybe never seen here before.
And there are dozens of other shots my mind leaves me. Matt Bush is always just finishing his delivery; it’s pure power, the position player with the golden arm and the up-from-rock-bottom story. I won’t give in. I’ve been too far. From here out, everything is easy.
It’s Sam Dyson just releasing a power sinker. The arm is fooling the hitters’ eyes, making him believe the ball can’t move that far down, that heavy. Groundball. Game over. See you tomorrow.
It’s Jake Diekman in mid-pitch, dealing across his body. When he’s off, yeah, it’s two feet wide. But when he’s on, it’s death to lefties and the best throw-in to a trade this team has ever seen.
It’s Carlos Beltran, on deck, studying; the old soldier with the still-perfect swing. Studying. Waiting. Knowing something you don’t, because he’s seen it before and you haven’t.
It’s Prince Fielder, crying, surrounded by his teammates – truly another family; heart on his sleeve, not a dry eye in the room. It’s all you need to know about him.
Hanser Alberto is leaping over the railing to be the first guy to greet someone; the essential and irreplaceable spirit of this team. He’s the thread that no one sees, but that binds all these heart-strings together.
Jeff Banister is in the dugout, hands just out of his hoodie pockets, eyes expressive and aghast at some call an umpire just made. He’s fighting for his guys, doing the work that they can’t afford to do – not wanting to get run, but willing to if it’ll keep them in the fight – or remind them to fight if need be.
He’s Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” He’ll be the first out of the trench, the first into the fray, despite being decades past his last playing day. The first with a grin, or a look – whatever is needed to get the player to stop letting his head get in the way of his heart. He knows his guys; they know him. They’d follow him to hell and back, mostly because they know he’d never lead them there. He’s not the perfect manager – just the perfect one for this team, right now.
I could go on and on. I have a shot for every player. However this is as much your album as mine. Fill in the pages. Take your mental pictures. Remember this. Cherish this. Realize how special this is.
This team is timeless, but it’s not endless. Only the pictures, these memories are. They’ll live on beyond this ballpark. They’ll live on beyond careers, be they journeymen or Hall of Famers. Time wins; memories are all we’ll have.
When you wake up, one day a long time from now and scratch itchy legs that have felt like dust for decades, your eyes will glint and your voice will rise, and you’ll describe that picture, and this team will live again. You’ll tell your kids and grandkids, or some nurse at a nursing home, or a reflection of a once-young man or woman in a mirror, and they’ll live again.
It’ll be your story of the 2016 Rangers. It’ll be real, like they were right there, next to you.
And then, and only then, will this team truly live on forever.