Watching Bad Baseball – and Liking It

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We have to be honest, and the truth is, this is a team playing bad baseball; I believe it’s a bad baseball team as well, but injuries make it hard to pass that verdict. Still, even healthy, it lacks hitting and bullpen depth, and even healthy starters struggle when that’s the case. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing for everyone. I’m a fan; you’re a fan. And fandom, like any relationship, can have some really rough spots. Bad baseball ebbs and flows, like this Astros series recently showed. Hot team meets cold team, cold team somehow dominates. The key is to remember that, in the end, there’s always a payoff if you’re committed to your team; for all the losses, the wins feel that much sweeter. So, how to make it through the rough spots?
Well, TV helps. So does the web. And psychotropic drugs. Trust me on that last one. Because… I know a guy who knows a guy who KNOWS his left big toe can play the oboe.

A fan with a paper bag over his head watches during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game between the New Jersey Nets and the Miami Heat on Monday, March 22, 2010, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Nets have a 7-63 record as the Heat defeated the Nets 99-89.  (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

So, before you hit the tube or web or LSD for alternatives, consider: This Rangers team is not monumentally bad. Not historically bad. Not 1972 or 1973 or 1982 bad.

We’re not going to the playoffs anytime soon. Injuries have played their part, but even a healthy Ranger roster this year depended on a number of above-average years to pull away in the West.
But this bad baseball team has good baseball in it, and we’ve already seen some of it. And more importantly, it’s the ride that makes the destination meaningful.

News flash: sometime in our lifetime, this team will win a World Series. We’ve been there now. The air is still rarified, but we can breathe it. We know we belong. We’ve even had the term “Texas Ranger Dynasty” used in multiple media outlets to describe the 2010-2013 squad. For this franchise, it surely was. For the Yankees, it would be a bad stretch. Wear the suit that fits; we aren’t the Yankees, thank God. We have souls, and have never even rented them to the Devil.
So revel in the pain. That’s right; soak in the suck. Gorge yourselves on God-awful baseball for a season or so. It’s healthy. Trust me; we did a lot of that in the late 80s and the early 2000s. It was cathartic.

It made 2010 and 2011 mean something.

We could watch Neftali Feliz whiff Alex Rodriguez for the pennant and think, “Henneman would have hung a slider there.” We can watch Josh Hamilton almost bring us back from the most heart-breaking near-miss in any World Series 9th inning with a dream home run and think, “Juan Gonzalez whiffs on a slider wide there.” See, we’ve lived through the pain, and we learned to love the little pleasures so much so that the larger ones feel gargantuan.

So what little pleasures should we look for this year? For one, enjoy this stretch by Prince Fielder and Nick Martinez.

I wrote a whole column on Prince the other day, so I’m not going deep into that, but remember, he’s hitting .385 on balls in play. That’s fun to watch. That means the ball is really flying off his bat, and even the outs are generally hard ones when he doesn’t whiff. That’s the kind of hitter that’s fun to watch, and streaks like that don’t tend to last, so enjoy it, then wait until the next guy catches the groove.

Similarly to my previous piece on Prince, Brice Paterik covered Nick Martinez’s hot start in a great piece on the groove he and Mitch found throughout April. But as I’ll re-state: we’re watching a pitcher who put up an April ERA not seen by a starter with his number of innings since Roger Clemens in 1991. That’s high company and haughty hurling.

And don’t forget Colby Lewis; if he can keep doing the yeoman work to which we’ve become accustomed, there’s no reason not to let the likes of Alex Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, and Jake Thompson see action in Arlington. Colby is a model workhorse and has learned how to pitch through the previous five seasons. Between he and an ailing Darvish, who understood setting up hitters and changing speeds as much by 20 as most pitchers do at 30, there are ready and waiting mentors to pick up any slack Mike Madddux leaves as he holds a staff together. As long as that trio doesn’t shoulder the load, seeing them in the pen and making spot starts come September, depending on health and momentum in the minors, would not be bad, developmentally, and would definitely add a bit of glow from what’s to come.

Then, there’s Josh Hamilton. I’m not a fan of the acquisition. He brings more risk to the clubhouse than he does reward for THIS TEAM on the field. A team one bat or one player away, with a very strong clubhouse, might weather the Hamilton storm front’s roller-coaster barometric pressure, but this isn’t that team. That said, he’s never been more stable than he was here, and his talent is just enough to make him worth a ticket. With a clean slate, he could recapture 2010 or 2011 on the field, and as long as Jeff Banister keeps young necks craning towards Beltre’s side of the clubhouse, things will be fine from a culture standpoint. The minute it’s not, regardless of on-field production, Hamilton needs to be gone. For a rebuilding, losing team, the last thing players need is to dread the clubhouse.

But a healthy, inspired Hamilton is worth a ticket just for batting practice, and with this team, and the spot it’s in, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves he’s used up his last fumes on the field or pours the petrol in the clubhouse.

By autumn, too, the Chosen One could arrive. Joey Gallo has a solid average in Frisco for a guy who doesn’t make contact nearly enough, and though he’s not shown the light-tower power yet, he’s the consensus best power hitter in all of the minors, especially now that Kris Bryant is calling Wrigley Field home. We should hope our own third base prodigy can arrive with half as much hope and promise. Gallo is an amazing talent; he lacks range, but his arm and reflexes are solid enough for third base – he’d do well to shadow Beltre, as well – and his power is as legit as any Ranger minor leaguer since, probably, Juan Gonzalez. Will he make enough contact to be an everyday major leaguer? That’s the bet I’d place, actually.

The Rangers aren’t rushing him, and would be wise to keep the patient roll going. He’s not to the age yet where growing pains in the majors are more beneficial than those in the minors, and he’s not the type of player to benefit from an early big league arrival. Power prospects can really struggle their first times around, because nothing is harder to translate to the Major League level than power for a low-contact hitter (see Russell Branyan for an example of same). In the same way, I’d hate to see him come up here and rake, a la Chris Davis in 2008. That hot fall set the bar so high, he literally had to leave Texas to find it again. He’s got a good bit of Bryant in him: massive power – although Bryant has more, younger – and a low contact rate. Bryant appears to have a better eye so far, and plays third considerably better than Davis did as a minor-leaguer.

What we need to hope for is a cup of coffee for Gallo, with all the attendant struggles and adjustments, but also flashes of brilliance in the field and power at the plate. It gives him just enough to lean on, us just enough to dream on, and the franchise just enough leeway to keep the pace right. Gallo, like this team, is a thing of tomorrow, not today, and we’d be remiss if we forgot that and sacrificed five years and a future for a few good months on a bad team.

And if all else fails, watch for the talent that parades around the Arlington bases or owns the mound from the visiting grays. Some of the most amazing moments I ever had as a Rangers fan came at the expense of an entire staff pitching to Kirby Puckett, Randy Johnson finding his stuff and throwing so hard his tooth fell out, and Bernie Williams owning the batting cage in pre-game BP. Seriously on that last one – Hamilton and Albert Pujols are in a different league, but I swear the furthest BP homer I ever saw came from Bernie circa 2003. Most hitters relish Globe Life Park now that the winds have been tamed, and there’s a long precedent, from Reggie Jackson to George Brett, of great players putting on their greatest shows in Arlington.

And don’t forget, through all of this, you’re listening to one of the best broadcast teams in baseball, on either TV or Radio. For the latter, you have an actual Hall of Famer, Eric Nadel, teaming with Matt Hicks in making the play by play call. On the TV side, Steve Busby is back as a reminder of those early 90s days of he and Jim Sundberg calling mediocre baseball on KTVT, and he’s teamed with the exemplar of Texas Ranger baseball – a Rangers Hall of Famer and a great color man – in Tom Grieve. Even bad games are great when you have good broadcasters; just ask Dodger fans. I generally could care less about Dodger baseball, but if I catch a local feed with Vin Scully, I’m in.

So we’re in for a long summer, but do yourself a favor: find a local pub, a ticket broker, or just a recliner and (multiple) beers and let yourself enjoy the games. Between the visiting talent that comes through Arlington and can put on a show against a struggling team, and the fun of watching said team put steamroller talent to shame every now and then, it’ll be worth it.

When this team is breaking out the October jackets again by the close of the decade, you’ll be glad you weathered the storms. Because the autumn air will feel unseasonably warm.
Such it is, always, in Arlington.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington.
He pitched - typically backing up third after doing so - and eventually settled into catching in leagues throughout Richardson and Plano in his youth, graduating from and lettering in baseball at Richardson Berkner High School in 1998. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner and buys bits by the megabyte. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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