Sunday, April 5, 2009

That Game We Love

I was watching one of my favorite “guilty pleasure” movies: 1996’s “That Thing You Do” when this particular scene struck me as the perfect metaphor for the 2009 Rangers team.

The Wonders are on are tour for Playtone Records in spite of a disastrous audition – their manager Mr. White (Tom Hanks) offers some straightforward advice before their first state fair performance, prompting this response from guitarist Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn).

Mr. White: “It’s very important you don’t stink today.”

Lenny: “I make no guarantees.”

Yes, I am overjoyed that ownership has finally discovered that buying instant success in baseball is no more stable than a credit default swap. However, Rangers fans don’t need to be reminded that it has been ten years since there was meaningful baseball in Arlington (sorry 2004 doesn’t count for much in my book).

GM Jon Daniels is walking a fine line between continuing to implement a plan for building from within and keeping the local fans interested enough to keep supporting the team. Fortunately, he can point to the success of the Tampa Bay Rays as a model for his “plan” , unfortunately there’s that silver monstrosity looming over the southwest side of the Ballpark parking lots as a reminder of how far behind the Rangers are in currying favor with fans through championships.

I support “the plan” and I hope the most loyal Rangers fan do too. But whether we like it or not, the Rangers have to show some kind of step forward this season to keep everyone else interested (and shut up Randy Galloway). As always it all depends on the pitching and as Lenny said “I make no guarantees”.

Let’s give the Rangers credit for trying to help out the fans in these tough economic times: I love the fact that local wags will drone on and on about everything they think is wrong with the Rangers, but not one single writer or talk show host pointed out the fact that the Rangers “fan value” has them placed as the fifth cheapest out of 30 major league teams. This article in Startlegram business section is where you’d find that information, as well as all of the price breaks the Rangers are offering. I know I’m going to have to be more conservative with what I spend on major league tickets this season – and I’m really liking that Friday night discount on tickets and parking.

Looking forward to: the return of Red uniforms. Don’t kid yourself, baseball is a sport full superstitions, and the fact that three division championships were won wearing red is not lost on the baseball gods. The red uniforms of the ‘90s were a little less bold than the red tops Texas will wear this year. I seem to remember similar red uniform tops from the Rangers during the Buddy Bell era of the 1980’s that someone (maybe Doug Rader) said made them look like blood clots running around the bases.

Remaining wary of: Andruw Jones and Nelson Cruz. I’m not sold on either, might be persuaded to change my mind on Nelson…but not yet.

Have high hopes for: Jason Jennings – maybe building up his innings in the bullpen will help build his stamina, refine his pitches and turn him back into an effective starting pitcher.

Let’s turn it down a notch: I am an enthusiastic supporter of the minor leagues. I see more minor league games than major league games. The Rangers have some good solid pitching prospects on the horizon – the key phrase is on the horizon. The Achilles Heel of Jon Daniels plan is that the pitching prospects are well behind the quickly maturing offensive prospects. That’s not necessarily a slam on JD – developing pitching has been a Rangers failing for the 30 years I’ve been a Rangers fan. I am worried about the build up the likes of Neftali Feliz and especially Derek Holland are receiving. They are both very nice prospects – but when I read that Holland should be replacing Brandon McCarthy in the rotation by May I feel the hyperbole is going a bit too far.

Here’s something worth pondering: I did some research on left handed pitchers. I took the lefties with the best ERA over the last five seasons and looked at how many innings they pitched in the minor leagues before their first major league call-up.

  • Jon Lester: 393 IP

  • Tom Glavine: 368 IP

  • Eric Bedard: 311 IP

  • Cliff Lee: 299 2/3 IP

  • Johan Santana: 294 IP

  • CC Sabathia: 232 2/3 IP

  • Mark Buehrle: 217 1/3 IP

  • Cole Hamels: 201 IP

  • Barry Zito: 170 IP

Right now Derek Holland has 217 2/3 IP in the minors.

There are only three pitchers on that list who had fewer IP before they came up to the majors. Barry Zito came out of major college program which does add more IP's. If anyone is putting Holland in the same category as Hamels – then I don’t trust their judgment. That leaves only Buehrle – he’s a good pitcher, but he’ s only one out seven whose had a successful career with less than about 300 IP in the minor leagues before going to the majors.

I would like to see Derek and Neftali get some major league experience this year, and I am sincerely hoping that they will be pitching with a Rangers team that is very competitive in the AL West but not until late July or even August.

Reading the tea leaves: I’m predicting an 81-81 finish for second place in a very weak AL West. I know that’s only three games better than last season, but I do think the defense will be significantly better and I hope the pitching will be better too. If the pitching is signficantly better - all predictions are null and void. Any wins over 81 are a gift to be savored.

Finally: a few words from Tom Boswell written almost thirty years ago that remain timeless in their sentiment.

“Baseball isn’t necessarily an escape from reality, though it can be; it’s merely one of our many refuges within the real where we try to create a sense of order on our own terms. Born to an age where horror has become commonplace, where tragedy has, by its monotonous repetition, become a parody of sorrow, we need to fence off a few parks, where humans try to be fair, where skill has some hope of reward, where absurdity has a harder time than usual getting a ticket”

--- “Why Time Begins On Opening Day”

It’s time to start watching that game we love.

Happy Opening Day everyone. Go Rangers! – Marla Hooch

P.S. Ballpark photo courtesy of the always entertaining Scott Lucas


Micah said...

Happy Opening Day Eve, Eleanor!! I am actually in Arlington. A mere three miles from the ballpark, actually :) I'm very very excited about tomorrow's festivities. :)

chrisc said...

And a happy "Play Ball" cousin! Here's to hot bats, great glove work, solid pitching and more than a few players who exceed expectations!