Pitchers and catchers report…the Past is Prologue
The first 20…
Next year we lap the field…
1989 – Jim Sundberg is catching an unknown left-handed Minor League pitcher in the bullpen, turns to someone and says, “This guy has good stuff. Who is he?” It was Kenny Rogers, in his first big league camp.
1990 – A lockout and a short Spring. Robb Nen arrives throwing 100 miles per hour and gets hurt. Jim Reeves writes the immortal words, “He’s like the Easter bunny. He shows up in the Spring and then you never see him again.”
1991 – Brown and Rogers walk out of camp for one day because their contracts were renewed. Pete Incaviglia was released at 7 a.m. one morning before a long roadtrip to Baseball City. “He just didn’t make the team,” Bush said and the Rangers use the money saved to sign Brian Downing.
1992 – Nolan Ryan announces he can’t make a $1,000 appearance at a local luncheon because he’s pitching that day. Scott Chiamparino volunteers to take his place and is told formal attire is required. Chiamparino complies, reports to a hotel on the other side of Port Charlotte and is reminded that it is April 1st.
1993 – Jose Canseco arrives in camp and joins the pitching staff. He throws a simulated game on a side field while, unbeknownst to him, second baseman Billy Ripken is standing him giving away the pitches to the hitters. This is the camp that Mickey Hatcher was Kevin Kennedy’s chauffer. One moment he was leaving the hotel without the manager, or he was getting lost and driving halfway across Florida for a game in Dunedin.
1994 – A nutritionist tries to introduce healthy food to the Rangers Spring Training diet. Billy Ripken rebels and says, “I think Babe Ruth had a doughnut now and then.” Canseco, who blew out his elbow in his infamous pitching appearance the year before, walks into Kevin Kennedy’s office and says, “Kevin, I’m ready to pitch again.”
1995 – Jackie Davidson. Tommy Hinzo. Luis Martinez. Bruce Dostel. Tony “Five Tools Chance. The Expresso Waiter turned pitcher. The reliever who ran a day care in Las Vegas. A pitcher who brewed his own beer. The catcher who was into sky diving.
The Replacements. Might have been the Rangers best chance to win a World Series. Said Johnny Oates, “I have one eye on the field and one eye looking up to heaven, hoping this will be over soon.”
1996 – Every single Rangers regular is in camp at least one day early. That includes Juan Gonzalez, who is normally late every year for Spring. That clearly sets a tone for the remainder of the season and the Rangers won their first division title.
1997 – John Wetteland joins the Rangers. He makes his first appearance in Arlington in the final exhibition game. He strikes out the side on nine pitchers.
1998 – Hi I’m Tom Hicks. Nice to be here.
1999 – The Rangers make history: Todd Zeile, Jeff Zimmerman, Gregg Zaun, Mike Zywica. They have a chance to be the first team in history to have four players with the last name beginning with the letter Z. Only three make it. Zywica never gets out of the Minor Leagues, missing out on being the last player alphabetically in the Baseball Encyclopedia.
Said Zeile of Zywica, “That’s got to be a double word in scrabble.”
2000 – Ruben Mateo was the star of Spring Training. Of the Ballpark in Arlington, he said, “She’s my mistress.” He strains a hamstring. Johnny Oates tells Mateo to eat more cookies. Said Oates, “You hear of players pulling muscles, you never hear them pulling fat.”
2001 – Alex Rodriguez holds his first press conference on top of the first base dugout. Then he has to race up to Tampa to explain to Derek Jeter why he insulted him in a national magazine. Sometime after that he apparently started using steroids. The Rangers lead all of baseball in pitching that Spring. Hicks predicts they’ll win the division.
2002 – The Mad Reign of Pitching Coach Oscar Acosta. The Rangers have something like 39 pitchers in camp, a high number. Acosta isn’t worried. In a rare interview, he says, “The wimps will sort themselves out early.”
2003 – Farewell Port Charlotte. Hello Surprise: Outbacks, Applebees and the Streets of New York. Plus F-14s flying over the park all the time getting ready to go to Iraq. Sign on road to ballpark” Watch for snakes. Don’t disturb bees.”
2004 – Farewell Alex Rodriguez, Hello Alfonso Soriano. Dale Hansen, in a rare Spring appearance, surveys everybody to see if they think the Rangers will lose 100 games. They win 89, their only winning season in the last nine years.
2005 – Hank Blalock is having a nice leisurely drive to the ballpark, eating a Sonic hamburger and fries. A cop pulls him over for going 59 in a 35 mile per hour zone. Blalock starts to argue and is threatened with jail. He later finds his teammates set him up.
2006 – The beginning of the story:
2007 – He stood in the visiting clubhouse. He folded his hands in prayer, smiled mischieviously and looked up toward heaven. “I made the team,” Sammy Sosa giggled. “Oh thank you Lord I made the team.”
2008 – All Josh Hamilton, all the time. Not since Pete Incaviglia put the hole in the fence in Pompano Beach…
2009 – Pitchers and catchers are in the building…