Of Empty Ballfields, White Tank Mountains and Pitchers and Catchers




Workers put up the “gloops” banner on Saturday afternoon. The banner was hung behind the pitching mounds in the “six-pack” bullpen on the back fields of the Rangers training facility in Surprise, heralding the Japanese media company that sponsors all things Yu Darvish.

On the other side of the fence, one of the grounds crew was on a riding mower, cutting the grass on the Nolan Ryan Field. In the distance, a Korean baseball team was working out on one of the Rangers four Minor League fields.

Spring Training starts next week but the 11-year-old facility – still one of the best in baseball – had a lonely autumnal feeling on Saturday afternoon in the desert. A brisk wind blew from the south, scattering brown leaves all over the empty complex. Heavy clouds hovered over the mountains to the north and one peak in the distance appeared to have snow on it.

But the skies were blue over the White Tank Mountains just to the west of this suburb wedged between the far edge of the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area and the empty desert beyond. Surprise remains on the distant fringe of it all, the perfect hideout if you are Paula Broadwell, a Miami wellness clinic operator or a 49ers defensive back.

Joe Flacco? Three touchdown passes??

The batting cages were empty but there were nine gold buckets filled with baseballs ready for somebody to start swinging a bat. A dozen or so golf carts were haphazardly parked behind the clubhouse for use by Rangers executives, equipment personnel and the medical staff.

Jim Sundberg has not yet been seen on his motorcycle and no word yet if Derek Holland is still driving that dune buggy.

Pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday but the Rangers complex is open year-round. Players have been working out here for months but the only two who showed up on Saturday were non-roster pitchers Randy Wells and Neal Cotts. A week from now there will be 63 players working out plus many more Minor Leaguers.

The truck arrived last Monday.

“It took us an hour and ten minutes to unload it,” equipment manager Richard Price said. “We’re up and running and ready to go.”

Pitchers and catchers officially report on Tuesday, which only means they have to be in Arizona. Actually it’s a nebulous term that has no official definition but Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux plans to have some of his pitchers throw live batting practice that day.

The Rangers will be here for six weeks and here are the big questions:

Who will be the fifth starter?

Answer: Probably at least a half-dozen people before the season is over.

Who will play center field, Leonys Martin, Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon or Leury Garcia?

Answer: Either Martin or all of the above, plus a flyhawk to be named later.

What are Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt going to do this Spring?

Answer: Probably set off some heated debates among Rangers officials behind closed doors. Hopefully nobody will come to blows.

What will happen with Nelson Cruz?20130209_121130

Answer: When he shows up, he’ll get asked a bunch of questions. He’ll answer them politely and professionally. A law firm from Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh??? – has already issued a denial for him. Then he’ll go play in the World Baseball Classic and be the Rangers starting right fielder on Opening Day.That’s a guess.

Pittsburgh?? Nobody in Buffalo available?

Five guys that really could use a good spring

1. Alexi Ogando

2. Mitch Moreland

3. Tanner Scheppers

4. Michael Kirkman

5. Geovany Soto

Looking forward to seeing the Gonzaga Board of Directors at the local watering hole and the annual arrival of the Padres fans who camp out for a weekend in the hotel parking lot.

Gonzaga fans are very polite. They never gloat. Actually they probably feel sorry for those who punish themselves by watching the University of San Francisco play basketball.

Dons vs. BYU tonight. Catholics vs. the Mormons.

Pitchers and catchers on Tuesday

This is the Rangers 11th spring in the desert.

This is the 25th Spring Training for the military brat turned baseball writer.

First Spring Training story I ever wrote was Mike Jeffcoat and John Barfield getting arrested for fishing in the wrong spot. That was in Port Charlotte a quarter-century ago, back when the Rangers trained on the edge of a swamp rather than a desert, and it was alligators that you looked out for rather than rattlesnakes.

There have been at least 3,000 stories written since them and that is a conservative estimate. Most of them end up being irrelevant once the season begins.

As David Murphy and I figured out awhile ago: “What eventually happens during the season is usually something that nobody was expecting in Spring Training.”

But it’s time for another 40-something hot spring days and long cool nights here in the desert.

Pitchers and catchers are ready to report and another Spring Training is upon us.


Can hardly wait for the sound of the ball hitting off the bat and hearing play ball, go Rangers

TR, many of your posts have a lyrical quality to them and this is certainly another example. Just another reason why it’s great to be a Rangers fan!

The first spring training story I ever wrote was from Pompano Beach, Fla., getting reaction from the players to their new manager, Whitey Herzog, calling them, “The worst f***ing team in baseball.”

Oh, and I forgot to say, Very nice piece, T.R.

Great stuff TR. Still laughing at the Catholics v. the Mormans line.

Woof! Woof! Woof! Great stuff. I want to go for a walk in the White Tank Mountains.

Love it

I have been around for Spring Training since 1955 in baseball but I have to say this year it seems special for me.Not sure why but excitement is there.

They might not amount to much, but i enjoy good Spring Training stories anyway, epically from great writers like you. Congrats on your 25th!

Fantastic article T.R. got me all jacked up. Go Rangers Go!

Great work, Toby. It got me started thinking about the previous three springs. In 2010, despite the optimism, the big subject was, “will Ron Washington’s drug business distract the team.” Going to the World Series, we all know the answer: No. In 2011, the big fuss was over MY demanding a trade. In the end, Michael relented and we went back to the Series. And then last spring, the big story was Josh visiting a local watering-hole and the terrible effect that would have on the season. Albeit, a disappointment in the end, we went back to the playoffs for the third time. Perhaps we make a bit too much of what happens in spring and the off season.

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