A few thoughts on a weekend to remember.
The Rangers played their final home game of the season Sunday and it’s hard not to think of "what could have been."
Third place, again. The organization can’t be happy about that. Who can? The Rangers have not been to the playoffs since 1999 and can only hope that 2007 is the year they finally make it back. Hope, like Spring Training, is eternal.
Mixed emotions usually accompany the final home game of the season for a lot of reporters. Here are a few thoughts that cross our minds. "Whew, that’s over with."…"Darn, that’s over with."…"Free agent and hot stove season = no offseason."…"New manager?" …"Arizona, Phoenix, Scottsdale…Here we come."…."Playoffs and the beginning of the real season."…."vacation or just stay at home for a month?"…."The winter meetings are in Orlando this year. Is that going to be fun?"…"I wonder if my family remembers what I look like."…"Football? Yeah, football."…"Travel during the winter? Eh." …"What was that phone number again?"
In case you missed it, the weekend was a special one in baseball. On Saturday, baseball celebrated Ozzie Virgil. On Sept. 23, 1956, Virgil became the first player from the Dominican Republic to play in the big leagues. He was a pioneer and is a real gentlemen. There is a great debt owed to Virgil and to the New York Giants — the team that signed him.
More importantly, Sunday was Dad’s birthday. Happy birthday Dad. Thank you for the guidance and support all these years. I know I would never be where I am without all the lessons you and mom taught me growing up. I’m far from perfect, but if I can be half as kind and compassionate as you are to people every single day, I know I will look back on my life as a success. Thanks for everything Dad. You too, Mom — sorry Dad, you know how it is.
I’ve been in town to witness both New York teams clinch their respective divisions and I must admit it’s hard not to get caught up in the hype. Hard. Not impossible. Yep, the talk around here is all about the Subway Series — Mets vs. Yanks. We’ll see. I’m not sure if I’m ready to make any kind of prediction about the World Series just yet. I usually get a hunch during the first round. Something magical happens. Something magical and great pitching. I know fans in New York would love it. But how about everybody else? Me? I think it would be great. Spending October in New York would be fine for me. Then again, I’m not counting out the other teams quite yet. Dodgers, Padres, Cards, Twins? I’m never surprised in the postseason. As they say good pitching wins championships (or is that defense?) but I’m not sure I’ve seen a championship staff yet.
Now playing on the iPod — Bacilos. Check them out.
The figure running up the steps in the bottom part of Shea Stadium is Mets pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Had an interesting chat with him about the upcoming playoffs. Simply put, he said there is no difference between playoff baseball and regular season. At least in his mind. Baseball is baseball he says. The time of the year changes, but that’s it. Makes sense and I can see how that logic has helped him in the playoffs. Look at his history. He has been clutch for the Yankees in the past and he was big for the White Sox during their playoff run last year. I guess after playing for Cuba with the eyes of a dictator like Fidel Castro, everything is a piece of cake. How can it not be?
On a completely unrelated and self-serving note, here’s a recent feature on Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz for those who want to read about an up-and-comer. He’s a good player Dad. My buddy Adam McCalvy who covers the Brewers said Cruz was once referred to as "little Vlad"…as in Vladimir Guerrero. We’ll see.
Oh yeah, and how about Nomar Garciaparra. I think every Me xican-American roots for him the same way we root for boxer Oscar De La Hoya. It’s a unique experience being born on one side of a border and having heritage and culture on another. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to it. If you can’t, ask somebody. Interesting stuff.
Part of the beauty of my Talkin’ Beisbol column is the flexibility I am allowed. I can write about issues relating to players from Latin America. Countries, stars, this, that and the other. It also allows me to write about men like the Manny Alexanders, Marco Scutaros (Oakland), etc. Guys who come off the bench here in the USA in the big leagues but who are big stars in the countries they come from. You have to see it to believe it. These guys are really loved in their countries and treated like Gods…Yes, even Manny Alexander. He’s a good dude. We spoke in California recently and what started out as a casual conversation developed into a full-fledged feature/column. So here it is ladies and gentlemen. The Alexander story in a nutshell. I have a feeling he has a lot more ahead of him. He’s sharp. He loves the game and he wants to give back to the sport and community whenever he finally hangs up his cleats for good in a couple of years.
Heard of him? Me either. Kevin is one of the top prospects in the Indians organization and was called up from Triple-A on Saturday for the game against the Rangers. He’s making his big league debut, so congrats. He’s supposed to be a real hit machine — hitting a combined .379 at Double-A and Triple-A this year. That’s second in all of professional baseball. Take a look at his numbers here. Somebody in the press box says his stats are like the kind you rack up on a video game. Nintendo, playstation 2 numbers. Ridiculous. I saw the Cleveland beat reporters around him in the clubhouse while I was waiting to interview Indians pitcher Fernando Cabrera for an upcoming feature, but I had no idea who he was. All I know is the dude seemed really happy. Now I know why. I know this will be a day he never forgets. And if the guy turns out to be as good as people think he will be, it will be a day I never forget either. You see, as I was leaving the Indians clubhouse around 5:25 or so I heard a voice whisper something to me. I turned around and wondered what this person wanted. I originally thought it was a very big clubhouse attendant, but it turned out to be Kouzmanoff. He was lost and wanted to know how to get to the field. I quickly realized he was serious (and late for pre-game stretch) so I made sure he got there out there with his teammates. If he is as good as people hope he is, Rangers fans are gonna wish I directed him to the basement or at least the place where the Rangers mascot hangs out. Sorry guys.
**** In the first inning, Kouzmanoff hit a grand slam in his very first Major League at-bat on the first pitch he saw from Rangers starter Edinson Volquez.