I just returned from five glorious days of roaming around the Texas Rangers camp at Billy Parker Field in Surprise, Arizona. The first thing I learned: five days in not long enough. There are 15 Major League teams that train in the Cactus League’s ten venues, and they are spread out all over the Phoenix area. The second and third things I learned: renting a car at the airport in Phoenix is a ripoff and traffic between stadiums is horrible.
During my short stay, I managed to see three games, one of which was an intrasquad game pitched by Yu “Y’all” Darvish. (He is a tall drink of water.) After talking with several players, observing batting practices, and eavesdropping on the conversations of myriad scouts sitting around me, I’ve prepared a list of 12 reasons the Texas Rangers will win the World Series in 2012.
Jump for the truth.
1. The Rangers have won two American League pennants. They know they are good.
2. Ron Washington is the perfect manager for this team. He is a natural when it comes to keeping his players in the right frame of mind.
3. The core of the 2012 team is “battle tested.” There are no tougher tests than what they went through last year.
4. They have an awesome offensive line-up. Everybody is back, and they could be even better than last year if they decide to play David Murphy almost every day and let Josh Hamilton play CF.
5. They are healthy. At the end of last season, Josh Hamilton and Mike Adams were playing with hernias, and Mitch Moreland had a broken bone in his wrist.
6. Team leadership comes from all corner of the Rangers clubhouse, not just from one or two guys. (After watching these guys jack around in the outfield during practice and listening to their banter, it is easy to see how much they like each other.)
7. Napoli-Torrealba: The strongest catching tandem in the league both offensively and defensively.
8. Full disclosure: I have a small crush on Scott Feldman (and his wife). I love to watch him pitch. He looked great. Whatever role he winds up in (starter/reliever), he will provide a vital contribution.
9. Elvis Andrus is ready to be a star. He is stronger, more confident, and assertive.
10. As I mentioned above, the chemistry of this team is infectious. They have fun. According to one veteran player, the new members of the team are “blown away” by how much fun they have with the game and with each other.
11. One of those new guys, Yu “Y’all” Darvish, is going to be great. Pardon my innocence if you’ve already seen him pitch, but I just witnessed him live for the first time. He is poetry, ballet, and the goodness of a greasy cheeseburger in motion–fluid, agile, and down and dirty.
12. Sports Illustrated picked the Angels to win the World Series. It is never right.
13. Bonus reason: C.J. who?
Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Mickey “Gozzlehead” Rivers. Every blink of Yu Darvish’s eye was captured by a throng of Japanese photographers. When Darvish was in the dugout, I counted 11 ginormous (several 3-feet long) camera lenses on him and not the game. Darvish’s 30-minute press conference was filled with the rapid-fire sound of clicking shutters. Novelty Act. The sports shop at Surprise Stadium was doing a booming business. According to the manager, business last year was up 24 percent after the Rangers first WS appearance. This year, there were lines out the door for the first time in the eight years the Rangers have played in Surprise. Hottest item? Duh, Darvish t-shirts. However, expect to see scads of Go Nuts necklaces and bracelets. The painted kukui nuts are the rage with baseball ladies.