The coach, who in his 30 years had developed Day One MLB Draft picks, and nine-year-old kids who were still all about the postgame snow cone, and all kinds in between, said to his team at the end of the game, just after the championship trophies had been handed out: “You know all that hard work you guys have put in? This right here is you reaping the benefits of all that hard work, all that practice. You prepared well for this.”
The same could be said for Rougned Odor, who wasn’t supposed to get here this fast, or Robinson Chirinos, who wasn’t even a catcher until his eighth pro season, missed all of 2012 with a concussion, and now controls the running game just about as effectively as any catcher in the big leagues.
Or Daniel Robertson, who at nearly 29 had stepped to a minor league plate more than 3,100 times in the Padres system before getting a phone call from the Texas Rangers six weeks ago.
They prepared well, whether earning a chance they never dreamed they’d get so soon, or one they probably thought would never come at all.
You might think things have always come easily to Joey Gallo, who led all of minor league baseball in home runs (40) in 2013, and who reached 21 this season before May ended.
But recognize that, despite playing a level higher than he played last year, Gallo has cut his strikeout rate significantly (1 for every 3.8 plate appearances, compared with 1 for every 2.7 last year) and — more importantly — has already drawn as many walks (50) this year as he did in 2013, in right at half the trips to the plate.
Nobody in minor league baseball has worked as many bases on balls this season.
Nobody in the big leagues has, either.
Hard work, and benefits.
There’s hard work involved, too, when you’re a diehard fan and your team is fighting staircase dogs and malevolent pillows and breakaway motorcycles and bad knee cartilage and bad elbow ligaments and bad cervical and lumbar disk integrity.
Before the end of May.
Yet you’re a game over .500, in spite of a deck missing a handful of face cards, and the whole idea of reaping rewards now seems fitting for those of us who never even think about giving up on our team.
I can’t remember where I heard it, or whether it was while the Rangers were in Detroit or Minnesota or Washington, D.C., but someone said on the radio the other day that the press in one of those towns was suggesting Ron Washington probably already has AL Manager of the Year locked up, just a third into the season.
It’s easy as a fan base to feel cheated, to wave a fist at the baseball gods, to lament the brutal injury pileup and ask what any of us did to deserve this. But in that clubhouse, whether it’s on the west end of 1000 Ballpark Way, or in the smaller rooms in Detroit or Minnesota or Washington, D.C., nobody’s feeling sorry for themselves. They’re putting in the work, and — at least in the judgment of those covering the opposition the last week and a half — they’re reaping the rewards, hanging in this race.
There are lots of things you want from your manager, a different set of priorities I think from the ones you’d list for a head coach in football or basketball or probably hockey. The man in charge of 25 baseball players who play games that count every day for six months, and hopefully seven, has a lot of responsibilities, but none can be as important as having those 25 — even in the years when it’s a different 25 seemingly every day — ready to play. It’s knowing how to motivate one different from another, when to floor it and when to tap the brakes, when a given player needs a day and when another needs nothing more than to be thrown back into the fire, and to me those things are more important over the long haul than bullpen management or when (not) to bunt.
There’s a reason, in this sport, that he’s called a “manager.”
And this situation, the one that has shoved Texas just about as deep into a human resources corner as you can imagine, is the one in which Ron Washington is at his best. It’s easy, at any level of baseball, to get caught up in those jolts of adversity and lose sight of the bigger picture. Those were two bad losses to the Nationals before a league-leading 11th shutout salvaged that series, but take a step back even further and you’ll see Texas flying back home after a season-long 11 on the road, having won seven and lost four.
You take that every single time.
Stretches like this should no longer come as a surprise from this team, which for years now has tended to find ways to put things back in gear when the chips are stacked against it. It’s a reflection of the manager, at least in this case, when character is shown, or revealed, or whatever, and no fluke.
Texas is on a pace to see its league-leading streak of four straight 90-win seasons snapped, but its 29-28 win-loss record is in far better shape than the team it shares that streak with, the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 23-35 mark (despite the highest payroll in its 17-year history) is the American League’s worst.
Baseball is hard.
Gallo told the Myrtle Beach Sun News a few days ago that he was eight or nine years old when he hit his first home run. He’d be the first to tell Jake Storey (now at four bombs for the year, at age nine) that there will be adversity ahead — of the thousands of hitters in the minor leagues in 2013, only five struck out more than Gallo did — but taking it on and figuring out ways to overcome it just makes you better. Yu Darvish knows better than anyone that no-hitters are incredibly rare, and for him the complete game has been just as elusive, and just because Preston Stout accomplished both Sunday morning, hours before Darvish dominated the Nationals over eight scoreless, doesn’t mean that he won’t have to put in thousands of hours of work and commitment just to maintain, and to keep reaping the benefits.
You don’t win ’em all, but there’s growth from that as well, and if there weren’t I can think of plenty of times between the mid-70s and the mid-90s when the much easier and obvious choice would have been to walk away from Rangers baseball.
Winning is hard work. Winning takes hard work.
And sometimes it takes more than that right brew — the right players and the right coach, and the right mix of both, which doesn’t always follow — because luck and health and timing all factor in, and that’s just sports.
Even when things start looking bleak, as a player or a team or its fans, sticking with it and putting in the work is really the only choice, unless the plan is to walk away.
And walking away is no fun.