Insomnia, my friend…

“So I’m stumbling through this hollow room for peace of mind
I find that I am going over everything I’ve said to you, for you..”

                                                        – Tyler Hilton

I now know why I don’t make a habit of sleeping in Sundays. I can’t seem to fall asleep Sunday night. So, it’s 1 a.m., and I’m here on the couch instead, watching “The Cutting Edge 3” (nothing can beat the original, however), pondering some friendships and trying to instead think about the upcoming baseball season.

The winter was such a long, cold one, but the warm promise of spring training and baseball season kept me going. Here we are, two weeks away from Opening Day, but instead of feeling optimistic, I’m just feeling uncertain. Perhaps that’s my real life bleeding over into my baseball life (it’s interesting that I view the two as separate entities…hmm…I’ll have to think about that). Or maybe the injury reports out of camp have gotten me down. Or maybe I’m just afraid to set my expectations too high (like I do in so many areas of my life). Whatever it is, I’m still looking forward to Opening Day because, no matter what it brings, baseball season is back. Any baseball is better than no baseball at all.

That said, let’s get down to some more specific thoughts on the Rangers…

The good

– Josh Hamilton. From every account I’ve read, this guy is amazing. I’m getting tired of people adding, “…if he can stay healthy” to their optimism of him. This could be said about any player, and we should hope they all stay healthy.

– David Murphy. I liked what he did when he came over last year in the Gagne trade. He may end up proving to be the best thing we got out of that deal. If nothing else, he should be on the 25-man roster on March 31.

– Tentative conversations about returning to Ranger red. New to Ranger fandom, I don’t remember these days, but if the players are in favor, go for it. I don’t really care what the boys wear, although I am slightly afraid the red will make them tough to distinguish from their division rivals in California.

– The Rangers are currently 10-7-2 in Spring Training play.

The bad

– Kevin Millwood, C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit have yet to pitch in an “A” game. The health and presence of this trio is imperative to a successful season.

– Kameron Loe has failed to make a strong case for the roster. (You know it breaks my heart to write this.) He may be off to OKC for the start of the season.

– Jason Botts has reportedly displayed the aggressiveness, defense improvement and fire the Rangers desired from him, yet he still seems to be getting edged out by veteran players. I will never waver from my belief that he needs to be in the big leagues for an entire season before we really get to see what he can do. EMC pointed out in her March 13 blog entry that when Michael Young was breaking into the majors, he was hitting .249 in 300+ ABs. Jason is currently hitting .242 in 244 major league AB’s. Just sayin’…

The Ugly

– Brandon McCarthy’s injury. I was really hoping he would come in this season and really make an impact.

– Travis Metcalf’s injury. He was having such a great spring. It’s a shame he’ll have to miss the first few weeks recovering.

– While the Rangers record in spring training overall is favorable, they are 0-3-1 versus division rivals. Ouch.

Happy sounds

The crack of the bat. The cheer (or occasional groan) of the crowd. The call of the ump.

These are all sounds of happiness for me, and I can hear them right now.

I’m listening to the Rangers/Angels game on Gameday Audio, and I’m not sure life could be much more blissful. Unless, of course, I was listening to the game at home (instead of in the office of my part-time job) in my pajamas with something good to eat or drink. Of course, I would also prefer to be hearing Eric Nadel and Victor Rojas calling the game instead of an Angels’ broadcaster. But I will take what I can get. Any baseball is good baseball after the long, long winter I’ve had.

It’s just good to hear baseball talk again. Talk that isn’t centered on what trades have been made (or not made) or Roger Clemens.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

– My excitement about Josh Hamilton grows each day. I’ve been reading about him and what he could possibly do for months. Yesterday and today, he got to add to that with his performance at the plate. Yesterday, he doubled in a run. Today (so far), he drove in a run on a triple in the first inning and scored later that same inning. He’s creating a lot of buzz in spring training, and, thankfully, not all of that buzz is about his past substance abuse. While his past is certainly interesting, I think the future is going to be much more interesting.

– It’s hard for me to judge pitchers on two innings or so of work. But…I liked what I read about Luis Mendoza yesterday, and Kason Gabbard seemed to do pretty well today. A.J. Murray and Eric Hurley struggled a bit in their outings, but, again, it’s two innings. Not easy to get a read. At least not for me. But I’m still new to all this, remember?

– I’ve read and heard a lot about the controversy surrounding C.J. Wilson and the comments he made about politics and baseball players. Apparently, he’s in a bit of hot water with his teammates because of these comments. I’m not going to side with anyone in this debacle (because that’s not my place, and I’m certain I don’t know the whole story), but I will say I hope they work it out soon. I’ve always seen this team as a very cohesive unit and it would be a shame for that to be ruined by one paragraph in a magazine and a few internet comments.

Heat wave

     The thermometer reached the 30s today, and I truly began to believe that spring was on the way.  Heck, I was ready to break out the short sleeves and sandals!  Baseball is just around the corner, and these warmer temperatures are only helping me get in the mood for it.

     Speaking of warmth, what’s wrong with the picture below? 

  Padillasmile    Is that Vicente Padilla?  Is he actually smiling?  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this guy smile before.  Has his attitude really changed as so many articles have stated?  I sure hope so.  I think Padilla has the potential to be a great pitcher for this team, but his career with the Rangers (and baseball in general) has been marred by what appears to be a negative attitude and a penchant for plunking batters. I know I’m not the only one who grew tired of that.  And I’m certainly not the only one hoping he’s honestly changed.  If he’s going to remain on our roster (and he probably will given the lack of available starting pitchers), I hope he has sincerely turned a new leaf.

     The Rangers will play their first exhibition game next week.  You better believe I’ll be doing all I can to keep up with the game on my computer at work. It will be interesting to see what lineup Wash throws out there and how the guys play.

     I enjoyed an article in today’s FW Star-Telegram about the Rangers’ tattoos.  I think hearing the story behind peoples’ body art is fascinating. I agree with most of the guys who said it has to mean something.  I actually have two tattoos — a star and flame on my lower back and a treble clef and eighth notes on the inside of my left ankles.  Obviously, the latter symbolizes my love for music.  The former is also music-related, but is a bit less obvious.  My next tat (yes, I want one) is going to be something baseball or Rangers related, but I haven’t decided on the artwork yet.  I probably won’t get it until summer anyway, so I’ve got some time.  Maybe those guys could offer some suggestions.

One wish granted, nine to go

     A few days ago, a friend made the comment that I seem to look forward to this time of year (spring training beginning) even more than the Christmas holiday.  Ha ha.  She’s probably not too far off. 

     In light of that, I was fully prepared to post a Spring Training wishlist this weekend.  But the Rangers granted one wish before I even made the wish, although I  had made the wish known in a previous post.  So, I decided to go ahead and post my Spring Training wishlist tonight.

     1) Rangers will sign Ian Kinsler to a long-term contract.  (This is the one they’ve already granted.  Ian Kinsler was officially signed to a five-year $22 million contract with an option for a sixth year. This announcement totally made my day!)

     2) Jason Botts needs to come out swinging and wielding a glove that proves that he belongs on a big league roster. The Rangers’ big league roster.

     3) Another team will decide to gamble on Vicente Padilla and take him off our hands.

     4) C.J. Wilson will retain his role as closer throughout spring training.

     5) Josh Hamilton is a fixture in daily game reports and is a fan favorite by Opening Day.

     6) Kevin Millwood, Kason Gabbard, Jason Jennings and Brandon McCarthy provide sparkling promise as the Rangers’ frontline. (I’m not sure at this point who the fifth starter may be.  I know Mark Conner says A.J. Murray is a contender, but I’d really like to see him have at least a few more months in Oklahoma.)

     7) Sammy Sosa finds a job somewhere. Anywhere.  I just feel like he deserves to be on someone’s roster.

     8) Kameron Loe (since he can’t be a starter) is a strong contributor in the bullpen and fans begin to view him as a weapon instead of a liability.

     9) Jon Daniels is able to stir up some kind of deal for another arm.

    10) The Rangers decide to change their Opening Day from April 8 to April 6 to accomodate their favorite fan from the north.  Ha ha.  I know this is the longest shot of them all.  I will be in the metroplex the entire weekend prior to Opening Day.  My plane departs from Dallas for a return to Iowa about 24 hours before Rangers Ballpark opens for batting practice.  I can’t tell you how much this saddens me!

And so it begins…

     Spring is on the horizon, though I couldn’t tell that looking out my window.  All I see is white, with patches of brown where the snow has melted away or been driven over by cars.  We’re supposed to get a fresh blanket on Sunday though.  Meanwhile, temperatures have been hovering in the teens and single digits, and and probably won’t exceed the 20s for a few more weeks.

     Still, my heart is warmed by the knowledge that several of my favorite boys are in Arizona or are on their way.  Yes, it is pitchers and catchers report time.  And the Texas Rangers main page reminds us that the first spring training game is just 12 days away.

     Ahh … does it get any better than this?

     I hope so.

     I was disheartened, however, to read on T.R. Sullivan’s Thursday report that Kameron Loe will not be a contender for a rotation spot.  He and Robinson Tejeda have both been relegated to the ‘pen.  Maybe relegated isn’t a good word to use.  It’s not exactly a demotion, though it’s certainly not where I want to see Kam.

     You all know by now how strongly I feel about Kam’s position as a starter.  I believe that’s what he’s meant to be.  And hopefully he will be again one day.  Even if it’s not in 2008.  Perhaps this year he will be able to futher hone some of the pitches he’s struggled with and in the process build his confidence and the organization’s confidence in him. 

     I will never stop believing in him. 

     I’ll never stop believing in Jason Botts either, although I’m nervous about whether or not he’ll be with the Rangers club by opening day.  I’ve been nervous about this ever since the acquisitions of Milton Bradley and Kevin Mench.  Spring Training 08 only heightened my fears by listing Bottsie on a top ten most likely to be traded by opening day list.  Argh.  I don’t like uncertainty. 

     Speaking of uncertain and future with the Rangers, Ian Kinsler comes to mind as well.  The Rangers have twice tried and failed to negotiate a long-term contract with Kinsler in the past year.  According to MLBTR, the Rangers signed him to the league minimum for 2008 (which is just over $400K) and he is arbitration-eligible after the season is over.  I sure hope they can lock him up before then. I strongly believe that consistency in the infield (particularly the middle infield) will be key for this ballclub as they move forward.  And with Michael Young in Rangers 10 until 2014, Kinz needs to become his permanent double-play partner. 

      Only time will tell, I guess.  I don’t want to think about all this, however.  Right now is a time of optimism, so that’s what I’m going to embrace until I’m given reason not to — and I’ll need lots of reason, as you well know if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time.

Mench makes a return

     So, Kevin Mench is a Ranger again.

     I’m honestly not sure how to feel about this move.

     On one hand, I really like Kevin.  He’s very likeable guy.  He’s a fan favorite and really reaches out in the community.  On the field, he’s shown he can contribute at times, and can be a lot of fun to watch.

     On the other hand, I can’t help wondering how he fits into the Rangers’ plans.  We traded him 18 months ago because we believed we had a surplus of outfielders and Kevin was a bit streaky.  What has changed since then?  Why did Milwaukee release him?  Why didn’t anyone else pick him up?

     As a not-so-secret supporter of Jason Botts, I agree with Jamey Newberg that this creates a new hurdle for Botts to clear before he earns a roster spot.  Then again, a little competition isn’t a bad thing.  Perhaps the best of all the outfield contestants will come out during spring training. 

     Honestly, I only want the guys out there who can give us the best chance of winning.  I wouldn’t be a true fan of the team if I didn’t.  I think Jason Botts can be one of those guys, and I hope he will be.

     The team also recently welcomed back another face from the past — Nolan Ryan — as team president.  It was a nice announcement, and I think Ryan can only help with marketing and reputation of the organization.

     Nolan is one of the many former Rangers I wish I’d gotten to see play.  Unfortunately, I came into my baseball fandom too late. 

      Sometimes I could smack myself for waiting so long to really take an interest in the sport, but I guess it is what it is. That said, I don’t think the best players of baseball are all in the past.  The present has some stars, and the future has some potential too, so I think I still have a shot at seeing some greats.

The best day in February comes after the worst day

     Pitchers and catchers report in just 11 days.  That knowledge alone will get me through the elitist holiday that occurs in 10 days. 

     Obviously, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day.  Far from it, actually. I haven’t always been this way.  I loved it in elementary school, when everyone went home with a bag full of candy and cards.  I’ve come to despise it as I grew older and learned that only special people are showered with love and gifts on that day.  Yeah, I’m bitter because I’ve never been one of those people.  Maybe someone someday will change my mind about Singles Awareness Day (the acronym is SAD…appropriate, no?), but for now, it’s just Pitchers and Catchers Report Eve (PCRE…not as cool).

*****

      I watched the Superbowl on Sunday, but not with a vested interest (other than getting my money back in our office pool).  I didn’t really care who won, but I was quite pleased that the underdogs prevailed.  I’ve always been a fan of the underdogs, which should be evident by my choice of sport allegiances.  I’m actually not sure how I would handle it if one of them suddenly became a powerhouse.  I don’t think I’d know what to do. 

*****

      I am saddened that I had to miss the Rangers Sluggers of the West Banquet and Fan Fest for the second straight year.  (If we could only remove Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri…or maybe just rearrange the states, my visits to Rangers Ballpark would be much more frequent).  Both events hold such great memories for me.  I attended the 2006 festivities with my friend, Amy, on a whim.  We both decided about two weeks out that we were going.  So, we splurged with our Christmas bonus funds and went shopping for new digs for the banquet — we had to look good for our boys, afterall. 

      Josh Lewin was seated at our table, and he remembered Amy and I from our many blonde brownie deliveries the previous season.  Once he realized who we were, he asked us, "which player do you want to meet, I’ll go get him for you."  Amy had already met her favorite player that evening — David Dellucci — and gotten a photo with him, so she went to bat for me.  A few moments later, Josh pulled Kameron Loe from his salad and brought him over meet us.  I honestly don’t know what transpired over the next few moments…they’re a blur to me.  If I didn’t have a photo (Josh had to take it vertically because Amy and I were considerably shorter than Kam), I’d probably believe none of it happened. 

      For the rest of the evening, Amy and I made conversation with the other people at our table and enjoyed the speeches and Q and A.  After the dinner, we managed to get photos with Thomas Diamond and Gary Matthews Jr. before they left.  All in all, it was a very successful and obviously memorable evening.  I will never forget it.  Of course, part of that is that it was one of the last things I did with Amy before she passed away, which makes me extra glad we spoiled ourselves with those tickets even if they weren’t really in our budget.

*****

      As Opening Day draws nearer, I am trying to come up with a way to count down the days.  And post more.  I’ve thought about doing a post about each player on the 40-man roster once the 40-day mark hits, but that doesn’t fire me up.  So, I’ll keep thinking and let you know what I’ve decided.  Feel free to offer suggestions of things you’d like me to write about.