Such a bittersweet week. It started with having to say final goodbyes to my mother, who passed peacefully at the ripe age of 97. This prompted a trip to Maryland and, in a case of fortuitous timing, it turned out the Rangers were visiting Baltimore two days after the funeral. This provided me with two great opportunities: a chance to see a game at Camden Yards for the first time and the opportunity to do it with my wife, daughter and two grandchildren in tow!
When growing up in Maryland, my first baseball game was a Washington Senators game in old RFK Stadium. But most of my MLB games growing up were Orioles games, viewed at Memorial Stadium. The last time I saw an Orioles game in Baltimore was when my kids were maybe 7 and 5 years old. Now they’re both grown up with children of their own. Despite many trips back to Maryland over the years, a trip to Camden Yards was never in the cards. Until now.
Here’s what I learned: 1) Camden Yards is as nice a place to watch a ballgame as just about anywhere. It immediately made my Top 3 ballparks list, ranking right up there with Globe Life Park in Arlington and Coors Field in Denver; 2) The weather for the game we attended was as perfect as any game I’ve seen: temps in the 70’s, low humidity, little to no wind; 3) One usher in particular was as kind as can be (more later); and 4) watching a game with a 5-year-old and 2 1/2-year-old makes one have to relearn watching a baseball game!
I say this because, as excited and happy as I was with the 8-1 Rangers victory, I actually saw very little of the scoring. We arrived just a little late due to Baltimore traffic. We were just getting to our upper deck seats in the top of the 2nd inning when I glanced up just in time to see a ball carom onto the field in right. Mitch Moreland was digging for second and appeared tagged out there. While I was cussing Moreland out (under my breath so the little ones wouldn’t hear), I didn’t realize the umpires were about to call Moreland’s hit a home run. So I kind of missed that one.
As the game progressed, I was engaging the oldest grandchild, a precocious 5-year-old named Christopher, in conversation about baseball, school and his favorite things. While looking at him, I suddenly heard the crack of a bat. Carlos Corporan had hit one out. Didn’t see it. An inning or so later, I headed to the concession stands to buy a couple of dogs, some drinks and souvenirs for the kids. While waiting on my lemonade, the cashier announced, “Moreland just hit a 2-run home run.” His second of the game. Didn’t see that one either.
But hey, when I returned from the concession stand, I saw the family about 12 rows closer to the front of the upper deck. The usher said nobody was using those seats and invited us to move up. What a nice guy!
The game went on. At one point, someone on the Rangers got a hit and I cheered for him. Elizabeth, the 2 1/2 year old, cheered with me. This prompted her older brother, a Baltimore native of course, to admonish her. “You do know you’re cheering for the wrong team, don’t you?”, he scolded. I couldn’t help but smile.
In the top of the 5th, Shin-Soo Choo hit a rocket that turned into the Rangers’ 4th home run of the night. This one I was watching but I still didn’t see it. From where we were sitting, the trajectory took it right through the bank of lights in my field of vision. I know it went out and where it went out but I never saw the ball!
After the top of the 5th, our friendly usher became even friendlier. “There’s a whole row of seats not being used on the lower level. Why don’t you all go down there?”, he said. Whether he didn’t want to look at my Rangers jersey anymore or he just thought the kids would get a thrill out of the better vantage point (more likely), we jumped at the opportunity and soon found ourselves in the lower deck left field stands, where we stayed until the end of the 6th inning, when the hour dictated it was time to go. Thus, I also missed Joey Gallo’s bases-loaded triple that closed out the scoring for Texas while the little ones were already falling asleep in the car. Eight runs for the Rangers and I pretty much didn’t see the hits that scored any of them.
It’s all good, though. Watching a game in a beautiful ballpark on a beautiful night with my beautiful wife, daughter and grandkids made for a spectacular end to what had been a solemn week in my life. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything and honestly, it was one of the best trips to a baseball stadium I’ve had in a long time.
Heading into 2010, the year the Texas Rangers first went to the World Series, if there was one position the front office wasn’t worried about for the present and the future, it was catcher. Texas enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the catching department. At the major league level, Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be the every day catcher for the first time. Backing him up would be University of Texas phenom Taylor Teagarden, who would supply some needed power. Down on the farm, Max Ramirez was the emergency guy at AAA Round Rock and coming up in the system was well-regarded Jose Felix in AA Frisco.
Saltalamacchia lasted for all of two games and five at bats. He had the game winning hit in the season opener but suffered an injury and didn’t tell manager Ron Washington about it. When it came up after Game 2, Salty went on the DL, Wash publicly chastised him for not speaking up and added he had a lot of growing up to do. Saltalamacchia never returned to the Rangers. During rehab, he developed a case of the “yips”, causing his throws back to the pitcher to sail. He got sent off to the Red Sox in the trade that netted Texas Chris McGuiness and Roman Mendez.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take long before the Rangers determined Teagarden, for all his power potential, wasn’t able to hit consistently. His long swing led to 34 strikeouts in just 85 at bats. Five of his 11 hits went for extra bases but a .155 average was all he could muster. Before anyone knew what hit them, Teagarden got sent down, Ramirez came up and the Rangers’ starting catcher was someone they picked up at the end of training camp, Matt Treanor, who turned into a godsend. Treanor wasn’t any great shakes, but he gave Texas quality at bats and handled the pitching staff well for 82 games, until the Rangers picked up Bengie Molina from the San Francisco Giants to handle the heavy work down the stretch.
Since that 2010 season, the Rangers have gone through Yorvit Torrealba, Mike Napoli, Teagarden, Treanor, Geovany Soto, Luis Martinez, A.J. Pierzynski, J.P. Arencibia, Chris Giminez, Tomas Telis and Robinson Chirinos and there’s still no true starting catcher in sight for 2015.
Phenom Jorge Alfaro is still at least a year away. In the meantime, the Rangers enter 2015 with the aforementioned Telis and Giminez at AAA Round Rock, if something happens to Chirinos or new arrival Carlos Corporan.
Chirinos was as much a godsend for the Rangers in 2014 as Treanor was in 2010. With Rangers hitting the DL almost every other day, including Soto in pre-season and Arencibia hitting a pitiful .133 on May 16th, Chirinos came up big time, posting a slash line of .239/.290/.415 with 13 HR and 40 RBI. Adding to his importance was his defense. Chirinos came out of nowhere to lead the American League in throwing out would-be base stealers at 40%. His 2.4 WAR ranked 5th among AL catchers. Chirinos’ performance earned Soto a trade to the A’s once he returned from the disabled list.
This year, Chirinos enters the season as the clear #1, although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to match any of his 2014 numbers. Last year was his first full season in the majors and his performance could go in either direction. The plan is for Chirinos to catch about 100 games, just a few more than he caught a year ago. Injuries aside, his expected back-up for the other 62 games will be Carlos Corporan, who comes over from the Houston Astros.
Jon Daniels told the crowd at FanFest that they did due diligence on Corporan, talking to a number of Astros pitchers about him. One of them, former Ranger Scott Feldman, praised Corporan and credited him for elevating his game in 2014.
The Rangers aren’t looking for great offense from the catcher position. The top priority is catchers who work well with the pitching staff. Still, Corporan has a little pop in his bat and if the Rangers get a combined 3.0 WAR out of the two of them, they’ll be happy.