Jamey Newberg: Let’s Go.

Let’s go.

Spring Break was 3,000 miles away from Surprise this year, but our 12-year-old wasn’t all that OK with the idea of a Rangers spring training going on fully without him, and he thought the concept of missing a day of school to get in a long weekend on the south side of those Elysian fields on North Bullard late in the month was more than acceptable, especially given that Mom & Dad gave it the green light.

The beauty of the two-time-zone flight to Arizona once Daylight Savings kicks in is that the clock advances just a little more than half an hour, and as a result Fridaywas basically as full a day on the back fields as Saturday was, with a half-day on Sunday to cap things off.

It seemed like every few hours we saw 23-year-old outfielder Jose Cardona, a veteran of three straight Class A seasons and a good handful of JIC trips across the complex this spring, getting one-on-one cage work in with minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez.  At first we wondered whether Cardona was asking for the extra work or Perez was demanding it, but it became clear that it didn’t matter.  Both were a month and a half into putting very long days in but wanted more.

“If you want to be great,” Perez told Max and his buddy Austin through the cage netting, plainly loud enough for Cardona to hear during a front-toss breather that was replacing part of each’s lunch break, “this is how hard you have to want to work.”

Perez was talking about Cardona and not himself, but I heard it a slightly different way.

Cardona’s not a Baseball America name, and his .300/.371/.463 High Desert line in 2016 prompts the High Desert question, but in a little more than two days we saw a kid who wants to be better today than yesterday, and better during his 11:30 lunch-break cage work than he was during his 7:00 a.m. pre-workout cage work.

The last thing we saw before heading back to the airport on Sunday was Michael Matuella taking the hill against San Diego’s Low A squad on Field 5, sitting 95-97 with a pitcher’s frame and a pitcher’s presence.  The reports say Matuella threw one 20-pitch inning, allowing two doubles and a walk, but that’s a generous description given that the coaches rolled that frame without an out being recorded.

The results were meaningless, even more so than the otherwise meaningless spring training stats being piled up by everyone else this month.  Matuella went into the appearance healthy, came out of it healthy, and there’s a reason there were more club official eyes on his Field 5 effort than there were on Andrew Cashner 50 feet away on Field 6, where two days earlier Yu Darvish had pitched to Jonathan Lucroy, each wearing white pants on a field where everyone else was in gray and unaware that Darvish had been told he’ll be the club’s ninth Opening Day starter in nine years, even if the media was still a day away from being told.

None of that was on the mind of Matuella, whose goal is to be in a clubhouse and dugout with a couple dozen teammates sometime in April or soon thereafter, rather than back in extended all spring getting his rehab work in with Keith Comstock.

Better red than dead, the practice gear that rehabbing players wear in Surprise reads, but better blue than red.  Matuella is wearing blue, and that’s a big deal, even if the 6’6” righty didn’t get a Padre out before handing the ball off to Tony Barnette, and then Matt Bush.

As Cashner was getting his own work in, what I’ll remember most was the home half of his three frames, in one of which Anderson Tejeda — 12 years younger than Cashner — muscled out an opposite-field bomb to left center off bullet righty Walker Lockett that may not have gotten more than 30 feet of air under it, after which Leody Taveras — also 12 years Cashner’s junior — tripled to left center off Lockett.

Balls that don’t take funny hops or weird bounces and that aren’t misplayed don’t often turn into three bags when they’re hit to the left side of the field.

Jose Trevino then rifled a single to center, scoring Taveras.  I don’t know if Trevino will catch Cashner in the big leagues, but if he doesn’t it will be because Cashner will have moved on from his one-year deal here shortly before Trevino arrives.

Those were among the moments I’ll probably remember most, that is, if you don’t count the half hour that Perez spent working with Max and Austin on their swing mechanics and hitters mindset, also during what should have been Perez’s lunch break and also at Perez’s suggestion.

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Or the half hour that minor league infield coordinator Kenny Holmberg asked to have with Max and Austin at 6:15 on a Sunday morning, when Holmberg could have been doing any number of other things (none of which are spelled “sleep”) before his one-on-one work with infielder Charles Leblanc.

Or the boys shagging BP, first on the minor league fields and then with guys named Beltre, Napoli, Lucroy, Choo, Andrus, Odor, Mazara, and DeShields hitting.

Or shooting baskets with Nick Martinez, and with Jon Daniels, and with Beltre.

Or dozens of other moments that a couple 12-year-olds will carry with them forever, as will their dads (at least one of whom rediscovered that “hit it to me” adrenaline feeling that he misses a lot, as Rougie stood in with terrible country music blaring out of the complex speakers, which I suppose may be the reason that the running backhand leap at the fence for that left center field shot came six feet short [Max’s version] rather than two [mine]).

Here’s the thing.  You could see it on the face of everyone in uniform or a Rangers blue hoodie or a scouting floppy this weekend: They are all more than ready to leave, to move on from this WBC-extended camp and get the real thing going.

We couldn’t wait to get there.

They can’t wait to leave.

But they also gave their full attention, over and over and over, to a couple wide-eyed boys who love the game.

I thought about how many moments like that Karleen Smith must have had as her son Drew was growing up, playing ball in Las Vegas with and against his buddies Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo.  You can see it in the smile on Karleen’s face — her boy’s about to be a big league baseball player.

All those years of moments are about to be moments that led to this.

Robinson has been one of the clear stars of this camp.  He’s gotten the most plate appearances of any Rangers player for a reason, and with that workload he’s piled up a team-high four homers and an .830 OPS, playing all over the field.

The only player with more than Robinson’s eight walks is Delino DeShields, and in a way this has been his camp.  His manager talks about the improved focus on defense (“showing up every pitch”) and the greater confidence and aggressiveness in the field, combined with the fine-tuned selectiveness against right-handed pitching and on the bases.  The stats show the 14 walks in 70 plate appearances and the 12 stolen bases (unblemished until a pickoff yesterday).  He’s making better decisions in the outfield and he’s bunting well and he’s getting on base a lot, regularly turning 90 into 180, if not more.

When Michael Choice had his big camp, it was largely about results.  This is different.  This is about approach and technique, about adjustments and growth.

DeShields, says Jeff Banister, is using the experience he’s gained to slow things down and think the game through.  It’s almost paradoxical to use the word “slow” in a DeShields context, and celebrate it, but there hasn’t been a player who’s taken a bigger step forward in Rangers camp this spring.  It’s obvious that a DeShields who can not only refind his 2015 magic but build off of it can make this lineup dramatically different.  Taking this growth to Arlington and sustaining it into the regular season is the job ahead of the 24-year-old, and he seems more equipped to do that than he was a year ago.

It’s been a great camp for DeShields and for Robinson and for Ryan Rua and Keone Kela and Mike Hauschild.  It’s been a strong month for Taveras and Tejeda — both headed to full-season assignments with Low A Hickory at age 18 — and for Trevino and Joe Palumbo and Kyle Cody and Miguel Aparicio.

And then there’s Martin Perez, who the manager suggests is “closing the gap,” not a throwaway line when you consider who he’s slotted behind in the Texas rotation.

For a couple kids getting in a long weekend in Surprise, another guy named Perez and one named Holmberg were also stars of this camp.

Let’s go.

Never happy words, in another context.  Matuella had thrown his 20 pitches Sunday afternoon and Tejeda, Taveras, and Trevino had done loud things one chain-linked field away, and we had to tell the boys it was time to head to the airport, back to Texas and reality and school.  But just another few days before baseball that counts.

It’s work all for these guys in Surprise.

The jobs are different.  For many it’s to seize an opportunity, to make adjustments, to show something new, to impact the plan.

It may be to realize a lifelong dream, or just to keep them dream alive.

Sometimes it’s to compete with a roommate for a job.

For some it’s to rehabilitate.

For others it’s to put the rehab behind, not only physically but mentally as well.

For a guy like John Fasola, it’s about facing the likelihood and the reality of a torn ligament that had put himself on the doorstep to the big leagues.  Long road ahead.  Not a dead-end road.  But a long one.

There are coaches and club officials showing up before 5 a.m., and players coming in for breakfast only after getting in 30 minutes of 7:30 a.m. cuts in the cages, even on days that their six-year contract extension for nearly $50 million is reported.

Routine is huge in Surprise, and in some ways every day is the same for these guys, over a long month and a half that probably feels like double that.

But for a couple 12-year-olds, each day was different, not just from each other but absolutely from the days back home.

Bobby Jones is going to put in 10 days a month working with Rangers minor leaguers because he’s not ready to give baseball up, and we’re all fortunate that that’s true.

Josue Perez and Kenny Holmberg are going to put in 10 hours a day working to help Rangers minor leaguers get better, if it’s a slow day.

And Yu Darvish is going to take the ball on Monday night, his first Opening Day with Texas and hopefully not his last, minutes after Drew Robinson just might have his name called out by Chuck Morgan as he jogs out to the first base chalk, maybe with Karleen in the stands, flashing that smile that was 20-plus years in the making.

Maybe Delino DeShields will start the game on the field, or maybe he won’t impact it until later in the game, or later in the week.  But he’s poised to impact a lot of games in 2017, more than in 2016 and maybe more than in 2015, when he ignited this offense and changed the type of damage it could do.

Max and Austin are ready.  Their dads are, too, and the smile on our faces this weekend may not have been the same type as Karleen’s, but the game gave a lot to us this weekend, and will continue to.

Baseball, man.

Here we go.  Yu and Luc and Belts and Rougie.

Nap and Delino and Elvis and Bush.

Leody and Match and Trevino and Tejeda.

It’s baseball season.

Let’s go.


This contribution was provided by Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report. You can follow Jamey on twitter @NewbergReport