The Catch

Reds @ Cubs May 5,  2013  Donald Lutz first MLB hit

This article was contributed by Jamey Newberg and it originally appeared on The Newberg Report. You can follow Jamey on Twitter at @NewbergReport.

The league and the team and the player issued formal statements, which never means good news and, I suppose, in this case was my cue to root my head out of the sand.

The Texas Rangers won six of the final seven games of Nelson Cruz’s season.  They’re now 1-0 without him, beating Jerome Williams even without the benefit of having baseball’s greatest Jerome Williams killer in the lineup and in spite of one of the worst defensive games a Rangers right fielder has ever had.

We take the good with the bad, and we move on.

I was somewhere between saddened and crushed when Mike Napoli left and when Cliff left, and Tyson Chandler and Clint Hurdle and Josh and Sunny and Ruben Sierra and Ruben Mateo and A-Rod and Crush and Pudge (the first time) and Kenny Rogers (the first time) and Jason Kidd (the first time) and Julio Franco and Jimmy Johnson and Derian Hatcher and Steve Nash.

They were all under different circumstances, and now here’s a new set as far as Nellie Cruz is concerned.  Worse than any of the others.

I’m mad about the helicobacter pylori and about his bad judgment and that I had to have a conversation with my kid about why he can’t play baseball for the next couple months and how, yeah, that could be a difference-maker for our team.

My kid wore Cruz’s jersey number for two Little League seasons, by choice.  He and his sister named our dog after him (lovingly, I promise).

Maybe Cruz’s Rangers career isn’t over.  Maybe it is.

Sunday afternoon, before his fly to deep center in the ninth inning of the Rangers’ 4-0 win over Oakland, he’d homered to plate the game’s first run and then struck out looking two different times, just as he did on July 28, 2006, pinch-hitting for Rod Barajas in the ninth inning of an 11-3 loss to the awful Royals in what was an extremely quiet, three-pitch Texas Rangers debut for the 26-year-old rookie.

Very little has been quiet about Nelson Cruz’s Rangers career.  He’s had possibly the greatest flair for the dramatic of any player Texas has ever had, with stacks of ninth-inning and extra-inning heroics.  Without doing the research to back it up, I’m fairly confident in saying he’s the greatest post-season hitter in franchise history, and without needing to look anything up I’m going to declare his throw in Game 4 against Detroit as one of my favorite plays in the history of sports, the aftermath of which is now a book cover.

One of the early strokes of genius in Jon Daniels’s tenure as General Manager was — as a buyer — to get Doug Melvin to tack Cruz onto the July 2006 deal in which the Rangers shipped Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero to the Brewers for rental hitter Carlos Lee.

A year later, Rangers farm director Scott Servais suggested that the 4-A hitter who’d been a minor leaguer with the Mets and then with the A’s and then with the Brewers and then with the Rangers open his stance while with AAA Oklahoma, and suddenly that 4-A force transformed into a big league hitter, one who will occupy a well-deserved corner in Texas Rangers history, and not just because of Game 6.

Maybe he’s only gone for two months.  Maybe this team goes on to earn the right without him to play 162+, and he comes back to boost things with more massive October moments.  Maybe he comes back in 2014, with an entirely different market from the one it looked like he was going to have, and like with Pudge and Kenny and J-Kidd we’ll have a second chance to be Nelson Cruz fans.

Not that he’s gone away like Pudge and Kenny and J-Kidd went away.  But, for now, it’s hard to tell your kid anything other than, as a result of at least one awful decision he made off the field, he’s gone away.  And it’s OK to not love your team any less.

Yesterday was a bad sports day.  A stupid sports day.  When bad sports things happen, I tend to write about how much I hate writing about bad sports things because the sports we care about are supposed to distract us from bad non-sports things and are almost always very good at doing that.  That’s the one-paragraph report I thought I wanted to write today.

The wait for West Coast game times is usually lousy, and yesterday it was worse than usual, because I just wanted a baseball game to watch and to stop hearing about A-Rod and Johnny Football and Nelson Cruz and bad sports things.  My kid had a pitching and hitting lesson before Rangers-Angels was set to start, and on the 30-minute drive there we talked about Nelson Cruz.  We sorta had to.

We got to the lesson early, and Max asked if we could get loose in the next cage while his coach finished up with another player.

I think that’s exactly what I needed.

He and I grabbed our gloves, and a baseball, and stood maybe 50 feet apart.  We were indoors, surrounded by netting and L-screens and walls and ceilings and the shrill banshee cheers of the moms at a youth basketball game going down on the other side of the tarp curtains, but it was perfect.  We played catch.

We just played catch.

Nelson Cruz: Five Year Snapshot
Year G PA AVG SLUG OBP OPS H HR RBI WHAV BABIP
2013 108 452 .269 .511 .330 .841 110 27 76 .271 .299
2012 159 642 .260 .460 .319 .779 152 24 90 .299 .301
2011 124 513 .263 .509 .312 .821 125 29 87 .278 .288
2010 108 445 .318 .576 .374 .950 127 22 78 .314 .348
2009 128 515 .260 .524 .332 .856 120 33 76 .350 .278

  • Rafe Anderson

    On what was a disappointing day for many I found your take to be refreshing. Thanks.

  • Joshua V. Best

    Rangers fans are fortunate to have Jamey as part of our baseball experience. For years now, the Newberg Report has been as much a part of Rangers baseball to us as the players and the broadcast teams. Thanks for sharing this article and giving him exposure so that others can get some insight into what he does for this team and its fans. Proud to be a Newberg Report reader since the beginning!

  • Mike Ableman

    This put the day into perspective perfectly.

  • Dan Franks

    Fantastic piece!

  • giglifer

    Peter, I’ve enjoyed your work for many years and happy to have found your website through the Newberg report. I suppose it was naive to think Nellie would appeal. I think the perception of him as a teammate would have been raised had he done so. Likely that Deadspin will uncover pics of him not 40lbs underweight post 2011 season, blowing that spin out of the water.

  • Keith Hopkins

    I have been living in Salt Lake City since 1999. I grew up in East Texas and remember when the Rangers moved to Texas. I remember all of the losing seasons. About the time I moved away, they became a good team. It’s hard to follow them in SLC but I found Jamey Newberg’s report and it helps tremendously. Every time I just want to ditch the nonsense and selfishness of the money game that sports has become, I read one of Jamey’s columns and listen to how he teaches his son about baseball and about life. Baseball is still what brings a son and a father together…just for a game of catch. Thanks.
    Keith

  • Tommy Davis

    Jamey always knows just what to say.
    Hopefully people realize that the game comes first, the organization second, your favorite players next followed by the rest that make up your team. I am a fan of baseball on any level and a Rangers fan no matter who steps up to the plate or toes the rubber. If you believe the same, a player or players’ decisions can’t waiver your outlook on our pastime.

  • Gary Kerbow

    Peter, Jamey’s take on this issue as it affects Ranger fans locally is spot on. It took the spotlight off of the negativity surrounding the entire Biogenesis issue and brought it back to the simplicity and beauty of the game of baseball.
    It boils down to a father teaching son a sport that both enjoy and can share for a lifetime. I pray nothing that ever happens to ever ruin that for those of us who cherish this sport.
    Thanks to Jamey for capturing this sentiment in words and thanks to you for sharing it with your audience.

  • mike

    The Newberg Report is a MUST read for anyone who is a Rangers fan. I find his perspective on any Rangers-related issue spot-on! And he works with a great bunch of folks who also provide fantastic information on other aspects of the club including the farm system, the front office, etc. Keep up the good work!!

  • Robert Stratton

    Jamey Newberg is one-of-a-kind. He provides depth from multiple angles. He provides facts as a reporter. He provides depth and analysis as a researcher. He provides insight and bias as a fan. He does all this as a fan and from the unwavering love of HIS Texas Rangers. He is an eternal Rangers optomist but not a sunshine-pumping dreamer. He holds the Rangers accountable is not afraid to state his opinions – good or bad – about what is going on.

    He does all this while also allowing his readers into his personal life as he did in this report about playing catch with his son. He also shared one time about Ron Washington hitting fungo to his son at Spring Training and another about his daughter interviewing Josh Hamilton. Newberg is not only a special fan, but from what I have seen in his writing, a special person.

  • phillipday

    i was fortunate enough to spend a bucket list kind of day in Anguilla hanging out on a nearly deserted beach with Peter and Gloria Gammons talking baseball. It was, in fact, the week before Peter was called to Florida to interview Alex Rodriguez so Alex could “come clean.” As a lifelong Texas Ranger fan, I asked Peter that day if he was familiar with Jamey’s tireless work on the Newberg Report. Peter told me that he read Jamey’s work each and every day. I passed Peter’s remarks on to Jamey which led to Peter generously agreeing to write the forward for Jamey’s book.

    The thing that Jamey and Peter share is their absolutely pristine love for the game of baseball. It is the same unspoiled love that Jamey’s game of catch with Max so simply and eloquently captures and it is the same reason that a Hall of Famer like Peter would take such boyish delight in talking baseball all afternoon on a Caribbean beach with a guy like me.

    I remain steadfastly confident that the game is bigger and far more powerful than some of the villains that it periodically blesses with fame and riches. Because tomorrow is always there for us as baseball fans. There is always another game. There is always next year. There are always new unspoiled stars emerging (Machado, Trout, Buxton, Stanton, Kershaw, etc…) Which is why Jamey can play catch with Max and know that he will feel better.

  • Deborah McDougle

    Thanks for sharing – if you are a ranger fan you should follow Jamey