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.