The two coolest notes to come out of Surprise over the first week of camp are loosely symmetrical, one involving the clubhouse that sits tucked away behind the batting practice field, which Josh Hamilton has been reaching with show-stopping regularity, the other involving the trio of Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Hank Blalock hanging back in a media room, tucked away behind a throng of notepads, cameras, and dictaphones on Wednesday as Hamilton spent half an hour with reporters discussing his life off the field over the first half of this decade.
Said Hamilton about his new teammates' presence at the presser: "It made me a little nervous at first to see them. Honestly, it just makes me, well, it makes me want to be here. Those guys, they are not boisterous or loud; they just go out and play. It makes me want to be part of that."
Young: "We respect what he's gone through."
Kinsler: "We're teammates. He said he wants to be part of what's going on here, and we want him to know we want him here." More: "I don't know what he went through, I don't know what he experienced, and all I can do as a teammate is just support him."
Blalock: "We want to support him. He wants to be treated like any other guy. We wanted him to know we are right there with him."
Hamilton told reporters said that Wednesday was the first time any teammate had ever taken the time to hear his story.
There were whispers in Cincinnati that some of Hamilton's Reds teammates, Ken Griffey Jr. perhaps foremost among them, not only failed to show the same interest in what Hamilton had been through, but actually took offense to the special treatment he was getting (particularly having Johnny Narron around as a personal coach/mentor) and made Hamilton feel unwelcome in the clubhouse at times.
Sad. Considering Hamilton's impossible return to the game and the huge production he gave Griffey and the rest of his teammates, it says a lot about any veteran of the game who would shun a kid like that wearing the same uniform.
What happened Wednesday in Surprise, in a small room not far from that same clubhouse that Hamilton has been drilling with an array of jaw-dropping, opposite-field missiles, says something about what's going on here, too.
The Reds signed veteran righthander Josh Fogg to a big league contract this week, which -- given Dusty Baker's career tendencies -- endangers Edinson Volquez's chances to earn a rotation spot out of camp. The competition to join Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo in the Reds rotation now includes Matt Belisle, Jeremy Affeldt, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Matt Maloney, along with Volquez and Fogg.
German Duran is generating as much camp buzz as any Rangers prospect right now. Even though he's not on the 40-man roster (there was no need to devote a spot to him this off-season since his Rule 5 eligibility doesn't kick in until next winter), he's in the mix for a utility infielder job on Ron Washington's bench. The 23-year-old is slated to start at second base for Oklahoma, but in the meantime he's getting an opportunity to give Ramon Vazquez a run for a big league job, and he's apparently done nothing to call his non-roster invite into question.
Jason Botts, who has been impressive in camp with his work at first base, was awarded a Gold Glove for his left field play in Mexico this winter.
If you haven't been reading Evan Grant's daily, and sometimes semi-daily, blog entries from Surprise, you should be. Bookmark http://rangers.beloblog.com/, and learn something every day.
Cleveland signed outfielder Jason Tyner to a minor league contract. The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association re-signed lefthander Joel Kirsten. The Lincoln SaltDogs of the same league signed righthander Mark Roberts. The Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent Northern League released outfielder Tydus Meadows.
Texas will play an intrasquad game Monday and will face Kansas City in its exhibition opener on Wednesday, beginning a stretch of three weeks during which they will play at least one game every day.
Soon we'll start to see some concrete stories begin to develop, as the competition for a handful of roster spots steps up, as veterans work to find their rhythm and help the Rangers get off to a stronger start than they did in 2007, and as young players get the chance to show how close they are to being ready to impact this club.
For now, those two Hamilton stories are the ones that have me as fired up to get to Surprise as anything else.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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