Hello everyone, my name is Chip Orton, and I'll be a new contributor to the Most Valuable Network � Baseball Time in Arlington. I am very excited to join John, Joey and the MVN network in their coverage of the Texas Rangers. I wanted to tell you a little about myself before launching into all things Rangers baseball.
Many of you might know me as "ortonius" from Lone Star Ball and the Newberg Report forums. I am 34 years old and I currently work in the government healthcare field as an emergency planner. (think FEMA, tornadoes, etc..) I live in Grand Prairie and attend both Rangers and Roughriders games each season.
My love for baseball began at an early age. I remember going to Rangers games in the old Arlington Stadium with church groups and family. It always seemed like we attending games around July 4th when they would shoot off fireworks after the game. When I got my driver's license, I remember taking my younger brother (who was around 9 or 10 at the time) to games where we ended up as part of the "Bleacher Creatures." Some of you will remember those times as you could get free tickets on Tuesday or Wednesday nights from Safeway/Kroger/Tom Thumb to sit in the sparsely populated metal bleachers. Wow those metal benches could get hot! Amazingly, all you had to do to get tickets is just ask for them at the supermarket. I believe it was $2 to park back then, so it was a cheap form of entertainment.
I loved watching players like Jim Sundberg, Mickey Rivers, Buddy Bell, Steve Buechele, and others. My favorite part of those games was hearing Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" erupt through the PA system as the Rangers recorded the last out. Great stuff there.
Now, I share even a greater love for baseball than I did back then as a kid. Now I love watching players like Ian Kinsler, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Gerald Laird. I grew up in Arlington, and although I share a passion in rooting for all of my hometown teams, there is nothing that I would want to see more than the Rangers bring a World Series title back to Arlington.
I am an emotional fan, and you will see more commentary and critical thinking from me rather than recaps and hardcore analysis (but I will be doing some of that as well). I have the luxury of coming on board at a great time, as we are right in the middle of spring training, so let's dive into some of the issues that I've been pondering over the last week�and I'm sure the ones most of you have as well.
A couple of critical issues that will determine how well the Rangers will do this season is the performance of Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson. I know that some say that spring training numbers do not matter, but I don't think you can discount them entirely.
After hitting .266 with an embarrassing .325 OBP last year, Hank Blalock is being mentioned as a potential bounce-back player of the year in 2007. After many trade rumors involving Blalock last year, new Rangers manager Ron Washington has taken Hank on as his "pet project" this season. At first glance, Blalock's numbers this spring are disturbing. Hank is hitting .219 with no home runs, but looking past that stat, Hank's OBP is .359. Blalock's lack of power, and his dismal slugging percentage this spring, have to be offset by his increasing patience at the plate. Hank has been working furiously with Rangers hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo for the past couple of months and it appears to be paying some dividends. Still, this situation will remain on the radar for most and will be watched closely over the next few weeks, spilling over into the first couple of weeks of the season. I am not as worried about Blalock, however, as I am about Brad Wilkerson.
Wilkerson was awful in 2006 and ultimately elected to have season-ending surgery on his shoulder. After his surgery in August, Wilkerson worked hard this off-season to get in shape and even change his diet. According to Evan Grant, Wilkerson even took a Pilates class to improve his flexibility. So what sort of impact has this dedication had this spring for the Rangers' outfielder? This spring, Wilkerson is hitting .194 with a OBP of .310 including a stretch where he was 1-17 which ended with a home run on March 17th. Yikes! If Wilkerson struggles, the Rangers will have some options that should cover for him, but the question will eventually come up if the Rangers can continue to carry him on the 25-man roster if he's not going to contribute. Wilkerson's possible removal from the club could clear the way for youngsters like Jason Botts or possibly Freddy Guzman that the Rangers need to take a look at eventually and could impact the club with power or speed respectively.
Needless to say, both Blalock and Wilkerson are key players that the Rangers need to bounce back this season, in order to capture an AL West title that appears to be very much up for grabs.
Next, I will look at the latest developments in the race for the #5 starter role. I encourage feedback on my writing and welcome comments either through email or the blog.
It's almost baseball time in Arlington...
No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined. ~Paul Gallico