My eyes were jolted wide open weeks before that laser barrage on Yankee Stadium last summer that culminated Josh Hamilton’s rise back to baseball glory.
I leaned back in my chair about 10 rows above the visitor’s on-deck circle at Angel Stadium last spring, approximately 90 minutes before first pitch, and I was mesmerized.
I was mesmerized by the sound, the speed, the power, the rhythm, the flight, and, ultimately, the landing.
Let me tell you, even in this day of suppressed savings accounts and preposterously priced sports tickets, watching Hamilton take batting practice is easily worth the price of your ticket. If you get to enjoy a great ballgame too, well, that’s just dessert.
It was that day I realized how special Josh Hamilton really is, and what he means to the Texas Rangers. There was nobody else like him in that batting cage.
Balls were coming off his bat like sticks of dynamite drunk on kerosene, Hamilton’s toothpick bat (at least that’s what it looked like resting in his hands) providing the ignite.
The force with which Hamilton hit the ball was tantalizing as it was adorned with such grace and fluidity. Regular men aren’t made to hit baseballs like that, but is clear that there is nothing regular about Hamilton.
He was making the rest of his big league teammates look like the scrawny sophomore on your high school team, feebly slapping balls around the diamond. The only one to come close to Hamilton’s power was Chris Davis. And when I say close, I mean like the difference between black and white and Blu-ray. So, really, not that close.
But as the Texas Rangers enjoy a 4.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West, the club was gut-punched by Tuesday’s news that Hamilton has been put on the disabled list with an injury that has been referred to as both an abdominal strain and a sports hernia, largely the same thing.
Given Texas’ typical array of pitching woes, we could say that they are always dating Ms. Bleak but now, with Hamilton’s absence, appear to be engaged to Ms. Doom.
Hamilton had an MRI and was examined by Dr. John Preskitt, according to reports, but the prognosis of Hamilton’s injury still remains unclear. The best case scenario is that Hamilton misses two weeks and is back in the Rangers’ lineup by the end of June.
The worst case scenario, which would include hernia surgery, is that Hamilton misses two months and then takes a couple weeks to regain his normal form, time that Texas doesn’t necessarily have considering their indelible history of wilting under the Arlington summer heat.
Will Texas still be floating above the surface in late August or early September? Too early to know.
Hamilton has already been marred by injury this season after enjoying a monstrous 2008 season that fully welcomed him back to baseball, and sanity, after his thoroughly documented fight with drug and alcohol addiction.
Hamilton missed about two weeks of play, beginning in late April, after straining his rib cage crashing into a wall in Toronto.
Coincidentally, Hamilton first hurt his groin, which morphed into his current abdominal pains, making a highlight catch against the outfield wall against the Angels on May 17.
It’s not that the Rangers can’t win without Hamilton, because they still are one of baseball’s best offenses without him. The Rangers rank first in the A.L. in home runs, despite the fact that Hamilton has hit only six, and rank fifth in runs.
But there isn’t enough reason to believe that Texas can remain such a potent offense when they are away from their home digs. Chris Davis, who has contributed 12 home runs, is hitting .189 and has struck out in nearly half of his at-bats.
Hank Blalock has 12 bombs on the year, but his .293 OBP reeks of his perpetual disagreement with ball four.
It is clear that the Rangers will always live and die with the long ball, but what happens when these aforementioned names hit power droughts sometime over the summer, which will inevitably happen? They don’t offer anything else to the offense.
That leaves Ian Kinsler and Michael Young with the bulk of the responsibility, and that’s not enough. Both tremendous players, but no lineup can survive on two guys.
Nelson Cruz has had a wonderful first half thus far, he of the .959 OPS, but we need to see more of him before we can say with any certainty that he is a trustworthy cog in Texas’ attack.
The Rangers have gotten here without Hamilton, partly due to the rest of the A.L. West’s ineptitude, but they cannot finish the season on top without Hamilton raking in the middle of the order like the elite hitter that he is.
It won’t happen.
The pitching staff, led by team president Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux, has shown a more aggressive mentality on the mound than in prior seasons.
The Rangers hurlers don’t appear to be afraid of contact like they have in the past, but they still only rank in the middle of the pack in the A.L. in earned runs.
Texas’ pitching staff has always been the kid with asthma trudging along at the back of the race. For the first time in a long time, it appears that they may have enough guidance and enough talent (if you don’t know who Neftali Feliz is yet, you will soon) to keep pace with rest of the runners.
And that’s the thing about these Rangers. They have a chance to do something, a chance to put that first building block in place for the future of the franchise.
I can still see all of those rainbows that Hamilton hit on that sunny day in Anaheim, well before the camera lights went on.
Hamilton’s blasts were touching down in far-reaching crannies of the bleachers that most ball seekers didn’t even imagine of searching.
Hopefully for the Rangers, while Hamilton is nursing his hernia back to health, they don’t land in the quite familiar cold crannies of the pennant race.
You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at email@example.com.