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September 6, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Rangers vs. Red Sox: Mexico Edition

by Jason Parks

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After a few weeks in Mexico, I happen upon my first televised major-league baseball game, a battle between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, shown on ESPN. I’m excited for obvious reasons: The baseball void has already nullified a quarter of my general existence, and the Rangers are the team of my youth—I’m always willing to give them my eyes and ears. The game is dubbed in Spanish, which is annoying and rousing at the same time; the former because the speed of said Spanish is at Billy Hamilton level, and my overall comprehension requires the gentle pace of an aging Molina. My head is pounding from exposure to altitude and alcohol, but the medicinal qualities of baseball’s familiar attraction will no doubt minimize my discomfort.

I’ve been living in a foreign country for 15 days, and I’ve been exposed to more luchadores than lanzadores, which presents an interesting reality, although not one that proves to be especially productive for someone who (supposedly) feeds off the bosom of the game. It’s 2 p.m., and the game is set to begin, with Colby Lewis matched up against Texas native John Lackey. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is packed to capacity. I’m hydrating and reclining in a relaxed state. Oh, baseball.

Before Lewis can come set and deliver the opening salvo to Jacoby Ellsbury, the roll of the tongue on the broadcast takes me back to the beginning of this little Mexican adventure I’ve been on. It starts at the airport as I’m waiting for my bags to appear on carousel number four amid a sea of passengers, all of whom look slightly annoyed with me as I jockey for position. I’m nearly six inches taller than the average person around here, which benefits me little as the smaller bodies are able to out maneuver me in tight quarters, forming a wall between me and the treadmill of luggage. I’ve been up since 5 a.m. (ET), and I’ve been drinking since 9 a.m. (ET); boarding a large, packed plane with people annoyed by the process encourages consumption of anything that might alter my inhibitions.

My bags are the last items spit out by the carousel, and I’m fairly certain all parties involved are in collusion against me. Here’s a hint when traveling to Mexico: Don’t oversell the historical significance of the Alamo (or other battles of regional significance that are directly related to Texas gaining its independence from Mexico) when attempting to fight for position around the luggage return. Yelling, “Come and take it” as you shove your way to the front of the queue isn’t the best course of action.

With all bags accounted for and a fresh exchange of dollars for pesos complete, I find a taxi stand attendant with the prettiest smile and enter the cab. The driver’s name is Ernesto, but I affectionately refer to him as Ernie. He isn’t impressed. From a distance, my swollen eyes paint a different picture, and not to discount the positives in Ernie’s game, but I was expecting something a little less masculine.

Playing the hand I’m dealt, I make the most of the situation and negotiate a deal for transport to Colonia Condesa, a beautiful little neighborhood where I will spend the better part of the next year. As the taxi navigates the urban sprawl that is D.F., the radio plays jam after jam, all in English, mostly ‘80s club music, e.g., Pet Shop Boys, New Order, etc. Emanating from one of the “modern” radio stations, the flashback to my childhood is pleasant if not pacifying, as I sing aloud to “West End Girls” like I’m channeling Neil Tennant. The cab driver is not impressed. I’m stuck in a strange anachronistic paradox, traveling in one of the most heavily populated cities in the world, sitting in the frighteningly uncomfortable backseat of a car made in the (early) 1990s, listening (and signing along) to “modern” music from the 1980s, set to arrive in a neighborhood with residential history dating back to the dawn of the 20th century, all while checking Twitter on my iPhone.

Lackey looks rusty early on, as he gives up a leadoff shot to Ian Kinsler. Lackey takes a lot of flak from fans; I assume some of it is because his attitude appears to suck, although I’ve never had a specific issue with his approach. He’s not a very physically attractive person, and he takes flak for that as well, and I can see the thought behind the superficial line of attack. His contract and subsequent on-field performance isn’t making the criticism any less intense. I just find the Lackey flak amusing. He’s a very big man, and I bet he can whoop some ass. Just thinking out loud.

Lewis is equally rusty, leaving the ball up in the zone without much mustard on it, a bad decision when facing a team stacked with left-handed bats that look for mustardless fastballs up in the zone. Big Papi takes offense to a Lewis offering and ejects it posthaste from the ballpark, scoring Adrian Gonzalez. It’s 2-1 Red Sox after two innings. Julio Borbon is set to leadoff the top of the third. I thought he was out for the year. 

The game meanders, and the announcers mention the Grupo BIMBO conglomerate, which then turns into a joke about the BIMBO bear that appears on most of the food-based BIMBO products, which I don’t find amusing. I love the BIMBO bear. He’s like the Snuggle Soft bear, only more snack oriented and less impressed with soft textures. On every BIMBO snack package, the BIMBO bear represents quality, showing his playful side by wearing different outfits to go along with a wide range of physical gestures. I spend a great deal of my time in Mexico eating BIMBO products, most notably the Roles de Canela, which are just cinnamon rolls without the extreme frosting on top. It’s a more mature cinnamon roll to go along with the more mature cartoon spokesbear.

It’s the bottom of the third and Elvis Andrus hits a triple, scoring Ian Kinsler. His swing is pretty; he shows good bat speed and gets into the hitting zone with efficiency, keeping the bat head active long before full extension. Because of the nature of Andrus’ swing, which is a little top-heavy and flat-planed, you aren’t going to see many balls leave the yard, despite the aforementioned bat speed and his physical strength. It’s just how he is designed, although his ability to make contact and his speed component should allow him to hit .300-plus soon. Couple that with some on-base ability and some gap-to-gap pop, and Andrus’ .300 won’t be an empty average. Then there’s the defense. Fantastic player.

I swear I just saw a commercial for a local internet café boasting a high-speed dial-up connection. One of the women in the commercial (visibly enjoying the speed of dial-up, although she is standing next to the computer) had on a pair of ill-fitting stonewashed Guess jeans, complete with the red upside-down triangle on the right cheek. The mid-‘90s just arrived. It’s the top of the fourth inning and Lewis isn’t especially crisp; the stuff looks a little depressed, and he’s laboring more than I expected. Mechanically speaking, his stride appears to be shorter than I recall, and his delivery is a little arm-heavy and rushed. But Lewis’ deep arsenal gives him a sequencing advantage, and by mixing pitches he can keep the Sox from sitting on the fastball, which as I mentioned, has been hanging up in the zone sans mustard. Lewis is a crafty pitcher, and when his off-speed stuff is working and he can hit his spots with the fastball, he’s a solid second or third starter

All the BIMBO talk finally triggers my hunger. I reach for the bear and tear into a great time. This is a very mature cinnamon roll. I feel like an adult.

As I enjoy a mature cinnamon roll or three, the game jumps to the seventh inning, which is unexpected and somewhat disturbing. Rangers reliever Mason Tobin is on the hill even though he hasn’t pitched at the major-league level since April 19. He promptly gives up a two-run homer to Ellsbury. The score, to my amazement, is now 12-5. Apparently the Rangers scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth. I was either in a BIMBO-induced coma, or games shown on television in Mexico can defy the laws of space and time. I believe it’s the latter. It’s one of the reasons I love this city: The relationship to the past is on equal footing with the present, creating a world where the dualities of time and history are amalgamated in daily existence. It’s both beautiful and confusing, and without a historical compass, the fluctuations in the flow can obscure what is real and what used to be real (and perhaps continues to be real).

Pedro Strop is set to pitch the top of the eighth for the Rangers despite being traded to the Orioles earlier in the week. I wonder if there are actually two Pedro Strops and if that’s why the Rangers agreed to trade one of them to Baltimore for lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez? It sounds like a good market inefficiency to explore. I’ve always been a big fan of Strop; he has a lighting-fast arm, plus-plus fastball velocity, a true wipeout slider, and a splitter with trapdoor movement. His delivery is violent, which affects his release point and command, but the raw stuff suggests a late-inning ceiling. He just needs the opportunity to fail and recover at the major-league level. You can’t improve in big-league situations by pitching at Triple-A.

With two outs to go in the inning, the screen goes into hibernation and the sound disappears. As I sit in the cone of silence waiting for technology to restore, I’m left pondering the TV itself. The television has 800 channels and weighs over 100 pounds, with a back half that looks like an inanimate version of Brett Wallace’s body. There are 795 channels in Spanish, but Teen Nick shows “Alf” in English, so that pleases me. However, like most of the syndicated shows I’ve seen here, the promos suggest the show is of recent vintage and is marketed appropriately. Coming this fall to Fox Life, a disgruntled shoe salesman and his oversexed wife raise their two children in a lower-middle class environment in “Married with Children.” We shall see if it becomes a sustainable program.

 Minutes gather in bunches as I wait for the power to restore, hoping to catch the last inning of action. The situation doesn’t look promising, so I prepare to leave my apartment in search of the tamale guy; the tamale guy rides around my neighborhood on a bicycle selling Tamales Oaxaquenos from a cooler on the back of the bicycle, promoting his product on a loudspeaker attached to the bike’s handlebars. He’s my favorite person in the world. As I prepare to leave, the power returns to life. The scene on the field has the Rangers basking in the glow of their 12-5 victory as the commentators champion the positive start to the season for the home team. The televised game was the second game of the season, played on Saturday, April 2. Oh, Mexico.   

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Mature,  Pedro Strop,  Significance

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