On Saturday, January 27, Dr Pepper Ballpark received some added star power when the 2018 Rangers Winter Caravan rolled through town.
Several Ranger players, including All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus, outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and current manager Jeff Banister, were among the contingent stopping by to interact with fans by taking photos and signing autographs.
And for Banister, who is heading into his fourth season as the Rangers’ skipper, trips to spots like Frisco harkens him back to his time playing in the minors, especially his early days in the Short Season Single-A New York-Penn League, which is where “Banny” started his professional playing career back in 1986.
The cool factor is off the charts for us, for me especially. My roots are in development, in minor league baseball,” Banister said. “My first experience in professional baseball was in Watertown, New York, a small community, a very passionate group of fans. They help you grow into who you need to be.”
Being able to return to his roots from those early days as a pro is an opportunity the Texas skipper is grateful to have.
Anytime you have an opportunity to come and be part of these events, to see the people that really are the building blocks of who we are, they were there with us before we ever got to get on the big stage, so to be able to come back, be part of it, shake hands, tell them hello, tell them thank you and let them know that you’re part of everything we do is really cool,” Banister said.
Several of the Rangers in attendance once played in Frisco, including Andrus, who starred for the Roughriders in 2008, when he was a Texas League All-Star both midseason and postseason, and played in the Futures Game.
And Andrus, who got married and became a father in 2017, is always happy to return to his roots with the ‘Riders.
It was the best. I think it was pretty much the best time of my minor league career, being here in Double-A, so close to Arlington,” Andrus said of his time in Frisco. “It makes you realize a lot of things as a young player. It was an amazing atmosphere. It’s one of the best stadiums in the minor leagues. The people are really good, and they will follow you from here until you’re in the big leagues. It was just a lot of fun to be here and play here.”
Texas relief pitcher Keone Kela is slated to be the Rangers’ closer in 2018 and the hard-throwing righthander remembers the 36 games he pitched for Frisco in 2014 on his way to Arlington.
Kela also pitched for the ‘Riders in 2015 and 2016 during rehab assignments, but it’s his time at Dr Pepper Ballpark in 2014 that remains his most vivid ‘Riders-related memory.
It’s cool,” Kela said. “They have a tremendous atmosphere here. We were able to come out here and get a lot of wins. I played with some great guys-Wilmer Font, Joey Gallo, Nomar (Mazara), (Rougned) Odor, Nicky Williams. It’s awesome (to be back).”
DeShields Jr. never played for the ‘Riders, but he does remember his trips to Frisco fondly when he came in with Corpus Christi, the Houston Astros’ Double-A affiliate, back in 2014, when he was still in their organization.
It’s a beautiful ballpark,” DeShields Jr. said. “When I played in Corpus and here, those are probably my two favorite places to come play. Really just the environment in itself is incredible. They do a good job with the entertainment and all that, so it makes it really fun to come here and play for sure.”
During the Ranger Caravan’s Frisco stop, workers were busy installing a new field at Dr Pepper Ballpark, one of several improvements fans can expect once the turnstiles open for another season of ‘Riders baseball in early April.
And Banister, who concedes it’s been a while since he’s been in Double-A as a player or manager, remains impressed with the amenities the Frisco ballpark has to offer.
Double-A’s gotten a lot better since I played there, even managed there. This is incredible, the amenities for the fans, but for the players too,” Banister said. “You see (they’re) getting ready to put a state-of-the-art new field in, redoing the field, playing surface. Everything around this as far as the businesses that have gone in, it’s just a home run for everybody. And for these guys to come here and say this is where they get to work every home game they play is just absolutely incredible.”
One side benefit of the Rangers having their Double-A affiliate just across the Metroplex instead of in another state is that Texas can send injured players across town to rehab instead of having to arrange travel for them to do so in another state.
I think it’s a win-win situation for both sides,” Andrus said. “As a big leaguer, whenever you get hurt, being able to just drive 30 minutes to rehab and then go back to the stadium if you want (is great). And then for the young guys that are playing here, (to) have the opportunity to pick something from any of the guys’ brains that came in here and rehab, it’s just an amazing experience for both sides.”
Banister concurs that the benefits of having an affiliate so close to Arlington are numerous.
Our major league guys, it’s not a road trip for them if they have to come down on rehab. Plus, we get to see up close and personal our younger prospects that are really close to being in the big leagues,” Banister said. “We get a better opportunity to see who they are and how they work. So many benefits, it’s a win-win having it this close. Plus, they (our prospects) get to see and understand what it feels like to be a Ranger before they ever get there.”
Win-win sums up what this day was for everyone involved, the fans, the players and the Ranger organization.
The fans got to meet, interact and maybe get an autograph or two from their favorite Rangers while the players get to meet and express their appreciation for the fans they play for on 162 occasions during the season and the organization gets the goodwill that comes from rewarding their fans from one of their minor-league affiliates for their undying loyalty to the Rangers.