03/12/2002 Port Charlotte, FL- Today I made my first trip to Charlotte County Stadium, where the Rangers were hosting the Pirates for a twin bill. It was destined to be a great day. Starting lineups posted around the park let us know we would see the Opening Day lineup in game one, save for Carl Everett, who still nurses a knee following off-season surgery.

This group included Chan Ho Park, the biggest acquisition of the off-season. Park pitched 3.1 innings and logged some 70 pitches, far more than the club would have liked. Still, at times he looked sharp, managing to strike out six. They beat Pittsburgh 3-2 in the first game on the strength of a Rafael Palmeiro homer and a game-winning single from Frank Catalanotto.

One major observation of interest concerns Pudge Rodriguez. Much has been said about his playing this season in the final year of his contract, and how this likely will be his last as a Texas Ranger. With his public statements about wanting to stay on with this team, we were surprised to see he had reported to camp some ten pounds over his playing weight. This extra baggage adversely affected his catching abilities, in my opinion. He appeared slower than normal, his throws did not have the usual pop of past years, and he let two pitches get past him on plays he traditionally has made. Both allowed runs to score (there might have been a play on the second ball, but he wasn't quick enough to get to it).

In game two, the youngsters came out in full force and hammered the Pirate regulars 13-3. Once again it was Kevin Mench who provided the fireworks, and just as he did on Sunday, the slugger smashed two homers and drove in five. In just a week and a half of training, he has 4 homers and 12 RBI. Of course, Mench's chances of making the team remain slim, but Jerry Narron said he expects big things from him at Triple A.  He certainly has developed into a fan favorite here in Florida.

Jamey Newberg on Mench's chances: "One of the reasons Mench is not really a candidate to make the Texas roster is that, in addition to the group consisting of Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer (who returned to action as a DH yesterday), Gabe Kapler, Frank Catalanotto, and (if ready to go) Carl Everett, Chris Magruder is making a case for a spot on the bench. The switch-hitter is hitting .394 this spring, which leads baseball, and over the weekend he made a peg to the plate that I have heard described as one of the strongest throws a Ranger outfielder has made in a couple years, hitting the catcher on the fly on a shot off the wall."

Before the first game I noticed two familiar faces. Orel Hershiser, hired as special instructor in the off-season, and the legendary Nolan Ryan, in Port Charlotte for the week in a consulting capacity, were discussing the finer points of pitching. Being able to listen in on a conversation like this certainly served as a trip high-point for me. How can the pitching not improve with schooling from guys like this.

Now for those of you who are ticketheads, I did have a run in or two with some on-air hosts yesterday in the press box. The Lizard wanted me to invite Greg Williams to dinner with us, and offered to pay for his steak if he would come. The exchange went something like this:

OOB: Hey Greg, I got a friend that wants me to ask you a question.

Greggo: What's his name?

OOB: The Lizard.

Greggo: Yeah?

OOB: Anyway, we're heading to the Outback tonight and he has offered to pay for your supper if you'd like to join us.

Greggo: Oh MAN, I just had the Outback LAST NIGHT! Maybe later, though.

OOB: We'll be back Thursday and look you up then.
Greggo: OK, you do that. You do that!

I also saw the press box steward stop Mike Ryner, who wasn't wearing his press pass, from going into the dining room. When the old steward said, "I don't know you sir," the Old Grey Wolf responded, "I left my credentials at the hotel... I'll get out of here." Later, I saw Greggo toting food up to the KTCK box, looking more than a little irritated.

Our group continues to have issues with the Florida sun. The Lizard's game one miscalculation has developed into a healthy tomato-like hue, Clayton's lips appear to have white clown makeup around them, and I have not been thorough enough in the Coppertone coverage department and the result has been a lovely red polka-dot pattern on my face.

As for young Jake, they apparently haven't covered the use of sun block back at A&M. He is approaching medium-well and spent this particular night rubbing himself with a cold Dr. Pepper can. (This time, I'm not kidding.)
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