A Taste Of The Big Time

Mark Teixeira: The new Ranger shows he fits in on a team of stars, but the Georgia Tech slugger has to wait his turn.


March 20, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Back in Severna Park, that unlikely hotbed of professional baseball talent, budding third baseman Mark Teixeira dreamed the same dream as every other kid with a glove and a chance.

He wanted to play with the big guys, to test himself at the highest level that baseball had to offer. But who would have imagined that the opportunity would come so soon?

Teixeira, who was the fifth player selected in last year's amateur draft, made quite an impression during his first major- league training camp with the Texas Rangers. He doesn't figure to reach the major leagues this season, but already he has worked side by side - and held his own - with some of the greatest players in the game.

"You go out there and see Alex Rodriguez, Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez], Rafael Palmeiro, it's hard not to be in awe of them," Teixeira said. "Then, once you get out there, it's baseball. You're all on the same level."

Everybody knew about his talent, but his poise and solid spring performance only amplified the notion that he will be in the big leagues very, very soon. Teixeira went 4-for-10 in eight exhibition games before being sent to the Rangers' minor-league camp on Thursday.

"I'm very impressed with him so far," Rangers manager Jerry Narron said.

How impressed?

The other day, Narron was out on the field at Charlotte County Stadium, watching Teixeira and the Rangers' other outstanding third base prospect, Hank Blalock, alternating at the position in pre-game warm-ups. The sight of the two can't-miss 21-year-olds working so seamlessly together was almost too much for the usually stoic Rangers manager.

"I almost got choked up watching them and thinking about how long they could be together with the Texas Rangers," Narron said.

Crowded corner

Nice situation to be in. The Rangers already have third baseman Mike Lamb, 26, who batted .306 in a half-season with the major-league club in 2001, targeted for the starting lineup this year, but he is beginning to look like a stopgap in the Rangers' player development schematic.

Blalock is on deck. He signed out of high school in 1999 and has moved quickly through the minor-league system. Teixeira did not complete his contract negotiations with the club in time to play Rookie ball last summer, so he arrived this spring with just 20 games of Instructional League experience, but he fit right into a clubhouse that features potential Hall of Famers A-Rod, I-Rod, Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez.

"He's going to be a major-league player," Narron said. "This guy doesn't look like a guy who just signed and has never played a professional game. He is an extremely hard worker. He's farther along than we thought he would be."

Teixeira, who missed most of his last season at Georgia Tech with a broken ankle, was determined to hit the ground running. He spent the winter in Texas, working with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to put himself in position to prove that the club made the right decision when it handed him a five-year contract last August reportedly worth more than $10 million.

"There were a lot of reasons," said Teixeira, a Mount St. Joseph graduate, "but mostly I just wanted to make up for lost time. I worked with Rudy and with the strength and conditioning staff, so I would know a few people and feel more comfortable when I got here."

It's never easy to be the new guy in the clubhouse, especially when you've been touted as the best college player in America and you're coming off a well-publicized contract dispute. But Teixeira was fortunate to join a team full of confident, established players.

"You hear stories about professional athletes, but they welcomed me here and took me under their wings," Teixeira said. "They showed me the lay of the land. I thought about that [what kind of reception he would get], but once I got in here and started playing ball, everyone just accepted me. They all know it's a business. They've all been through it."

The closest thing to a rookie hazing Teixeira received was a word to the wise from journeyman catcher Bill Haselman, who put him in his place during an early workout.

"We went out for batting practice, and I jumped into the cage first," Teixeira said. "He said, `Listen, rookies don't get in the cage first.' But that's about it. It wasn't too bad."

Single-A or Double-A?

Teixeira probably will be a rookie again next spring. He has not been designated for a particular minor-league club, but the plan apparently is to start him at one of the Rangers' Single-A clubs - probably Port Charlotte in the Florida State League - and move him quickly to Double-A Tulsa.

"Obviously, he hasn't played all that much," general manager John Hart said. "We've got to get him into our system and get him started. Then he'll tell us where he should go. Our staff has been very impressed, not only with his talent, but also his athleticism ... and his bat is going to be a good one."

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