Touching Home

Texas Ranger Mark Teixeira hits all the bases -- crabs, mom and dad, his old bedroom -- when his team comes to town.

July 30, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

When the Texas Rangers' 727 touched down in Baltimore Sunday night, most players went to the team hotel, the Renaissance Harborplace, downtown. But one of them, first baseman Mark Teixeira, went someplace else instead. He went home.

Teixeira, 25, slept in his old bedroom in his parents' Severna Park home, surrounded by his Little League baseball trophies and his childhood dog, Mackenzie, a 14-year-old West Highland terrier. The neighbors brought over desserts. Teixeira ate meatball sandwiches for lunch. And then he went to work - at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Rangers' four-game series against the Orioles this week was Teixeira's first trip home this season, and his first visit to Baltimore as an All-Star. He was voted the starting first baseman on the American League All-Star team this month, and he's tied for the league lead in home runs, with 28 through Thursday.

For those who grew up playing ball with Teixeira in Anne Arundel County and at Mount St. Joseph High School, for those who taught him and coached him, and even for his parents, it's astonishing to see the polite young man they knew develop into one of the best young power hitters in the game.

"You watch baseball and you love baseball and you look at the players as gods," says Dave Norton, who was Teixeira's high school coach. "And then here you have somebody that you coached, that you taught, and he's with these other people. It's unbelievable. It's just surreal."

Connecting with home, family and familiar traditions - Teixeira found time to eat some hard-shell crabs before Wednesday's game - provided a respite in the midst of a long season.

"It lets you get away from the normal routine of a season - staying in hotels, eating room service," says Teixeira, sitting in the clubhouse before a game this week. "It's nice to go home and get a home-cooked meal and sleep in your old room."

Teixeira seems to be a low-key presence in the clubhouse, quietly focusing on his work. One afternoon this week, he sat in a folding chair in front of his locker, huge arms folded across his chest, talking baseball with a teammate. With his close-cropped brown hair and tailored suits, Teixeira is unassuming enough that he is not often recognized on the street.

But that could change soon.

Norton and others say they recognized early on that Teixeira had the potential to play with the best. It was not only his talent, but his work ethic, that impressed them. As a child, he threw balls against tree trunks to practice his aim. His parents hung a ball from the roof of the garage, and he would take hundreds of swings every night - after getting his homework done, of course.

He went to his first Orioles game, at Memorial Stadium, when he was 3. "He sat there and watched the entire game - as a 3-year-old," says his dad, John "Tex" Teixeira. "It really just came naturally for him."

John Teixeira, who played four years of baseball at the Naval Academy but not pro ball ("You can't get drafted out of the academy," says the former fighter pilot), coached several of Mark's teams and played catch with him all the time.

But they haven't done that in four or five years. "If he threw a ball at me, I'd probably be scared to death," John Teixeira says. Plus, he added, when Mark's away from baseball, he wants to stay away from baseball. He was grateful, then, for a chance to spend a couple of quiet nights at home this week.

But once he got to the ballpark this week, Teixeira was mobbed by the Baltimore press. Before Monday night's game, local sportscasters congregated around the Rangers dugout, complaining about the heat ("It's like being in a mouth," said Bruce Cunningham of Fox 45) and waiting for Teixeira to emerge.

Over the course of the week, he would talk to all of them, patiently repeating the same answers to the same questions. How does it feel to be in Baltimore? (It's always nice to come home.) Would you like to play for the Orioles? (He's happy with the Rangers). Teixeira's teammates couldn't help but notice all the attention given the local boy, and he came in for some good-natured ribbing.

Teixeira cracked up during a Maryland trivia quiz with Fox Sports - not because he didn't know an answer but because teammate Hank Blalock, lounging on a couch behind the cameraman, was rubbing his nipples. "Hank, that's disgusting!" Teixeira shouted, returning his attention to the quiz.

Teixeira's patience with the press may stem from the fact that he was once one of them. At Mount St. Joseph, in Irvington, he was a writer and editor for the school paper, The Quill, besides playing three sports. (Full disclosure: I was his editor his freshman year, and I'm mystified as to why he gave up such a promising career in journalism. Could it have something to do with his $9.5 million contract to play baseball?)

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