By Mark Miller
Baseball is the ultimate American sport, even being called our national pastime.
In the 155 years since the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team, it has grown into perhaps the most multicultural sport in the world. Players today represent nearly every race, creed, color and nationality.
No better example of that uniqueness may exist than the 2014 version of the Texas Rangers who once all their players are healthy will feature athletes from nine countries and Puerto Rico from North and South America and Asia. The international flavor touches all aspects of the team from catchers, infielders and outfielders to starting and relief pitchers.
“It’s pretty weird to see that on one team,” said starting pitcher Matt Harrison before the March 27 exhibition game at the newly-named Globe Life Park in Arlington. “But you’re seeing more and more international players these days and it’s just baseball becoming more of a world-wide sport. I think it’s good for the sport.”
“I think it’s kind of the way the game’s going,” said designated hitter Mitch Moreland. “There’s a lot of guys from different places and it broadens the spectrum a little bit and makes it more of an international sport rather just in the United States. It’s fun.”
“To have people from different cultures and learn from them is a good thing,” said outfielder Alex Rios, though born in Alabama was raised in Puerto Rico. “This may be the team with the most cultures that I’ve been on. I’ve never had that before. I think it’s something that is going to be seen more because baseball is trying to branch out internationally.”
Besides the United States, the Rangers have athletes from Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico in North America, Venezuela and Curacao in South America, and Japan and Korea from Asia. That means a lot of interpreters are needed with native English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean languages spoken.
“We definitely have a few more people in here to help you communicate a little bit but most of the guys have really worked hard to learn English and it’s going well so far,” Moreland said. “It will be a good group. We’ve all got the same goals. It doesn’t affect us we’re from different areas.”
Manager Ron Washington agrees.
“I really haven’t paid much attention around baseball and haven’t paid much attention to the fact we have that,” Washington said. “I have only paid attention to the fact they can play. That’s all that matters.”
If such an international mix alone determined success, the Rangers will have a great shot at winning that elusive first World Series. Instead, they’ll just need the best performances possible from all their players to extend their streak of 90-plus win seasons to five.
“I’m very optimistic because I believe we have what it takes to compete in this division and to compete in any other division,” Rios said. “We went through ups and downs in spring training but I believe those in there can do the job that others aren’t currently able to do because they are down. I believe in our offense and pitching is going to come around and we’re going to be fine.”
It’s possible that about half of the Rangers’ 25-man team could be from the nine countries and Puerto Rico. That’s even more diverse than a Dallas-Fort Worth area that prides itself on its varied ethnic makeup.
According to 2010 Census figures, of the 6.3 million people living in the Metroplex, more than 1.7 million are of Hispanic descent with 1.4 million of those from Mexico. Another 33,000 were born in Puerto Rico, 11,000 in Cuba, 102,000 in Central America and nearly 34,000 from South America.
Asia, which continues increasing its American baseball representation, had 341,000 DFW residents including nearly 29,000 from Korea and 5,500 from Japan.
The Rangers initially will count plenty on American J.P. Arencibia and Venezuela’s Robinson Chirinos until Puerto Rico’s Geovany Soto returns from a torn lateral meniscus cartilage in his right knee.
When everyone is healthy, the infield will be as good a representation of the United Nations as there in in baseball. At first base will be newcomer Prince Fielder from California. By mid-season the second baseman will be Curacao’s Jurickson Profar (out until June with a slightly torn right teres major muscle). At shortstop will be Venezuela’s Elvis Andrus with Adrian Beltre of the Dominican Republic will be at third base.
The starting outfield also features Korea’s Shin-Soo Choo in left field, Cuba’s Leonys Martin in center, and Rios in right. University of Texas-Arlington product Michael Choice will be the fourth outfielder with Canada’s Jim Adduci a possible fifth.
On the mound, starters Yu Darvish (Japan) and Martin Perez (Venezuela) will join an American group consisting of some combination of Nick Martinez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.
Darvish will miss some time to start the season while Harrison and Lewis are expected to return sometime in April and Holland by the All-Star break.
In relief, closer Joakim Soria (Mexico) will be set up by a committee including Alexi Ogando (Dominican Republic), Neil Cotts (United States), Jason Frasor (United States), Michael Kirkman (United States), Pedro Figueroa (Dominican Republic) and others.
“We obviously have a lot of injuries,” Harrison said. “Losing a lot of guys for long periods of time in spring training allows other guys to step up, keep us afloat and when we get those guys back healthy those guys will be fresh and hopefully we can finish strong.”
“I think it will be a fun year,” Moreland said. “We’ve got a great good of guys. We’ve got a bunch of guys who got hurt in spring training but that’s something you have to fight through and the good teams always do and it will be good for us to get those guys back down the road and get going.”