My feeling is always that people cannot be a fan of players and teams. It leads to much heartache in the long run. You can enjoy players while they are with your team and continue to follow them and cheer for them once they are gone, but in this era there is a 90% chance they will leave your team one day. They just don’t stay around forever and when you develop an attachment to a specific player, you are eventually going to get hurt.
I have held strong to this mentality over the past few years and I have watched many great ballplayers walk away from the Texas Rangers without much sorrow at all. Watching Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson leave was nothing and the thought of Josh Hamilton or Mike Adams leaving town doesn’t cause me any heartache at all. However, I crossed the line with Mike Napoli. I was worried at times that I had crossed that line and became a true fan of him as a baseball player, but I assured myself that I had not done so. I convinced myself that I would be fine if he left town and was no longer in Texas. Well, I deceived myself and I am not fine with it one bit.
Mike Napoli is the one guy that I have developed that attachment to. From the time he arrived in Texas I saw things about him as a ballplayer that were not always easy to see. I saw the way he battled at the plate and worked the count and that he was a power hitter that was fully content taking a walk. I saw that he had a knack for working with young pitchers and almost every single starting pitcher was more successful with him behind the plate. As time went along and more publicity came his way, I saw that he was a great teammate and was an integral part of the clubhouse. He was everything that a team could and should want in a ballplayer and specifically a catcher. His defense might not have been the best in the game, but his ability to work with pitchers was very special. He had that unbelievable 2011 season and then slumped for much of 2012, but when digging into the numbers you could see that it was really not that bad and it October would have continued, you just knew he was going to be there and be ready.
Mike Napoli will now be a member of the Boston Red Sox and the Rangers still don’t know what they are going to do behind the plate. They have signed Geovany Soto to a one-year deal, but he cannot be the only option. They still need another solid backstop and there just isn’t a lot of solid options out there. Napoli has signed a three-year deal worth a reported $39.5 million and it is well deserved. It is hard for backstops to get big paydays and he has gotten a pretty nice one. I don’t often say ballplayers earn their pay, but Napoli has done so on this one.
I will continue to hold to my policy of not becoming fans of ballplayers if I am a fan of a team, but the reality is that with players like Napoli it is hard to do and I will do it again. They say that you can’t teach “makeup” and it is the guys with makeup off the charts that it is impossible to not become fans of. Mike Napoli is a good one. The Red Sox got a good one and the Rangers lost one, simple as that.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough’s knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia’s uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.