For the past 13 years, local baseball fans have been blessed to see future big-leaguers play for our Double-A franchise, the Frisco RoughRiders. Since 2003, eventual Texas Ranger favorites like Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler called Frisco home, before making their way to Arlington.
However, on numerous occasions, big-leaguers have returned to Frisco on rehab assignments, a unique aspect of baseball where players recovering from injuries return to the minor leagues for a few games, or longer, to help get their timing back and ensure they are ready to return to the majors.
So far, in 2016, six Rangers (Robinson Chirinos, Shin-Soo Choo, Yu Darvish, A.J. Griffin, Josh Hamilton and Keone Kela) have made rehab assignments with the RoughRiders. Over the past few seasons, current Rangers like Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland have also revisited their Frisco roots while rehabbing.
When these big-leaguers come to town, it is a big deal for Frisco fans and the RoughRiders
themselves. In fact, when Mr. Darvish made his first rehab start, on May 1, against Corpus Christi, a throng of media and an overflow crowd of 11,842 fans, the fourth-largest crowd in RoughRiders history, was on hand to see him pitch his two innings. Rehab assignments also give fans the opportunity to get a picture with or an autograph from a big-leaguer, right here in Frisco.
“It is fun for the fans to see a player of that caliber up close and intimate, like you can here at Dr Pepper Ballpark. It is great for our players, too,” says RoughRiders CEO and general partner Chuck Greenberg. “All of the major leaguers who have been here for rehab one time or another for the Rangers have been outstanding. We hate to see them injured, but it is a pleasure to be able to help them come back.”
Staying in Their Comfort Zone
Frisco is 33 miles from Arlington, which makes sending rehabbing players here convenient for the big club. Texas’ Triple-A affiliate is in Round Rock, about a three-hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, so any time a rehabbing Ranger gets sent to Frisco, it is a good thing. He can sleep in his own bed and spend time with his family instead of hitting the road. “Yeah, that is the biggest thing, it is close,” Mr. Moreland shares. “Obviously, it is a really nice park. We can run up there and get stuff done. If we need to do our treatment here and then go down there and play, that is what most guys do. It works out well.”
For some rehabbing big-leaguers, returning to a minor league park, even if only for several games, is a return to their roots. At least that is how Mr. Choo, who spent most of his first seven seasons in the minors, before sticking in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 2008, viewed his stay in Frisco earlier this season. “It just reminded me of playing in the minor leagues and how everything is different once you get to the major leagues. It helped me remember where I have come from,” he says. “I played seven years in the minor leagues, and now, I have played in the big leagues nine years. Sometimes, you forget where you come from.”
Mr. Choo might be more sentimental than most about his time in the minors because it was in 2004, when he was playing in San Antonio, that he met his future wife. “I had great times [in the minors],” Mr. Choo says. “Those are great memories. I love it. Frisco and Round Rock are both nice ballparks for the minor leagues.”
One time-honored tradition that has not changed regarding rehabbing big-leaguers is that they are expected to buy their minor league teammates, coaches and other club personnel at least one nice meal during their stay. In the old days, that entailed taking the team to dinner after the game and picking up the tab. These days, that entails footing the bill for a nice clubhouse spread to enjoy after the game.
During one of his Frisco assignments several years ago, Mr. Moreland sprung for sushi, while Mr. Hamilton brought in food from a Southlake barbecue joint.
A Treasure Trove of Information
Not only are the RoughRiders guaranteed to get a nice meal any time a Ranger rehabs in Frisco, they also have the ability to pick the brain of an actual big-leaguer, someone who has reached the level they all, one day, want to reach.
Having a Ranger in such close quarters allows them to ask plenty of questions about how they handled certain situations when they were in their shoes, as someone still working his way up the ladder. It also allows them to witness the daily routines these big-leaguers follow. “It is always good to have those guys there,” says Frisco outfielder, Ryan Cordell, the Rangers’ No. 13 prospect. “Obviously, they do not want to be here. They want to be in the big leagues, helping the team out, but they have got to get ready. We take advantage of the time we get with them, just being around them, being able to see how they go about their day and taking bits and pieces of what they do and adding it to our routine.”
Second-year Frisco manager, Joe Mikulik, does not remember seeing many big-leaguers rehab in the minors during his time playing in the Houston Astros organization, but that was mainly because Houston’s Double-A affiliate was in Columbus, Ga., and then Jackson, Miss., while their Triple-A affiliate was in Tucson, Ariz., each more than a short drive from the Bayou City.
During his time with the RoughRiders, Mr. Mikulik has witnessed his players taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn from a current big-leaguer whenever they are in town on a rehab assignment. “Maybe they will have ways to help you get through some either difficult times or just tips on how to be a professional,” he says. “I remember even when Josh Hamilton was here for three or four games last year at certain times. He was good in the clubhouse and good in the dugout during games. I see everyone speaking and interacting with each other and that is a special thing because there is not a lot ofopportunity in the minor leagues to be that close to a guy who is a proven big league player. They get an opportunity to speak to them, talk to them and pick their brain.”
Have you attended a RoughRiders game this season? There are only a couple games left! Make sure you head to Dr Pepper Ballpark to enjoy a night of baseball beneath the bright Texas stars. Go to milb.com for more RoughRiders information.