It had been seven months since that hot August night we said good-bye to our new friend, coach and pitcher with the Texas Rangers organization – Jimmy Reyes. A few weeks after that last home game, we set up our ways to keep in touch across the miles. We “friended” each other on Facebook, followed each other on twitter and exchanged addresses for holiday cards and gifts, but the months dragged on. Every time he liked a picture or post, I shared it with the family. We kept the contact to social media except for the big occasions like graduating from college, holidays, birthdays – which of course warranted a text message. Ahh technology! Taking the personal connection out of almost every relationship. But as impersonal as it all was, somehow the “likes”and facebook comments kept things feeling close.
During spring training, Jimmy was pretty absent from social media. I scanned twitter incessantly looking for news, updates, pictures, but most of the talk was about big league camp, not the minor leaguers. Still, I began following a few of the writers/reporters who focus on the minor leagues and prospects to get some updates. They probably all thought I was some sort of crazed baseball stalker, but one writer who knows Jimmy pretty well was kind enough to send me a tweet a few days before the end of camp telling me that all was going well.
Then, at 10:29pm on March 25 I hear the familiar beep of my phone receiving a text. When I looked at the phone, I was surprised to see that the text was from Jimmy. He wants us to know he is headed to Round Rock, Texas (The Rangers AAA affiliate) to start the season. This is fantastic news! I immediately send him a congratulatory text. He has worked hard and moved up a level every year in the minors. This is his last step before the big-leagues and it is not an easy one! This year is pretty crazy. A number of the regular starters for the Rangers are injured sending a ripple effect throughout the organization and creating some crazy roster moves as a result. One reporter noted that a number of pitchers in the organization are in a sort of roster purgatory and remain unassigned the week before opening day. Yet another announced that there were currently 112 men on the AAA roster. A bit of an exaggeration, but for now we celebrate the accomplishment of his goal! I feel so proud of him and so excited to share the news with the family.
The very next day, we get another text from Jimmy. As it turns out, he is traveling with the major-league team for three exhibition games and the first one is in Arlington at the Ranger’s home stadium. He thinks he can get us tickets if we want to go. (Is this really a question? OF COURSE WE WANT TO GO!) He does not want me to get the kids’ hopes up, since he is not sure if all will work out, but promises to let me know as soon as he can the next day. Needless to say, it was a LONG day! We don’t hear from him until around 1:30pm when he sends a text to tell us that our tickets are waiting for us at the will call window. HOW EXCITING! Jimmy could be pitching in a major league park with the Texas Rangers tonight! When I tell the kids after school, they begin jumping up and down in the school yard like we just won the lottery. I am sure the other kids and parents were wondering what we were so excited about.
We head out to the ballpark early, but traffic keeps us from getting there until about thirty minutes before the game starts. Finding the right ticket window proved to be a bit of a challenge. The kids are pretty disappointed. Generally players are off-limits for at least forty-five minutes before game-time, but I still have hope. Once we get inside the ballpark, I send a text to let him know we are there. He answers quickly and asks about the seats and their proximity to the dugout. Fortunately, we are pretty close. A few minutes later he sends a text saying that he is walking out. We are on the first level, but pretty far back from the field. We keep our eyes glued on the dugout. Nothing…nothing…nothing… Then, there he is! He is on the first base side of the dugout and does not look like he is looking for anyone, but just checking out the scene. We, on the other hand, are waving our arms in the air and yelling like idiots! He sees us (honestly, how could he not) and is quick to smile and wave. His easy smile takes me back to the time he spent with our family last season working with the boys to develop their pitching and chatting with us through the bullpen net. It was a magical time.
We start to head down to say hello, but there is no direct route through the seats. Our seats are at field level, but to get down to the lower rows, we first have to go up some stairs, down other stairs and through a tunnel to yet another set of stairs to the field and dugout. I think about going through that labyrinth for almost a second – then I urge the family to crawl over a couple of rows of seats to get there faster. I am the first one to get down to the dugout. When I get there, Jimmy has just finished signing a ball for a young fan and is tossing it back to him over the roof of the dugout. I am almost giggling when I say, “It is SO good to see your face!” Not really my best greeting, but he doesn’t seem to mind. We talk briefly over the top of the dugout until a security guard takes pity on us and leads us over to a place in the wall where we can give Jimmy a proper greeting. We exchange hugs, handshakes and fist bumps all around. We ask how he is, about spring training, if he is excited to be back and more. He asks how pitching is going for the boys. Ten year-old boys are funny. They can’t wait to see him, then have nothing to say when they do. It is only a minute or two before he says he needs to get back and we thank him again for the tickets and part ways.
We watch the game, eat some over-priced, un-healthy ballpark grub and then head over to the bullpen to watch the pitchers warm-up. We really enjoy watching the action in the bullpen. Honestly I don’t know why you would ever sit anywhere else. Each pitcher has a slightly different routine. Some stretch a lot. Some very little. The basic pitching mechanics are the same, BUT each pitcher has a unique delivery. We figure out the signals for fast-ball and off-speed pitch and have fun guessing what types of pitches they are throwing. Pitcher after pitcher is called on to the field until only Jimmy, one other pitcher and a couple of catchers are left in the pen. It is the ninth inning and they call for the closer to come in. We are disappointed for Jimmy but he has two more chances on the road with the Rangers as they play the Astros in San Antonio for the next two days. Maybe he will get a chance to pitch in one of those games. It is almost 10pm on a school night so we get Jimmy’s attention and wave good-bye. He smiles, says good-bye and waves at us all the way up the stairs and across the concourse until we can no longer see each other.
And just like that, it is over. I have mixed emotions as we leave the ballpark. The kids are energized and also sad about the whole experience. Jimmy is off to San Antonio with the Rangers for two days and will then join his Round Rock Express team in Frisco for an exhibition game Sunday. We make plans to see him again then, but it is hard to think about having to say goodbye again. The end of a very special time is here…or is it?