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Baseball was played Sunday, home runs were hit and fans wearing masks watched it all, including some head-scratching moments.
Welcome to Spring Training 2021, where some things are the same at the Surprise Recreation Campus while others are very, very different.
Especially for those scoring at home, via listening to the radio.
The Rangers led 2-0 after three batters thanks to Joey Gallo doing what he does best.
He smashed his first spring homer 430 feet with an exit velocity of 114.4 mph. If not for a strong wind, 19 mph at first pitch, Gallo might have hit it out of the ballpark.
“Where that ball ended up, he hit it a lot harder than where it ended up,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Obviously, a great start for him.”
Gallo hit 10 home runs in 57 games last season, tying for the team lead with Rougned Odor. Gallo said that he is standing more upright this spring, which he hopes allows him to drive the ball more.
He also hopes to reduce his launch angle after popping up a bunch of balls last season.
The blast staked Wes Benjamin to an early lead, and he pitched around two two-out hits for a scoreless inning. Right-handers Jason Bahr and Drew Anderson also tossed scoreless innings.
The Rangers are going to go ahead and put Gallo on the team. That home run convinced them, apparently.
He and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are the only two Rangers who came to camp with their jobs all locked up. In conversations the past few days, though, a few hints have been given about who might win roster spots.
One is Matt Bush, who has impressed Woodward, pitching coach Doug Mathis and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. Add fellow right-hander Ian Kennedy to the roster, too, at the back of the bullpen.
Ronald Guzman is a third.
He’s out of minor-league options, for one. That’s a big one. Daniels said it absolutely will be a factor in shaping the final roster.
Another factor is Guzman believes he will be a different player going forward. He’s confident after seeing positive results — like, Dominican Winter League MVP positive — in changes he made to his swing.
Guzman is competing with Nate Lowe to be the first baseman. It’s possible the Rangers carry both players on the Opening Day roster.
Just in listening the past few days, though, it seems as if they will definitely keep Guzman as long as has a good spring.
Nick Vincent had surpassed 20 pitches in the second inning but hadn’t recorded three outs.
His two-out walk to Andrew Benintendi loaded the bases and prompted Woodward to do something he said he doesn’t like to do: roll the inning.
That was it. The Rangers walked off the field.
Carlos Santana, the on-deck hitter, was stunned. It appeared that Royals manager Mike Matheny wasn’t very happy. The PA announcer had to explain what had just happened.
And then the Rangers did it again in the fifth when Joe Gatto could manage only two outs.
But COVID-19 rules are rules, and that’s what spring training is going to be like until mid-March.
“Yeah, it sucks. I don’t like it,” Woodward said. “We’re going to try to limit that as much as possible, but the first inning ... I don’t want to put any of these guys in harm’s way.”
The game went only six innings because the Rangers had to scratch right-hander Luis Ortiz after he strained a tendon in his right ankle. The Rangers pitched the bottom of the sixth even though they were losing.
The Royals stuck to their plan and played the final three innings as an intrasquad game.
Ballpark gates were open to fans at a Rangers game for the first time since March before the COVID-19 pandemic set in. Globe Life Field hosted MLB postseason games in October, but the Rangers juuuuust missed qualifying.
Fans were spread throughout Surprise Stadium on a chilly, windy day when the best seats in the house were in the sun. Most wore their masks, and it looked like those who didn’t were sitting in groups with folks they knew and far enough away from the next closest fans.
Shoot, some of them have probably been vaccinated.
Players from both teams said it made a big difference having real people and real crowd noise rather than cardboard cutouts and piped in sounds of the game that filled ballparks in 2020.
“There was definitely a higher energy in the ballpark,” Benjamin said. “Even just with foul balls people were cheering.”
The announced attendance was 2,024.
No TV ... yet
The Cactus League opener, much to the dismay of many on the Twitter, was not carried on television.
It had nothing to do with the testy negotiations between Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns Fox Sports, and streaming services Hulu and YouTubeTV.
It’s all about the Dallas Mavericks.
The NBA second-half schedule was released last week, and Fox Sports Southwest is working through that to determine the dates of Mavericks games it will be broadcasting. Once that’s done, the Rangers will be able to set their schedule.
It’s unlikely that any games will be shown until late in spring training, though many games will be aired on 105.3 FM or via webcast at texasrangers.com. Their game Monday against the San Francisco Giants will be a webcast.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson will start for the Rangers.
The Rangers’ game Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox will be on TV, on NBCSN Chicago and shown again at 5 a.m. Wednesday on MLB Network. It’s the spring debut for right-hander Kohei Arihara.