SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It was a big day for Hanser Alberto on Tuesday.The utility infielder won the Rangers' spring-long free-throw-shooting contest, knocking off shortstop Elvis Andrus in the finals of what began with a 60-man bracket at the start of spring. Oh, and he also was informed that he will
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It was a big day for Hanser Alberto on Tuesday.
The utility infielder won the Rangers' spring-long free-throw-shooting contest, knocking off shortstop Elvis Andrus in the finals of what began with a 60-man bracket at the start of spring. Oh, and he also was informed that he will be on Texas' Opening Day roster for the first time.
A free-throw contest? At Spring Training?
Welcome to the world of Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
"It's part of team building," said Banister, "Putting guys in uncomfortable situations. They may not have played basketball before. Their teammates are out there to watch them, cheering and booing. There's something about that."
OK, so it's not Baseball by the Book. It is, however, Baseball by Banister, with an assist from Clint Hurdle, the Pirates' manager.
After 25 years in the Bucs organization as a player, a Minor League manager and a coach, Banister was introduced to Hurdle, who became Pittsburgh's manager in 2011.
And during the course of that spring, not only did Banister get to know Hurdle, but he got to know himself, too.
"The biggest part of that is he kind of unlocked it," Banister said of Hurdle. "I had some of it, if not all of it, already. You grow up in an industry seeing other people do a job one way and being told and coached a certain way to be a manager or leader. My brain was telling me, 'Hold on, now. This is what real leaders look like, act like, sound like."
"As Clint came into my life," said Banister, "I'm watching all of this unfold in front of me going, 'Well, hold on a second now. This is what I felt like and thought in my mind that a real leader should look like and sound like.' He had a way of unlocking that and saying, 'This is a people-first industry. It's OK to tell a player you love him.'
"It's OK to pat him on the back and give him critical analysis. They're not mixed messages. It's OK to lead with your heart, but also to understand that there's parameters and controls, but it's dialogue, it's a give and take.'"
It worked for Hurdle. He took the 2007 Rockies to the World Series for the only time in franchise history. And they did it the hard way. The morning of Sept. 16, 2007, the Rockies woke up in fourth place in the National League West, 6 1/2 games out of first place with 14 games remaining on the schedule.
The Rockies won 13 of those 14 games, rallying to finish tied for the NL Wild Card spot with the Padres. And on a Monday night at Coors Field, they rallied from a 5-3 deficit at the end of three innings to force extra innings, and then came back from being down, 8-6, going into the bottom of the 13th to pull out a 9-8 victory over San Diego in Game 163.
The Rockies swept NL East champion Phillies in the NL Division Series, and the NL West champion D-backs in the NL Championship Series before being swept themselves by the Red Sox in the World Series. And Hurdle has guided the Pirates to three consecutive postseason appearances, having ended a 20-year drought in which the Bucs not only hadn't been to the playoffs, but also hadn't had a winning record from 1993-2012.
Banister? In his 30th season in pro ball, he finally received his first chance to manage with Texas last year, and it was a lesson in perseverance, as the Rangers won the AL West and Banister was selected the AL Manager of the Year Award winner.
It wasn't easy. Banister took over a team that was 67-95 the previous season, during which the popular Ron Washington, who had managed Texas to back-to-back World Series in 2010-11, and the AL Wild Card in '12, resigned for personal reasons.
"They were questioning who they were," said Banister. "Were they still the team that they were before? New manager. A whole set of challenges. A guy that they'd believed in was no longer in charge. Here's this new guy. Not young, but full of energy and really giving them a message of strength.
"I had heard all these bad things that went on the year before. There was no fun. Nobody had any fun. I had the video guys chop up video. They put up together this long video of all these things that happened that really showed these guys really had some fun times the year before. I showed them and said, 'Look, it's still there.'"
In the first exhibition game, ace Yu Darvish went down, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery.
"I told the guys, 'Nobody is going to wait for us. Nobody believes in us anyways. We lost our best guy. That just means somebody else has to step up.' Then, our No. 2 [starter, Derek Holland] goes down after an inning in the home opener. Same message."
It took a while to sink in. The Rangers lost 15 of their first 22 games, and they were 8 1/2 games out of first place on May 1. The club was still treading water in late July, but a team that began 47-52 won 41 of its final 63 regular-season games, moving into first place in the AL West for good on Sept. 15.
"The one thing I kept telling them was, 'I know about slumps. I learned this from a really good hitting coach. He kept saying for every hitless at-bat, you're one at-bat closer to getting hot.' I kept telling them, 'For each one of these losses that we keep piling up, the game of baseball is going to afford us the opportunity to win baseball games.'"
The Rangers listened, and they won.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.