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New son, health give Tolleson plenty to be thankful for

Reliever enjoyed success during his first season with his hometown team

ARLINGTON -- Shawn Tolleson was quietly the Rangers' most reliable reliever from start to finish last season. Overlooked is the fact that he almost didn't make the team because of some early Spring Training shoulder soreness that set him back three weeks.

"I forgot about that," Tolleson said. "To be honest, I completely forgot about the shoulder thing. That's the first time I've ever missed any time because of a shoulder. I really don't know what spurred that on, but I got over it."

Tolleson admitted he doesn't have a good memory anyway. But there is no reason to dwell on something that ended up being minor.

During the Thanksgiving season, the 26-year-old right-hander has much to be thankful for in his life. His career is back on track after he missed almost all of 2013 because of major back surgery, he is pitching for his hometown team and his wife, Lynley, gave birth to their first child in September.

Quiet and unassuming, Tolleson ended up being one of the few feel-good stories during one of the bleakest seasons in Rangers history. Life has gone well for a pitcher who, one year ago, had been put on waivers by the Dodgers and was still going through rehabilitation while recovering from surgery on April 25 to repair a herniated disk in his back.

"To be honest, there is always a lot of unknown in baseball -- but I was never uneasy about it," Tolleson said. "I guess it's part of my personality I never let it bother me. In baseball, you never know what is next in your career -- but I learn to go with the flow and take punches. I've learned to trust that God has a plan for me. I never feel uneasy."

Tolleson reflected on everything he has been through while sitting in a coffee shop one recent morning in his hometown of Allen, a suburb directly north of Dallas. After polishing off breakfast, Tolleson's next stop was a local fitness center for another offseason workout.

"I think I will be better next year," Tolleson said on the one-year anniversary of being claimed by the Rangers off waivers. "The way I'm training is completely different from the way I've trained before. Last year was just minimal, doing a lot of rehabilitation stuff. I couldn't really gain any strength. The throwing program, I had to kind of ease into it.

"This year, I feel really healthy and really strong and can push some weight around. I'll be able to start my throwing program and hopefully stretch out a little more than last year. I don't think there is any reason why I shouldn't be even better next year."

He was pretty good this past season, going 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 64 games. Tolleson and left-handed reliever Neal Cotts were the only two pitchers to remain on the Rangers' active roster for the entire season.

"As the season went on, I felt more and more comfortable," Tolleson said. "The more I got out there, I got more comfortable, I felt stronger and my stuff got better. I just got sharper and sharper. Coming out of Spring Training, it was OK, it wasn't quite as sharp. I felt I was just trying to get better."

The best part came at the end of the season, when the Tolleson family welcomed Turner Gray into the world on Sept. 24.

"He has been great," Tolleson said. "It has been really fun. He was born and then we had three or four days left in the season. As far as having a kid, I can't think of anything better than that. I've been able to be at home all day, basically, if I want to, [so I can] help take care of him. He's fun. He has already changed so much. He has started smiling, so I just sit there and try to make him smile all day."

So now Turner Tolleson gets to spend his first holiday season with his family, Thanksgiving Day with his maternal grandparents and the following two days with the other side. Shawn Tolleson's favorite Thanksgiving memories from his childhood were spent with his maternal grandmother in Lubbock. But now both sides of the family live within a few minutes of each other in Allen.

Dad now eagerly awaits the chance to start new Thanksgiving family traditions for Turner.

"For Thanksgiving, just teaching him what it's truly all about, why we are celebrating Thanksgiving," Tolleson said. "Being thankful for what we have and thanking God for everything he has done in our lives -- and making sure he knows that not everybody is able to enjoy this feast.

"Then, for Christmas, same thing, remembering the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Obviously, I can't wait until he is old enough to wake up on Christmas morning and run around the living room, open presents and dig into his stockings."

There is much to be thankful for in the Tolleson household this Thanksgiving.

"I am extremely thankful to be able to play at home," Tolleson said. "It was kind of like, I don't want to sound corny, but it was a dream come true -- it was exciting, that was the team I grew up rooting for and didn't know if I was going to make the team. I made the team, that was exciting, playing at home driving to the field every day, driving home, sleeping in my bed, saying good night to my family. That part was really neat.

"I'm just thankful for being healthy, too. Staying healthy the whole season and [being] thankful for the doctors taking care of me and the physical therapists and everything I learned from them [about] keeping my body healthy."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.