Everyone remembers where they were when they caught Napoli fever. Arriving in town as part of a seemingly underwhelming trade with the Blue Jays, Napoli quietly built a loyal following amongst Rangers fans. But just as Napoli's stock was rising, so to speak, another underdog fan favorite was on a backwards slide.
Only one season earlier, first baseman Mitch Moreland became the Little Ranger That Could. He even earned the distinction of being the first Ranger to hit a home run in a World Series, something few people thought they would ever say about the guy who two years earlier was a right fielder for the Midwest League's Clinton LumberKings.
We all know what happened to the Rangers in San Francisco that Series, but one glimmer of hope was Moreland. He was young, obviously eager and relatively healthy. By all accounts, 2011 should have been the Year of the Mitch. But it was not to be. No one knew exactly what was tripping Moreland up. For a guy who homered in his first brush with the World Series, surely it couldn't be mental. Or could it? Had he spooked himself into the land of dropped catches and blown saves?
It turns out that there was something much more tangible than that. Moreland had a broken pisiform bone on his right hand. And in case you hadn't heard, hand injuries and baseball don't go together well. It turns out that people in the Rangers organization knew about the injury. Moreland elected to play through the pain and finish out the season. But hearing the constant jabs about his declining performance could not have inspired confidence in himself.
Additionally, that the Rangers were serious contenders in the negotiations for the services of superstar first baseman Prince Fielder. Even with a healthy hand, Moreland knew he was no match for Fielder and would doubtlessly be traded away if the slugger ended up in Arlington. But negotiations stalled and after all was said and done, Prince Fielder agreed to wear a Detroit Tigers uniform for the next nine years.
Is this Moreland's second chance? Rangers GM Jon Daniels seems to have faith in him when others have doubted. After surgery and a off-season of rehab, there's no reason to think that Moreland cannot come back and be the first baseman who lives up to all that potential he showed in the ALCS in 2010. Like most Rangers fans in town, I root for the guy.
But he knows better than anyone else that second chances are hard to come by -- and if he wants to win back the respect and trust of the organization, this is it. Let's hope, for his sake and our own, that he can live up to his potential.
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