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Knight Ridder Tribune

González Feels At Home With The Texas Rangers

By T.R. Sullivan

March 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Knight Ridder Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

'It feels good to come back here again and see old friends.'

-- Juan González

PORT CHARLOTTE -- Reliever Dan Murray, throwing batting practice for the Rangers, fired a pitch, and Alex Rodríguez hit a weak chopper through the right side of the infield.

He turned to catcher Bill Haselman and said with a weak smile, "That's pretty good if there's a runner on second."

As Rodríguez turned back and got ready for the next pitch, manager Jerry Narron strolled around the batting cage and put his hand on the muscular shoulders of the hitter waiting to go next.

"It's good to see you," Narron said quietly with a smile, reflecting the attitude of many in the Rangers' camp.

"You, too," Juan González beamed, holding two thick bats in his hand and, for the first time in 28 months, wearing a uniform that said Rangers.

"I'd much rather face him than be playing shortstop against him," said Rodríguez on González's first day in camp. Rodríguez finished his turn, and González stepped to the plate, the same order Narron expects them to bat every game in the regular season. González took a few pitches. Then Murray threw a fastball on the outside corner of the plate. González stepped into it, flexed his muscles, brought the bat around in a savage blur and ...

He hit a soft line drive over second base.

"I'm ready," he said, laughing.

Narron was ready, too, remembering how the Rangers were before González was traded to the Detroit Tigers after the 1999 season.

"At the time, I understood the trade completely. There were a lot of financial reasons and everything," Narron said.

"But he was missed."

González and Rodríguez were almost inseparable during the workout. They stretched together, hit together and tossed the medicine ball back and forth at the end of the day.

During regular batting practice off Triple-A manager Bobby Jones, both crushed several balls toward the mangrove woods beyond the outfield fences. A couple of hundred people gathered around the back fields of the Rangers' spring-training complex to watch González and Rodríguez hit.

"It feels good to come back here again and see old friends," González said. "I know this game. It's a business game. The last two years I played in Detroit and Cleveland, then the Rangers gave me the opportunity to come back here.

"It feels the same. There are some new guys, but my old friends [Iván 'Pudge' Rodríguez] and [Rafael 'Raffy' Palmeiro] are here, my teammates before. It basically feels the same."

Palmeiro, who had 47 home runs and 123 runs batted in last year, and Ivan Rodríguez, a 10-time All-Star, weren't in the same batting group as Alex Rodríguez and González, but they were close by on most other occasions. Those four were the last in line during base-running drills, laughing and joking together while waiting their turn.

Palmeiro, who has lobbied hard the past two years to get González back, said: "When he's happy, he makes everybody around here laugh. He keeps everybody loose.

"I'm just glad he's on my team again. He's the kind of player you keep on a team. He's a force. When he left, we lost big-time. He'll make a big difference."

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