Finding joy in baseball could be key for Nick Solak to lock in long-term role with Rangers

BOSTON – The Rangers recalled employee Nick Solak on Friday, which reminded baseball fan Nick Solak of something: It was the second anniversary of his first major-league call-up.

It brought him great joy.

The goal for Solak now is to mix the great joy he gets from the game with the work he does. At times, as Solak aimed to lock in a long-term role with the Rangers, work became an obsession and joy was absent.

“I’m happy, excited and ready to play,” he said as he returned to the field and then surveyed Fenway Park for the first time as a major league. “Being here at this place – in Fenway Park – is pretty special. I am in the big leagues. I’m glad to be here.”

And then he told one of those baseball love stories he’s got a million of. He once spoke about the autographed photo he had of White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik he had in his room as a child. This time, he remembers his first trip to Fenway, as a student in Louisville in 2014, to see Derek Jeter of the Yankees on his farewell tour.

When he talks about the place that the game holds for him, it is clear that there is a passion. But what has happened over the past 12 months is that the passion may have led to performance anxiety which led to a drop in results and ultimately a one month demotion. at Triple-A Round Rock. He crushed the Triple-A pitch. He has nothing to work on to hit minor league pitchers.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t any plans. Namely, there was this: he just can’t let the pressure of the big leagues devour him.

“I think that’s always going to be something I work on,” Solak said before going 2 for 5 and leading in the Rangers’ first round in a 10-1 win on Saturday. “I like to play. I want to play well. But I want to have as much fun as possible at the park.

Solak said several conversations with Ranger staff over the past three months have caused him to focus a bit on the stress of the opportunity to embrace the experience. Who exactly told him that?

“Pretty much everyone,” he said. “It was consistency. I love so much to be here and to be at the park. That’s what I’m trying to get back to.

Plus, it couldn’t hurt if he could start fielding fastballs again. When he arrived in 2019, he hit 0.391 on fastballs in his six-week audition to get in the picture for 2020. That fell to 0.265 in last year’s tumultuous 60-game season. .

This year he got off to a good start against fastball after a tough spring, but the field mix for him changed coincidentally at the end of April when Boston came to town. Over the next 10 weeks, he hit just 0.183 against the field. Its exit speed increased from 93 to 85 mph on fastballs. He was late and had a smoother touch.

The Rangers felt he was trying to see the balls for a longer time, which started late, leading to overcompensation and impaired his ability to drive the ball. They gave chances to Andy Ibáñez and Yonny Hernandez, who combined to hit .207 with a .266 OBP on second base as Solak was gone. The Rangers have gone 7-18 in those games. The plan was to bring Solak back by September 1 at the latest. But when Charlie Culberson exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the Rangers hastened Solak’s return.

On Saturday, he returned with a smile. Yes, he appeared and crashed into fast bullets. But he also caught up with one and hit him the Green Monster for a brace, one of those moments of sheer glee in a game too often on failure.

It’s one of those moments Nick Solak hopes he can better enjoy now.

If he can, there could be many more as well.

Briefly: RHP Kohei Arihara, absent since May with a shoulder aneurysm, pitched two scoreless innings during a rehabilitation outing for Double-A Frisco on Sunday on 28 shots. He is expected to make another start for Frisco before being reinstated in the active roster on September 1.

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