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Second To None
August 11, 2008
He has been overshadowed this season by teammate Josh Hamilton; in fact, he has been overshadowed at almost every stop in his career since high school. But in this golden season of the second baseman, nobody has been more productive—almost historically so—at the position than the Rangers' Ian Kinsler
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August 11, 2008

Second To None

He has been overshadowed this season by teammate Josh Hamilton; in fact, he has been overshadowed at almost every stop in his career since high school. But in this golden season of the second baseman, nobody has been more productive—almost historically so—at the position than the Rangers' Ian Kinsler

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THE STARTER spotted the backup in the crowded clubhouse and walked over to him. "Hey, so you think you can beat Ichiro's record?" he asked. � "I don't know, man, it's going to be hard," answered the backup, who knew exactly what the starter was chirping about: Ichiro Suzuki's 262 hits in 2004, the single-season major league record. � "I think you can do it," the starter egged on. "You should go after it." � "It's going to be hard," the backup said, before barking back, "Why don't you go after it?" � The starter cracked a smile, and walked away. � It was as long a conversation as the two second basemen had had since they were college teammates, cast in the same roles: Dustin Pedroia, starter. Ian Kinsler, backup. Here they were last month, reunited as American League teammates in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, each of them having splendid seasons—Kinsler of the Texas Rangers with an MLB-high 134 hits and an AL-leading .337 average, Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox right behind him, with 124 hits while batting .314.

Six years after they manned the same position at Arizona State, Kinsler, 26, and Pedroia, 24, are leading the best crop of second basemen the game has seen in decades (sidebar, page 35). While they were vying to become the third player at the position since 1975 to win a batting title, the Florida Marlins' Dan Uggla, 28, and the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley, 29, are challenging the alltime record for home runs by a second baseman, shared by Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson (42). Four second basemen have won Most Valuable Player honors since 1950, but with less than two months left in the season, Utley and Kinsler are front-runners for the award in their respective leagues. Second basemen have not won both MVPs in the same year since Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Johnny Evers did so in '14.

"Ten years ago the future was the very athletic, very dynamic offensive shortstop: A-Rod, Jeter, Nomar, Tejada," says Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine. "Now, the wave of dynamic offensive players dominating the game are second basemen."

No second baseman has had a more remarkable season than Kinsler. At week's end the 6-foot, 200-pound leadoff hitter—the table-setter for the most prolific offense in the majors—led the AL not only in hits (148) and runs (93) but was tied for first in extra-base hits (56) and multihit games (44). He has a chance to become the first player to lead the league in hits, runs and total bases (236, second in the AL) since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967, his Triple Crown season. " Josh Hamilton is having a great season," says Seattle Mariners leftfielder Raul Iba�ez of the Rangers' outfielder who leads the majors in RBIs, "but Kinsler is the engine that makes that offense go."

Five years ago Mike Grouse, the Rangers' scout who signed Kinsler, projected that the infielder would be a "solid major leaguer" who would hit .275 with 10 home runs a season. You might say that, across the organization, the projections have changed. Last week when Kinsler's name came up during a meeting of Texas front office executives, the team's director of player development, Scott Servais, a former Astros catcher, predicted, "This kid is going to have a better career than Craig Biggio."

IAN KINSLER was never supposed to be the next Craig Biggio—or the next anybody, for that matter. Utley, Uggla and Pedroia were All-Americas at Division I programs—UCLA, Memphis and Arizona State, respectively. Kinsler, meanwhile, bounced among campuses, from Central Arizona to Arizona State to Missouri. Ask Tim Huson, his friend and former teammate at Central Arizona, to recall a moment when Kinsler distinguished himself on the field, and there is a long silence before Huson offers, "Ian was a good player, but ... I can't think of anything."

Kinsler had always played in the shadow of others. "When you look back on it, it's definitely true," he says. Sitting in a restaurant near Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Kinsler puts down his burger and holds a 10-minute monologue in which he lists all the former teammates who received more attention than he did. At Canyon Del Oro High outside Tucson there were the slugging Duncan brothers, Shelley (now in the Yankees' system) and Chris (Cardinals). There was also Brian Anderson, an outfield star who went on to become a first-round pick of the White Sox in 2003. At Central Arizona, a junior college where Kinsler played his freshman year, there was Scott Hairston ( Padres), who came from a three-generation big league family, as well as flamethrower Rich Harden ( Cubs). And before his sophomore year Kinsler transferred to Arizona State, where he arrived on campus shortly after Pedroia.

No one has cast a larger shadow over Kinsler than the 5'9" Red Sox infielder. In 2002, upon hearing that the Sun Devils were planning to play Pedroia at second and were in need of a shortstop, Kinsler had transferred to Arizona State, to play for a Division I powerhouse and to be with his then girlfriend Tess, who is now his wife. "The first couple games of the season, I played well," recalls Kinsler of his lone season as a Sun Devil, "but then we hosted a tournament early in the season: four games in four days. I played like crap." Kinsler eventually landed on the bench, replaced by Pedroia, who moved back to shortstop and was named first-team All Pac-10. Kinsler shrugs at the memory. "That's college baseball," he says.

Regarding his relationship with Pedroia, Kinsler says, "It's just weird. No one really has understood it. At the All-Star Game they would think, Oh, they played together in college, now they're together at the All-Star Game, they're friends. Pedroia went to ASU, was a Pac-10 Player of the Year, was a [second-round] draft pick and made the big leagues. It's pretty simple. For me, let's just say it was a process. It took me a while to figure things out."

Kinsler left Arizona State with a newfound determination. His father, Howard, a retired prison warden, noticed a change the summer before his son enrolled at Missouri, when the two spent every day playing pepper. "One time, the ball took a bad hop and hit him in the mouth," says Howard. "We both thought he chipped a tooth. But he just said, 'Keep 'em coming.'" Says his coach at Missouri, Tim Jamieson, "From the day Ian stepped through the doors here you could see it on his face: He was on a mission."

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