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.
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
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."
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.
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
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."