Teixeira inducted into AFL Hall of Fame
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mark Teixeira arrived at the Arizona Fall League in 2002 on the heels of a very successful first full season of pro ball not knowing exactly what to expect. He wanted to make a strong first impression, both for his teammates on the Peoria Javelinas, but also for the Texas Rangers, who had sent him to Arizona in the first place.
So Teixeira went out and went 5-for-5, including home runs from both sides of the plate in his first two at-bats, in his debut. He hasn't looked back since and that's why he was at Scottsdale Stadium on Friday night to be inducted into the AFL's Hall of Fame.
"I'm not sure I've had one since," Teixeira joked about his perfect debut. "There was only one way to go after that. It all went downhill form that point. It was a nice way to start off the Fall League, a nice way to be introduced to my teammates, and to put yourself in a place to think, 'OK, now I know I can perform at this level and I know I can play with the best in the Minors."
Teixeira wasn't inducted because of his strong AFL campaign, though he did hit .333 and slugged .616 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 2002. He was enshrined along with names like Albert Pujols, Shawn Green, Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter for what he's done since. Teixeira reached 300 home runs faster than any switch-hitter in Major League history and is the first switch-hitter to hit 20 or more home runs in each of his first 11 big league seasons. And it all started with that fall in Peoria.
"It was very important for me, for my own confidence," Teixeira said. "From the team's perspective, we were going to be a young team anyway. There were a few open spots on the roster in 2003, but if I hadn't had a good Fall League, they might've said, 'You know what? He's not ready. Let's put him on the slow track in Spring Training, start him off in Double-A or Triple-A and see how he performs.' But I played so well in the Fall League that I got a lot of at-bats in Spring Training. I played every day and made the team."
He didn't make the team at the position he toiled away at during his AFL stint. Back then, he was a third baseman and he's the first to admit he had to work very hard to play that spot. But that's not where the opening was in Texas in 2003. The Rangers wanted to get his bat into the lineup and he eventually settled in to his long-term home at first, where he has now won five Gold Gloves.
"Mentally and physically, it was a grind," Teixeira said. "I was always working to be a better third baseman, but it just never clicked. It took me only a year at first for me to feel like this is where I belong. That's my natural position. I can't think of myself at any other position.
"I thank Hank Blalock and Buck Showalter, both of them, for making me a first baseman. I got to Texas, Hank was a rising star at third, he was a better third baseman than I was, and Buck had the confidence in me to put me at first every day as a young player."
It's a lesson Teixeira wanted to impart on this year's crop of Fall Leaguers, pointing out that many of them will go on to be All-Star performers, but not at the positions they are playing here now. As a young player, he says, you can't possibly grasp what the next steps in baseball will be.
Case in point, Teixeira brought up two players whom he remembers as stars of his AFL class in 2002. One was Xavier Nady, who has gone on to play for parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues. The other, the "best pitcher in the Fall League," according to Teixeira, was Jerome Williams, who has been in and out of the big leagues since 2003, without ever truly establishing himself.
"Baseball is such a crazy game," Teixeira said. "I'm so blessed to have had the success in my career. It's a long way from the Fall League to where I am now. The past 10, 11 years have been a lot of fun for me. But there are no guarantees. You never know what's going to happen."
That kind of perspective allowed Teixeira to sit back in the first base dugout and truly enjoy this accomplishment. He hasn't been back to the fields of Arizona since Spring Training 2007, so looking out at the field here brought back a lot of memories for the younger version of himself.
"It is quite an honor," Teixeira said. "To be in any Hall of Fame, it means you have to have consistency and longevity. I went from being a young prospect to being an old veteran pretty quickly. It's kind of funny to look at it that way. I'm going into my 11th year. I've been blessed to win a world championship, win Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and play for a number of teams. I feel like I've kind of done it all in a quick time frame.
"It makes sense sometimes and sometimes I think, 'What happened?' It does seem like I played in the Fall league yesterday. I'm 32. In baseball age, that's on the wrong side of 30. I've been very blessed to have had the career I've had so far."