One of baseball's distinct appeals is watching a mighty hitter with a bat as hot as the summer weather. Consider some of the recent feats of Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, the 24-year-old slugger from Severna Park and Baltimore's Mount St. Joseph High School in the middle of his second big league season.
A switch hitter, Teixeira has been Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray rolled into one for the past several weeks. His July was as golden as autumn. On July 4 in Houston, in what amounted to his own fireworks display, he hit home runs from both sides of the plate, including a grand slam that landed halfway up the top deck of Minute Maid Park. That was one of two grand slams he hit last month. During one stretch, he hit a home run in five straight games. On Monday, Teixeira was named American League player of the month for July; for the month, he hit 13 home runs, drove in 30 runs, scored 27 and batted .300. On Tuesday, as if he weren't going to let up, he blasted a three-run homer in Detroit to start a road trip that has brought the AL West's surprising Rangers here to open a four-game series on Friday night.
"Playing on a team going for the division and trying to make the playoffs is a lot of fun," Teixeira said on arriving at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where as a teenager he watched many a game from the stands.
"We're having a good time this year. That allows everybody, I think, including myself, to perform at the highest level, to get focused for every single game. I've worked very hard with our hitting coach. Finally, I was healthy -- I had some injuries early on in the season. So between the hard work and getting healthy, it all came together. The great thing about a baseball season is that it's so long. There was no reason to push the panic button."
Teixeira, easygoing and eager to please, may be adept at not making too much of his recent accomplishments. But as Rangers veteran David Dellucci said, "Tex is one of the brightest young players in baseball. You know the best thing about him? It's a pleasure to have him in the clubhouse. A young player with that much talent you might think would be arrogant. Not Tex."
At 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, Teixeira (pronounced tuh-SHARE-uh) has been enough of a force lately to call to mind Ted Williams's three requisites for extraordinary hitting success: opportunity, God-given physical attributes and intense desire. Teixeira seems to have them all.
Teixeira and pitcher Gavin Floyd helped Mount St. Joseph gain national attention when both were selected high in the first round of baseball's 2001 amateur draft. Since then, both have excelled, Teixeira having received more attention being in the major leagues and Floyd progressing rapidly but still in the minors. The Philadelphia Phillies took Floyd with the fourth overall pick and the Rangers followed by using the fifth pick to take Teixeira, who by then had played three seasons at Georgia Tech and been the 2000 college player of the year. It was a rarity, two players from the same high school -- and from the same Severna Park neighborhood -- selected that high, back-to-back.
In addition, the Phillies also took Michael Floyd, Gavin's older brother, in the 22nd round of the same draft. A center fielder who played college ball at Virginia and South Carolina, he had been Teixeira's classmate at Mount St. Joseph and remains a close friend.
"Something like that won't happen again, at least not to me," said Dave Norton, Mount St. Joseph's coach, who will bring his current championship varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams to Camden Yards on Sunday to watch Teixeira play and meet with him after the game.
"Mark was always a special type player, even as a freshman and sophomore in high school," Norton said. "I told somebody then, 'This boy is going to be something in professional baseball.' He could be a great major league player, not just a good major league player."
As for Gavin Floyd, just 21, who turned pro directly out of high school, Norton predicted: "He's going to be in the Phillies' starting rotation. He's going to be one of their top pitchers."
Dad Pulls a Switch
Back in Baltimore in familiar surroundings, Teixeira looked as if he couldn't be happier.
"I love coming home," he said. "I've looked forward to this trip each year. I got to see some family. I'm going to see some friends. I love being in my old house, just being in the old neighborhood. It really hasn't been that long since I graduated from high school. "
But much has happened for him. Entering last night he led the Rangers with 26 home runs. He was among the American League leaders in slugging percentage and extra-base hits, having built on a rookie season in which he drove in 84 runs and hit 26 home runs after spending only one season in the minors. He also had the best home run ratio in the league, hitting one per every 12.77 at-bats.
He's always loved to hit. He wears No. 23 -- it's been his number all the way -- because he was enthralled by the way former New York Yankee Don Mattingly played the game.
Teixeira said that his father, John Teixeira, who played baseball at the Naval Academy, introduced him to switch hitting as a boy. "I grew up watching Eddie Murray play, my dad was a big fan of Eddie Murray, and then he said, 'Hey, why don't you give it a try.' " And so Teixeira went from batting right-handed to switching. "It was the best decision I ever made."
He can crush a baseball, Dellucci said, with ease.
"He never muscles up," Dellucci said. "I've seen Tex hit home runs on balls he's out in front of."
Michael Floyd recently recalled that Teixeira hit a long home run to help their Severna Park American Legion team rally from a huge deficit to win an important game. "They brought this highly touted kid in to pitch to him, and Mark switched around to bat left-handed," said Floyd, now with Class A Clearwater after an injury forced him to miss a season. "The pitch was low and away and he pulled it. It was a no-doubter."
Drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, Teixeira instead attended Georgia Tech. "I had three of the best years of my life there," he said. "I met my wife there. Made lifelong friends." He set numerous records. He drove in 165 runs in 140 games, hitting .409 over three seasons, his junior year cut short by a broken ankle.
"There isn't a better kid," said Danny Hall, Georgia Tech's coach. "He's got talent, but he was very mature coming in. He always focused on trying to get better. He was a leader."
Other Minor Developments
One evening last week, as the Reading Phillies played at Harrisburg in a Class AA Eastern League game, Gavin Floyd, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander, displayed what Reading pitching coach Rod Nichols called "outstanding stuff." Floyd's "stuff" includes a fastball thrown consistently in the mid-90s, a curveball that drops sharply and a change-up. Rodney and Elaine Floyd, Gavin's genial parents, watched quietly and intently from far enough up in the covered stands behind home plate so that their son wouldn't notice them in the crowd. It was a pleasant evening. They had brought along their youngest, Brendan, also a right-handed pitcher, who will be a junior this year at Mount St. Joseph.
"This is our life," Elaine Floyd said. "The boys have always played ball."
She kept score, and counted the number of pitches Gavin threw.
Rodney Floyd usually knew what pitch Gavin would throw and where he would throw it. For a hard-throwing young pitcher, Gavin Floyd possesses good control; his season totals by game's end would include 94 strikeouts and only 46 walks in 119 innings.
"He's going to baseball college, that's how he looks at it," Rodney Floyd said.
At the moment, he thought Gavin was forced to deal with a home plate umpire's seemingly small strike zone that "squeezed" the pitches. But his concerns were few, especially the way Gavin was pitching.
"I have to pinch myself from time to time," having two sons playing pro ball, he said. Some Reading fans had traveled to the game, including Ruth Kramer Hartman, 78, known as the "team mother." When she isn't at games, she shows her 35 sheep at various state fairs and competitions. She sat in front of the Floyds, occasionally looking over the shoulder of a scout while trying to read his radar gun. She is particularly fond of Gavin Floyd, she said, because "he's very soft-spoken and he has so many good manners."
"I'm fascinated by him," she said. "He's always 'in' the game, and when I was playing, that's what our coach told us. We always had to be 'in' the game."
She played baseball in the 1940s, for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Floyd allowed only two runs over 82/3 innings to get the victory, lowering his earned run average to 2.57, second best in the Eastern League, and 1.67 for July. Afterward in an empty dugout, still perspiring, he said he derived motivation in part from his older brother's constant encouragement and by following what Teixeira has accomplished, "just seeing him up there, knowing it's possible for me."
The next day, the Phillies promoted Floyd to Scranton/Wilkes Barre in the Class AAA International League -- the last stop before Philadelphia. Ruth Hartman was sorry to see him leave Reading.
"I hate to tell you, I was very upset," she said on the phone from home. "I was showing sheep when he was moved. But it's best for him. I'll just have to go to Scranton to see him play. He's very disciplined. He has a wonderful family. He'll do well."
News researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report