We got off the plane and onto the bus at about 2:30am, but it didn’t seem that late. After all, the Rangers had just beaten the White Sox, 2-1, in 11 innings to complete a 5-2 home stand. So it was a fairly happy plane ride and before we knew it the bus was rocking.
We heard the booming voice of Jeff Banister come over the bus speakers. The skipper said, “Here you go boys.” The next thing we heard were the classic strains of Willie Nelson crooning “On the road again.” Banny had programmed his iPod to give us a little mix tape that would last the better part of the 30-minute bus ride. After Willie came noted Dallas-ite BJ Thomas with his classic “Raindrops keep falling on my head.” It was pouring rain in Kansas City. But the ever optimistic DJ Bannyrooster was undaunted. He played the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and since we were KC, he played a little KC and the Sunshine Band too. I liked every song he played; in fact everyone on the bus did. Mind you, the players were on the other bus.
I mention all of this to give you a glimpse at who this manager is. Aside from having good taste in music, he is among the most prepared managers in Rangers history. He tells a story of his first managerial gig in Lynchburg, Virginia. He says he made so many bad managerial decisions in the game that the home team was booing his calls. Afterward he realized that his bad decisions were a result of not knowing what to expect. Now he plans for every possibility. He sits in the dugout and plays “what if” with his coaches. They constantly challenge each other, “what will we do if he does that?” Most of the time the never find out because the player did not do “that.” Still they are ready for it if he does.
The Rangers have the best record in baseball since May 4th. Banister deserves a ton of credit. As much as players tell the media that they don’t listen to, watch or read what is being said about them, most of them do. In April those words were not kind. The manager was criticized, the players were scoffed and the pundits called them one of the worst teams in baseball. Thankfully, the Rangers did not believe any of what they heard. Instead, they believed what their manager told them. Or maybe they just believed what he showed them — that he won’t be out-worked or unprepared.
Banny has never made a mix tape for the players’ bus. They would not like the music we do anyway. But the manager gets his message across in other ways. The other day he wore a shirt in the clubhouse that said, “I came to chew bubble gum and kick some ass. And I am all out of bubble gum.” The players bought in and kicked some ass that day.