Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li!
ARLINGTON – The chant is as familiar as it is natural. It is so easy to slip back into it that the fans have embraced it again! Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li! Mike Nap-o-li is back and better than ever. I know that is a bold claim since he was four years younger when Rangers fans last chanted his name as fervently as they have this week.
More on why Nap is better than ever in a moment but first a story from the recent road trip when Mike remembered the first time he heard that cheer. It was game two of the ALDS and the Rangers had lost game one to Tampa Bay 9-0. Nap came to the plate in a critical situation with runners in scoring position and slowly the chant began to build. Mike remembers approaching the plate and hearing it for the first time. “I had to gather myself and calm down before I stepped into the box.” Nap was flattered and, of course knew the importance of the situation, but the chant called even more attention to it.
As the chants grew louder Mike got even more fired up and hit a two run double. “When I got to second base the chant was so loud, I was so happy to come through for the fans. I will never forget that,” he said the other day. Incidentally, the Rangers won the game 8-6 and the series three games to one. Mike told the story to a group of Rangers fans who were on a Destination Trip. You may want to look into one of those next year. You don’t travel with the team but you generally stay in the team hotel and in addition to tickets to a couple of games you get a meet and greet with a player and stories like that.
Now as to why Mike is better than ever. Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it is gone. That is the case with Nap. They needed a right handed bat with prowess against left handed pitchers, so Jon Daniels re-acquired him last month. But they also needed a guy in the clubhouse. I’m not sure that “leader” is the right word, because in baseball it is hard for a guy who is not playing every day to be a leader. But somehow Mike is just that guy. He brings everyone together. He is quick with the joke (and the insult), but he also can arrive bearing gifts.
This week he bought all of his teammates some distinctive American flag shorts. Everyone in the clubhouse proudly wore them. It is the kind of goofy gesture that can galvanize a team. Those flag shorts may become this year’s claw and antlers. Mike knows what a winning clubhouse looks and feels like, he had the World Series run in 2011 with the Rangers and he was on the winning team in 2013 when he played for the Red Sox.
Before last night’s game Jeff Banister said when asked about Napoli, “He brings that intensity and camaraderie to the field and the clubhouse. You need a guy like that. He brings self deprecation too – he can laugh at himself.”
Napoli admits that it took him a little time to adjust to the fact that he is not an everyday player, but he has embraced his role and in some ways has become a savior. He is so important to the batting order that Jeff Banister has played him in a position that he has never played before – left field. So while you might cringe at some of his play in the outfield, I know what you will be doing when he comes to the plate, you will be chanting Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li!!!