One of the first signs of spring in the area is the annual Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held prior to the start of major league spring training. On Thursday, members of the Rangers’ brass and players made a trip to North Carolina to visit fans of the two minor league affiliates in the state, making stops at Hickory for a lunchtime event before moving on to Kinston Thursday evening.
The highlight of the caravan was the introduction of new Crawdads manager Carlos Cardoza. The native of Atlanta comes to Hickory on the heels of leading the rookie affiliate Arizona Summer League Rangers to a championship last summer.
Cardoza, who was in the area prior to the caravan, expressed excitement about the anticipation of managing at Hickory this season. In managing the team, Cardoza expressed the importance of creating a team culture of community and inclusion.
“For me, it’s about one thing,” said Cardoza. “It’s about being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. That’s family, that’s community, that’s a team. That’s not something that everybody gets to experience in their lives.”
In meeting with the Crawdads’ front office staff ahead of the event, Cardoza said the employees expressed the importance of the team in the community.
“Whether it was community pride,” Cardoza said in relaying the staff’s comments, “community life, community prestige, creating memories, creating ways to bring people together. These are their words and it was all about community.”
Cardoza wants his players to tap into that feeling of community, not just keeping to themselves.
Cardoza was also impressed at how Hickory has embraced players from other countries. He pointed out the importance of the Hickory community to former Latin players Leody Taveras and Anderson Tejeda, both recently added to the Rangers’ 40-man roster.
“When they (Taveras and Tejeda) talk to younger players about full season,” Cardoza relayed, “they talk about Hickory. They speak of the city. They speak of the town and they speak about their host families.”
The caravan was emceed by Rangers radio play-by-play voice Matt Hicks. Traveling with Hicks were former Crawdads pitchers Jeffrey Springs, a native of Belmont, who also pitched at Appalachian State before making his major league debut with the Rangers in 2018, and Tyler Phillips, who was named the Rangers’ minor league pitcher of the year after an All-Star season with the Crawdads in 2018.
Also speaking were former Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale, who will be on the Rangers’ staff this season as the major league field coordinator, as well as 2019 Crawdads coach Josh Johnson, who will manage at high-A Down East in Kinston.
Both men were a part of teams that advanced to the postseason in 2019, with the Crawdads playing in the South Atlantic League championship series.
Ragsdale stated the importance of the minor leagues in not only developing players, but developing a winning culture as well.
“We do want our guys to grow up in a winning environment,” said Ragsdale. “Guys don’t get to the big leagues and all of a sudden learn how to win. One thing we talk about is, do our guys know how to win and do they have a desire to win?”
Also speaking at the program was new Lenoir-Rhyne head baseball coach Chris Ramirez, who is preparing his team to open the season on the road Jan. 31 in Florence, South Carolina.
“We’re excited to be here in Hickory,” said Ramirez, who was expected to start practice Friday. “I texted our guys Sunday night and said, ‘We’ve got the weight room at 9 a.m. for everybody who’s back in town. Come on in and get a lift. It’s optional.’ We had about 30 players back getting in a lift on Monday morning, a week before classes started.”
Crawdads general manager Douglas Locascio announced the team will host the Bears in an exhibition game on Monday, April 6 at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads will open the season on the road at West Virginia on Thursday, April 9. The home opener is scheduled the following Thursday in a rematch of the SAL Championship Series against back-to-back champions Lexington (Kentucky).
Locascio also announced the team would participate in activities surrounding the 150th anniversary of the city of Hickory. In conjunction with the anniversary, a special fireworks show is planned for Saturday, June 6. In commemoration of the polio epidemic that occurred in 1944, the team will wear “Miracle of Hickory” jerseys June 6-7. Proceeds from the jerseys will go to the Miracle of Hickory Foundation.