By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal
ATLANTA – Mitch Moreland isn’t paying much attention to the stats.
But everyone else – including all those Texas Rangers fans at Turner Field last weekend – are quite aware of what the Amory native is doing in his first full season in the big leagues.
“I don’t know,” Moreland laughed when asked about his batting average prior to Friday’s game against the Braves. “It’s been a lot of fun. We’re right there at the top of our division, right where you want to be, and I still don’t think we’ve played our best ball.”
Moreland ended the three-game series against the Braves on Sunday hitting .294, second on the team.
He went into Monday’s game against Houston with the American League’s 15th best batting average. Moreland hit his 10th homer of the season on Tuesday night against the Astros, an 11th inning walk-off blast.
“I’m still learning the ropes, it being my first full year,” he said. “It was a great experience last year. I learned a lot but I’m still learning.”
Young players have no choice but to learn fast is the Major League lifestyle, including a non-stop travel schedule. Last week, the Rangers were swept in New York before having to quickly put that behind them and focus on the Braves, where they took two of three.
“I’m kind of learning some places to eat here and there in the cities and getting used to it,” Moreland said. “Our travel is great. We’re very catered to.”
This wasn’t his first trip to Atlanta, where the Moreland family spent vacations.
“Even Fulton County Stadium, when it was here before Turner Field,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot time over here watching baseball games. It’s pretty cool to get to come back here and actually play on the field. I always wanted to be a Braves player but I’ll take it just the same being here.”
The appearance by the former Mississippi State star had plenty of Monroe County tags sitting in the parking lot over the weekend and even some Mississippi State gear floating around the stadium.
Seven-year-old Riley Ray of Amory was there.
“I wanted to see him play and I had never been here before,” she said. “It’s big. Too many cars.”
Moreland says the comfort level is probably the biggest difference for him, being able to relax more this year.
Teammate Darren Oliver, a 17th-year pitching veteran, said the comfort level is definitely different in year two but he can see Moreland being a big name for a long time to come.
“The biggest thing is knowing where to go when you get to the field,” Oliver joked. “It seems like he’s going to be consistent for a long time. I hope for the best for him, hope he plays for another 15 years and keeps being humble.”
Being a rookie in the World Series can’t help but mature a young guy. Moreland openly tells a story of his first playoff at-bat at Tampa Bay. Home plate umpire Jim Wolf asked, “What’s shaking, Mitch?”
Moreland stepped back, stepped into the box and replied, “My knees.”
“One day, he’s going to be the man running things around here,” Oliver said. “He goes about it the right way, especially for a young guy. He’ll have that veteran presence in a couple of years when us old-timers are gone. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Moreland and the Rangers have set the new baseball bar high in Arlington with the 2010 World Series appearance. They lost to San Francisco in five games.
Moreland said this team is a lot like last year’s club.
“We’re going to have fun and go out and play our game,” he said. “Us being loose I think is what makes us who we are as a team. (Last year) just kind of set our goals for us. We know what we have to do and we expect the best.
“We’re going to try to go out there and do what we did last year and at the end, win a few more games.”
It was even fun in the locker room Friday night. As Moreland spoke about the team, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and Michael Young proved a lively crowd watching a pregame movie on the couch.
As for Moreland, he is now being mentioned in the same breath as his elders, getting the All-Star votes to prove it. At last count, Moreland was fourth in the All-Star voting with 890,468 while Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez had 3,017,960 votes.
Moreland spent the offseason trying to be more consistent at the plate. Last season, he hit .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 regular season games. He also walked 25 times. During the World Series, his .462 average was tops among either team.
He spent the offseason trying to “sharpen” his approach.
“So far it’s worked, but there’s always room for improvement. When I go to the plate I want to make a productive at-bat out of it,” Moreland said. “Even if you’re getting out, you can still make something happen, whether it’s moving a guy or having an eight-pitch at-bat making the pitcher work.”
Moreland has hit seventh, eighth, ninth and second in the order and is the Rangers’ most versatile player, moving from right field to first base in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Braves.
“It helps out (manager Ron Washington) and the team to be able to move around and do whatever they need me to do,” Moreland said. “I’m always open for it, whatever I’ve got to do to help, I’m ready.”
As for the All-Star voting, Moreland said his parents and fiance Susannah keep him posted, but it’s not something he’s thinking about too much. To be exact about that, he entered the week fourth on the AL first base ballot.
“It’s pretty cool to be a part of that, but I feel like I’ve still got a long ways to go,” Moreland said. “But it’s good to be in the mix.”