Sunday, February 11, 2007

Troubled Hank Blalock Still Model of Coachability

He might be a millionaire, might even be headed for stardom, but whatever else is Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock, above all he's humble, polite and respectful. Sure his star is tarnished after two successive disappointing seasons, but any thought that this 26-year-old ex-top prospect is uncoachable is rediculous. Let's put that rumor to rest right now.

Talking to the gifted red-head one comes away with an impression of a determined young athlete with an open face and honest, clear blue eyes, unfazed by fawning fans or other trappings of limelight. A throwback to protocol of the past, he often speaks only when spoken to and deferentially addresses strangers as "sir." If Blalock's ongoing shortcomings can be blamed on his refusal to listen to his elders, chalk it up to youthful overconfidence rather than obstinance. Blalock is one of the most agreeable players you'll ever know.

"I suppose you're going to ask me if I'm at a crossroads," said Blalock, as he and wife Misty met over lunch recently with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

"Yes, I think I will," Grant recalled during a recent interview with XM Radio's Steve Wilson.

"I'm absolutely at a crossroads," Blalock answered without pretense.

After watching his season homerun totals fall from 32, to 25 to 16, Blalock finally has put himself in the hands of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who until the end of last year had given Blalock enough rope to hang himself. Like most players, Blalock couldn't be helped until he was ready to be helped, and now that he's hit rock bottom, he's more than ready.

Finally healthy after shoulder surgery, Blalock has vocalized his willingness rediscover what brought him to the big leagues: an ability to hit both left- and right-handed pitching, a keen eye for the strikezone and a willingness to hit balls to all fields, not waste at-bats by foolishly trying to pull outside offerings over the left field fence.

Without Blalock, cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira is in danger of being left naked in the batting order, especially if questionable acquisition Sammy Sosa, 38, has nothing left, rookie right fielder Nelson Cruz falters or if left fielder Brad Wilkerson continues to struggle. Look for Blalock to rise to the challenge. It's not just his potential, not just his talent that will prevail. It's more a matter of of maturity and a reassertion of unfaltering character.