By Jason Chlapek
Fort Hood Herald
Those two words were what Texas Rangers' first-year bullpen coach Andy Hawkins told soldiers with whom he interacted Monday at Fort Hood.
"The sacrifice these men and women make every day is great," Hawkins said. "We owe them a great deal of gratitude, and it's very humbling to visit with them. All I can say to these troops is, 'thank you' because they sacrifice so much so that we can live the way we do as Americans."
Hawkins was one of four members of the Rangers who visited troops and their families on post by signing balls and cards for fans. Hawkins, a former pitcher for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics, was joined by catcher Taylor Teagarden, left fielder David Murphy and radio play-by-play man Eric Nadel.
Hawkins grew up in Waco and resides in Bruceville with his family. He enjoys living close to Fort Hood.
"I still live close enough to feel the big guns go off," Hawkins said. "It's also great not to work too far from home, either."
Until August, Hawkins was the pitching coach for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma. He has coached in the organization since 2001.
Murphy, a Ranger since July 2007, also enjoyed his experience visiting with troops.
"Being able to hang out with these guys was great," Murphy said. "I'm very fortunate to get to play for a living, but these guys put their lives on the line so I can play baseball. If we lose a game, we get to wake up the next morning, but if they lose, it's a lot more devastating."
Murphy was a member of the Boston Red Sox system from 2003 to July 2007, and earned a 2007 World Series ring for playing with the MLB version of the organization for four days. But now that he's a Ranger, there's one thing Murphy does not do.
"I don't wear the ring," he said. "I want to win one with the Rangers."
Murphy is one of four native Texans on the Rangers' 40-man roster. He also spent all of his amateur days in the state, playing for Klein High School in suburban Houston and Baylor in college.
"It's a dream come true to play for the Rangers," Murphy said. "I grew up a fan of the (Houston) Astros, and it would've been cool to play for them, but the Rangers have a great organization and they treat us well."
Like Murphy, Teagarden is a native Texan, but he also is a hometown hero in that he grew up in the Dallas area.
He attended Carrollton Creekview in high school and played college ball at the University of Texas, where he guided the 2005 Longhorns to the College World Series championship.
"It's a honor to get to play for the same team I grew up watching," Teagarden said. "I remember coming to The Ballpark (in Arlington) to see (Ivan) Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rusty Greer play and lead the team to division titles. This is all I can ask for as an athlete, to play for my hometown team."
The Rangers' last American League West Division crown came in 1999, but they were knocked out of the postseason by the Yankees in the wild-card round. Teagarden thinks the Rangers can get back to the postseason if one thing occurs.
"Our pitching has to come through," Teagarden said. "We can hit and score runs with very little problem, but we need our young arms to come through. We have some good young pitchers who can make a difference."
Speaking of pitching, Nadel thinks the development of the Rangers' young arms is going to peak soon.
"We have a whole new strength and conditioning system for our pitchers, and we're doing a good job of developing the pitchers we already have," Nadel said.
Nadel also is excited about some of the young prospects who are coming up in the organization whether they're on the Rangers or in the farm system.
"We had a stretch in the late 1990s where we won division championships, and we feel that we're on the way back to success," Nadel said. "We have a strong farm system, drafted some good players, traded some veteran players for younger prospects and tapped our resources in Latin America well."
The Rangers start the season April 6, against Cleveland.