Reporting Eric Thomas
By: Bruce Rondon
Bruce Rondon has now slipped back into the role of projected closer, but last week’s dust up could be worrisome. In fact, the entire Rondon question is an interesting study on where the Tigers are as an organization. If last year holds true, this fan base does not have the patience.
Too bad because Rondon could be the real deal. He throws blistering heat. When he’s on, he pounds the strike zone. There’s little to no tape on him.
The risks are obvious. He misses the plate at times. He needs a steady coaching hand, one that is away from the fire of public scorn. He needs a forgiving fan base that will cheer him and forgive him when he messes up. He’s never pitched in the majors and he’s going to need patience, but his “upside,” a term overused in sports but certainly fitting here, is massive.
Tigers have time. The AL Central is still weak, and they had a good off-season. They’re strong at almost every position on the field and have a coveted prospect in case of emergency. The Tigers have never been more poised to win a championship. Before you bring up 2008, the pitching staff is much better than that year. If Rondon struggles ten or even twenty outings, who cares?
The fans need to give Rondon room to mess up, but so does the front office. The most worrisome part of the Tiger mini meltdown last week was the fact it came from the team, some hoarse whispers about the market for closers. They shouldn’t panic now, they shouldn’t panic until June. They need to keep calm; fans need to turn down the heat.
One of the best things about being in the AL Central, especially in the last two years, is the last month. The Tigers accelerated in the last month, the chance to spar with meatballs. They can wash off dirt and erase a lot mistakes they made through the course of the season.
Fans need to understand their crucial role they play in Rondon’s development. “Ninety percent of the game is half mental,” said Yogi Berra. When the fan base supports someone, it gives them confidence. If you stand behind a player and keep clapping on the face of adversity, they can sometimes navigate the choppy waters. This may sound like syrupy sweet suggestion to a cynical sports fan, along with that it’s roughly the same way audiences keep Tinker-bell alive, it’s part of the home field advantage.
Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s fine to boo and fine to get on guys. Last year, Tiger fans were intent on running certain players out of town and they deserved it. It’s possible that the new closer could pick up baggage he isn’t due. Bruce Rondon is not Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde or even Todd Jones. He should not have to pay for the problems of his predecessor. Valverde was a veteran who should be held to a higher standard.
It’s understandable to be frustrated. It’s World Series or bust this year and there are 174 games between now and then. There are so many bear traps to be avoided. There will be late nights and Rolaids moments; Rondon is a great mystery. He has the tools to be great but Tiger fans must loosen the leash. Fans need to understand their part in this process. On Rondon, success could be crowd sourced. Do fans and management have the patience to swallow their fist?