Half an hour before batting practice at the Dell Diamond, three figures emerge from the shaded dugout to the 95-degree heat of the field. They head to the batters boxes to get in a few swings before the rest of the team arrives. Willie Calhoun’s blond curls easily identify him as the first to step into the box. Coach Jason Wood throws batting practice as Calhoun and teammate Scott Heineman alternate taking cuts and teasing the other.
Batting practice starts and the two outfielders jog over to left field to shag fly balls. Before coming to Texas in the Yu Darvish trade, Calhoun had only 11 professional starts in the outfield, now his primary position. The transition to outfield has been the main reason he isn’t crushing big league pitching with the Rangers yet this year.
After playing 11 games with the Rangers in 2017, Calhoun wanted to prove he could do better in his 2018 big league campaign. So far, he hasn’t gotten his opportunity.
“I’m just looking to come out here and have fun every day. I can only worry about the things I can control, and just let it all play out,” said Calhoun.
This season has challenged Willie Calhoun. Through two months his OPS is below .700, while his career average OPS is .844.
It doesn’t worry him. Calhoun says this is how he’s started every season in the minors and that he heats up late in the year.
“For the last 3 years I’ve always had power. It’s there, I’m just not hitting the pitches I should hit,” Calhoun said. “I’m focused on getting to that pitch and being able to do some damage; I feel like if I get the pitches I want to hit I’ll be there.”
To prove his point, Calhoun hit a double to centerfield that night off a former MLB pitcher. Though he’s not in the MLB this year, his time with the veterans last season and in spring training taught him valuable lessons.
He said seeing how the big leaguers go about their day showed him how hard they work at every part of their game. Seeing them give 100% effort rubs off and definitely becomes a part of your game.
Giving maximum effort every day can exhaust a person, if they’re not careful. Finding a reprieve from baseball every so often is necessary for prospects, and Willie Calhoun found his outlet for relaxation.
“I love Fortnite, it gives you an outlet to take you away from the game, a little disconnect,” Calhoun said. “Everybody needs that; you can’t be locked in on baseball 24/7.”
Calhoun says he’s not the only Round Rock player to find his escape through the Battle Royal video game Fortnite. Sometimes they even play together. Having this avenue to avoid burning out on baseball is important for a player that works as hard as Willie Calhoun.
Though he’s not yet hitting homers off Justin Verlander this year, Calhoun is working every day to become the player Texas envisioned when trading for him. If he keeps this up, it won’t be long before Willie Calhoun is back crushing home runs in Arlington.
“I just try to be myself and go out there giving 100%, I’ve just got to be making sure I’m having fun; that’s the biggest thing for me,” said Calhoun.