He was a spark plug. The igniter, as manager Ron Washington liked to call him. When Ian Kinsler was at his best -- finding ways to get on base, harassing opposing pitchers with his speed once he got there, and even belting some early-game, momentum-building home runs -- the Texas Rangers' offense just seemed to follow. It was trickle-down offensive fireworks and it helped the Rangers get to consecutive World Series.
Now, Kinsler will try to do that in Detroit. He's a Tiger. And he didn't have a say in the matter. The Tigers weren't on Kinsler's limited no-trade list, so his approval wasn't necessary. But trading him wasn't easy. The Rangers needed power and presence in the lineup and they get a big bundle of both with Prince Fielder. So Kinsler was the means to getting that bat to Arlington.
"I’ll miss the excitement that he brought every single night," Washington said. "I’ll miss his leadership in the clubhouse, leadership on the field. He was a gamer. He showed up every day and represented what the Texas Rangers were all about and what we were trying to do."
He leaves as a testament to the club's scouting and development and how critical is it to a successful franchise. He was taken in the 17th round in 2003 and the pick didn't make headlines. Mike Grouse, the area scout in the midwest, liked Kinsler's attitude and grit as much or more than his offensive or defensive skills. Kinsler wasn't a "wow" player, but he was scrappy and solid. Grouse voiced his opinion and the Rangers made the selection.
It didn't take long for Kinsler, who finished his collegiate career at Missouri, to make his mark in the minors, working his way through the system. He made his big league debut in 2006 after a full season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit .286 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs as a rookie and never left the majors. In the process, he made friends with Michael Young, who recognized that Kinsler had tons of potential and could grow into a leader.
"When he first came up he was like my little brother," Young said via text on Wednesday. "Now, he's one of my best friends. He meant so much to this team and this community. He's a great player and teammate. Tiger fans are going to love him."
Kinsler represented a homegrown player who was drafted and developed by the Rangers and became a mainstay in the lineup and on the field. He had plenty of memorable moments in a Rangers uniform. He blasted a tone-setting home run to lead off Game 4 of the American League Division Series in 2011 in Tampa Bay, a game the Rangers won to move on to the championship series. He had three homers in the ALDS in 2010 as well, including one late in Game 5 to effectively seal the club's first playoff series win. He turned a memorable double play in Game 2 of the World Series in St. Louis, a game the Rangers won late to tie the series. And he hit for the cycle on April 15, 2009, wearing No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Kinsler got his share of criticism from fans, especially when slumps would lead to popups or struggles with runners in scoring position. But I always believed the criticism was because Kinsler was so important to the entire offense working that, when he slumped, it seemed that often so did many of his teammates. His value never seemed fully understood until he was on the disabled list and the offense wasn't clicking.
He leaves with an impressive Rangers legacy as one of the key members of the franchise's most successful run. He also leaves, if you ask me, as one of the more underappreciated athletes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He'll be missed.