I wanted to sit down with these guys because of the Venezuelan connection, the middle infield connection, and the importance of having a mentor. Guilder (pronounced "WHEEL-dair") has been in AA since 2005, and in Frisco since 2009. I can say that in my experience, he is one of the nicest, most professional minor league players I've ever encountered. A constant name being bandied about with regards to "future manager", or "potential coach", even "Latin America scout", 30 year-old Guilder has a leadership presence that is instantly recognizable. The other two players have a combined age of 39...so they could probably use some bumpers in their life-lanes.
I can't imagine anyone reading this who isn't already familiar with Roogie and Sardi, so I'll spare you much background on them, but I will say they electrified the Frisco team immediately upon their August 1st arrival. Off the field, Roogie has a very polite intensity to him. He is a "yes sir, no sir" kid to nearly everyone. We chatted in the dugout and he sat perched on the top of the bench, very near the edge with his legs open and bouncing. Hunched over, listening intensely, he held a bat by the handle, as if a pitch was coming into the dugout...for the entire conversation.
Sardi is much more laid-back. If you've seen him play, you know Luis is a glider. His English is coming along, though it might be lagging just a bit behind Roogie's at this point. He smiles incessantly and is soft-spoken. I may be wrong, but I think the smile belies a reticence to jump into a situation feet first. Luis is the type of guy who walks back and forth on the dock, staring at the dark lake water for 10 minutes before assertively easing himself in. Roogie asks somebody he barely knows how deep the water is, thinks about it for 5 seconds, then leaps in via screaming cannonball.
I'm not sure, but I think this is one of the first interviews the two youngsters have given without a translator, though Guilder helped out occasionally. Our chat was entirely in English, so understand some of the brevity of the questions and the answers. There were lots of "ehhs" and "uhhs" that surely accompany anyone gaining comfort with their second language. Giving interviews in English is going to be part of the job for these youngsters over the next few years, and I'm willing to bet, it's going to be a part of Guilder's life for years to come as well. Oh, yeah, also, my normal qualifier: if you're looking for hard hitting interviews this ain't it. We're going to talk about Whataburger.
So these kids are here, from Venezuela to learn the game and to perform it at it's highest level. But they're not alone. They've got Guilder.
Miguel Cabrera or Omar Vizquel?
Guilder: Used to be Omar, now the kids wanna be Miggy. All Miggy.
Why are there so many great middle infielders from Venezuela?
Guilder: You'll think it's funny, but I think it's because all Latin guys dance salsa. These guys can move and the key to playing shortstop is to move you're feet.
As a kid, nobody wants to play outfield?
Guilder: No. Everybody wants to play shortstop.
[to Roogie] What do you do in the on-deck circle? (he has a routine, you'll just have to see for yourself one day)
Roogie: [asks Guilder in Spanish for the English translation of a word that makes him smile broadly] "It's superstition. Yes, superstition. It's the sign of the cross [in the dirt], then two times [he hits himself in the helmet with his bat...twice]
And in the batters box? You guys both draw 2 lines lines with the nob of the bat.
Roogie: This is just for our feet. To put our feet in the same place. [Sardi smiles and nods in confirmation]
[to Guilder] If you can teach these guys one thing this year, what is the most important thing for you to teach them?
Guilder: Be professional. Be professional. Because these guys represent our organization, Texas Rangers on the field, off the field, everywhere. Be professional.
Which do you like more, RBI double or a diving play in the field?
Roogie: Both [he answered this in about half a second and I laughed, but he really didn't]
What are your plans for this winter?
[this question was for the kids, Guilder plays every year in the Venezuelan Winter League for his hometown Cardenales. 2013 will be his 14th season with them]
Roogie: I don't know yet, going to instructs for a few days, then they tell me what I can do after that.
Sardi: the same.
What is the #1 Venezuelan food you miss when you are here?
Roogie: #1? Carne Asada. It's good here, but it's different at home. Carne asada, yes, for sure.
Sardi: Oh, traditional plate. Black beans, meat, rice.
When you are in Venezuela, what is the American food you will miss the most? Don't say Chipotle.
Roogie: [laughing because he was likely going to say Chipotle]
Sardi: [lauging very hard] Whataburger. So good.
Roogie: Oh, I know! Panda. Panda Express!
Do you try and learn situational hitting? What is your 2 strike approach?
Roogie: My two strike approach is to shorten up, and to open my foot a little bit more. I think about hitting the ball to the middle of the field or left field.
Sardi: I think I have the same approach [with 2 strikes]. Just try to put the ball in the middle of the field and put the good part of the bat on it.
What is the one part of your game you want to improve?
Roogie: Fielding. I can improve there a lot.
Sardi: Doing the little things. Like bunts. Like hitting the ball the other way. Like hitting the ball in the air sometimes and on the ground sometimes.
Guilder can hit any pitch. What is the hardest pitch for you guys to hit?
Roogie: For me? Changeup. Because it's like a fastball, you start thinking fastball, your eyes tell you fastball. [Sardi agrees]
[to Guilder] Can you teach them to recognize changeups or is that something you just learn through time?
You teach the approach, the balance. The key for this pitch is the balance. If you stay balanced, you can see the changeup. Before you swing, you can keep your hands back and wait for a changeup. You look for a fastball every time, but if you have a good approach and stay balanced, you can wait for the changeup. Keep your hands back when you see it's not a fastball, then explode on the pitch.
What position did you play growing up?
Guilder: Always second base.
Sardi: I played 3B and I played catcher for only 1 year. I represent Venezuela in a tournament one time at catcher.
[to Sardi] Do you want to play catcher again?
Sardi: No. No. No.
Brothers or sisters?
Sardi: two brothers- younger. Two sisters- older. All in Venezuela
[to Roogie] I have seen your younger brother. I want Texas to sign him
Roogie: Yeah, he is in Miami right now. Training with the same guys I trained with before I signed. He can sign next year in July.
If you get to the Major Leagues, who is the one person you want to see in the stands in your first game?
Sardi: My mother and my father. For sure.
Roogie: My father. He taught me the game. He hit baseballs to me everyday since I was small. He came once to Spokane, but not Hickory or Myrtle Beach.
Guilder: My father. He has never seen me play in America.
[to Guilder] Do they come to your games in Venezuela?
Guilder: Oh, everyday. Every game. My brother played in the big leagues 4 or 5 years ago, my father didn't have an opportunity to see him because he had a heart attack that year and the doctors told him he couldn't travel. So if I make it, this is why I would want him to see it. But he goes to every game for Cardenales.
At this point we made small talk about Rafic Saab (the scout who signed both Roogie and Sardi) and the most recent Felix Hernandez shelling by the Rangers. I told the guys that was all I had, and to stay healthy. Guilder stood first, shook my hand, and said, "Thanks, very great to talk to you." And Roogie and Sardi followed...by doing nearly exactly the same thing. Probably a good idea for them to do lots of things Guilder does.