The Texas Rangers are currently in first place of Major League Baseball’s American League West division. And the focus for starting shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler is on helping them stay there and further add to their cushion.
However, come next weekend, when they aren’t playing or getting ready for games, Andrus and Kinsler will be keeping up with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Both played soccer in their earlier days, and each Ranger continues to revere the beautiful game.
“After I signed [my pro contract], they didn’t let me play soccer [anymore],” Andrus said. “But I used to play soccer all the time. I really loved playing. It’s a big thing for me. When I have the time to watch it, I’ll do it. I love the game.”
Even though Andrus is from Venezuela, who is not in this year’s field, he still has one team he is rooting for.
“It’s got to be Brazil—I always cheer for them,” the 21-year-old shortstop said. “They are the team to beat in the World Cup. To me, they’re the best team in the world. I got my Brazil shirt already, so any time Brazil plays, I will wear that.”
Kinsler’s loyalties however lie a bit closer to home. He also couldn’t resist taking a playful jab at his young teammate.
“I’m going to root for Team USA,” he said. “I’m probably going to say Portugal is my favorite to win it. I don’t think Venezuela is even in it, so I don’t know what you’re going to talk to Elvis [Andrus] about. He’ll probably root for Brazil. It’s a fun event. The whole world watches it. It’s the most viewed sporting event.”
An Arizona native, Kinsler is a big fan of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. However, even he admits that the Super Bowl has nothing on the World Cup when it comes to fan interest.
“I don’t think it’s close," he said. "I think the World Cup is 10 times more popular."
The 2008 All-Star also elaborated on exactly why he loves watching soccer.
“I just think it is more of a beautiful game,” Kinsler said. “It’s been around a lot longer. It takes a little more skill, a little more thinking maybe. It’s a little more of a chess match on the field. American football is a chess match off the field. The coaches are trying to figure out how to beat schemes and do stuff like that. You don’t really have that opportunity in soccer—it’s continuous movement. You’re trying to figure out how to beat the other team while you’re on the field moving."
Andrus and Kinsler aren’t the only soccer fans on the Rangers as a number of teammates, particularly those also from Venezuela, also enjoy the beautiful game.
“Most of the other Venezuelan guys like Max [Ramirez] and [Andres] Blanco, they like soccer—it’s a big thing for them,” Andrus said. “My country loves it the same way they love baseball. It’s great. I always enjoy it. I’d rather watch soccer games than baseball games.”
One thing both starters are waiting on is a World Cup pool to surface in the clubhouse.
“I don’t know [if we’re having one or not],” Kinsler said. “We haven’t been a very big pool team this year. We don’t really have anyone that’s interested in running it. We had the Masters. I think [Darren] O’Day did that. We’ll see if he does the World Cup. It’s going to be tough to throw a pool together.”
For a night baseball game, the players usually arrive at the stadium no later than 2 p.m. While that schedule might preclude watching some games in the afternoon, at least for Kinsler, it gives him a chance to catch some of the earlier matches.
"It’s kind of tough [watching the afternoon games]," Kinsler said. "They do a pretty good job of timing it in the middle of the day for my schedule. There are a lot of games in the middle of the day. You might not get to see a whole match but you can sit down and watch parts of games.”
The Ranger second baseman also offered his take on how Bob Bradley’s U.S. squad might fare.
“They’ll do all right," he said. "I think they have some momentum going. They played well in that last big tournament [the Confederations Cup].
"They have a long way to go but I think they can surprise people. The odds are probably against them but I do think they have a good team. They’re going to play hard. They’re going to play physical. We’ll see what happens.”