Cruz makes return to Texas a memorable one
O's slugger receives warm reception from fans, hits three-run homer
ARLINGTON -- A young boy and his father sat side-by-side hours before the first pitch at Globe Life Park on Tuesday night -- Texas hats on their heads, Baltimore jerseys on their bodies.
Though they looked conflicting, the two were unified in their love for left fielder Nelson Cruz -- an eight-season Ranger turned Oriole this season after choosing free agency over a $14.1 million qualifying offer from Texas last winter.
As the Orioles warmed up for the first of their three games in Arlington, Cruz began to jog down the left-field line en route to his dugout -- the visiting one.
The boy began to scream his name, begging for an autograph.
Love. That's what Cruz said he was hoping he'd receive heading into his first matchup with his old team -- and as he signed that young boy's baseball, that's just what he got.
Just a few hours later he'd send his Major League-leading 21st home run of the season over the left-field fence, a three-run shot in the eighth inning of Baltimore's 8-3 victory.
"It was kind of weird. It was kind of like one of my first days in the big leagues," said Cruz. "Everything was going fast, but after the first at-bat, you try to stay in the moment and stay focused."
Cruz's Texas career started when he was acquired in a trade with Milwaukee in 2006, and it wrapped up with a .268 batting average, 157 home runs and a 50-game suspension by the league for violating MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
"That was a more difficult time in my life," Cruz said. "But like I said, everything I went through -- all that -- it helped me be the player that I am right now. You just try to stay in the present and leave all this stuff behind me."
The one thing he didn't leave behind? His teammates.
When Cruz arrived in town Monday night, he reunited with Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who went 3-for-4 with a home run of his own in the series opener. By Tuesday afternoon, Cruz was in the Rangers clubhouse looking for his old friends.
"It's nice to see him," Beltre said. "We talked a little bit, and it's nice to see him doing well. Hopefully he doesn't do too much damage to us."
With the exception of the home run, Cruz had a relatively quiet night, going 1-for-4 with a walk, two flyouts, and a groundout. The outfielder said he experienced some cramping in his leg, beginning in the fourth inning.
"It was bad," said Cruz, who had to convince manager Buck Showalter from the on-deck circle to let him stay in the game and hit in the eighth inning. "I wanted to take my last at-bat and hopefully get something going. The game was tied [2-2] going into that inning."
Cruz rewarded his skipper's faith by padding his big league-leading RBI total to 55.
While Showalter, also Cruz's first manager in Texas, certainly understood the emotions that came with Cruz traveling back to Arlington, he commended Cruz for staying focused in his approach.
"I thought tonight he was real calm. He was real confident in terms of knowing what he's got to do," Showalter said. "He didn't let them take him out of the strike zone."
Cruz said the decision to leave Arlington was the right one for him personally and that he's in a good place mentally.
But as he went through the motions of a visitor in the same place that used to be his home, he couldn't fight off the flood of memories.
"I cannot be more thankful for the Rangers," Cruz said. "They gave me a chance to be a Major League player. The owner, the coaches -- they taught me how to play baseball and how to be a professional. I cannot be more thankful."
Grace Raynor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.