Edinson Volquez cherishes his memories of this place, the pitchers’ hell formerly known as Ameriquest Field in Arlington.
The Texas Rangers shepherded him as a teenaged prospect from the Dominican Republic who became one of the most prized arms in baseball. The development involved the instillation of discipline, the seasoning of routine and the snip of a barber’s shears.
Even a decade ago, Volquez possessed the mirthful spirit he still exhibits as a member of the Royals. One day during spring training in 2005, Rangers officials informed him he needed to shave his dreadlocks to conform to their minor-league policy. Volquez sensed an opportunity.
Earlier in camp, veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joaquin Benoit scolded him about his hair. So Volquez asked Padilla, who was unaware of the team’s edict, how much he would pay for Volquez’s haircut. Padilla offered $300. Volquez balked, only to see Benoit double the bid.
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“I was like ‘$600? I can do it for $600!’ ” Volquez said Monday, a day before he would face his old club at this stadium, now christened Globe Life Park in Arlington. “And I did it. I took the money, and I got my hair cut.”
Did he pay them back?
Volquez shook his head and cackled.
He crops his hair close to his scalp these days. Volquez’s hairline drifts backward, a nod to the years that have passed since he swindled his veteran teammates. Now he is the veteran, two months away from his 32nd birthday, a survivor of Tommy John surgery, a broken pitcher resurrected last season in Pittsburgh — and now one of Kansas City’s most reliable starters early in 2015.
Volquez, 2-3 with a 2.65 ERA, leads the Royals in innings. He owns the lowest ERA among the five original members of the starting rotation. A blister burst on his right thumb and shortened his last outing to only three innings. Manager Ned Yost expressed confidence Volquez will not be affected on Tuesday, despite the gnarly wound his hand sported last week.
“Did you see his thumb?” Yost said. “You ought see it now. It’s gone. The trainers. I don’t know how they did it. I had to double-look. I checked his other thumb.”
A bandage covered the thumb when Volquez threw his bullpen session between starts. He did not experience much discomfort. He hopes the condition will not deter him as he pitches in the ballpark he once called home.
Volquez made his big-league debut here on Aug. 30, 2005. He was 22 years old. Scouts and teammates compared him to Pedro Martinez, his countrymen, because of Volquez’s electric fastball and jitterbug change-up.
Yet Volquez never gained traction in Texas. During three seasons as a Ranger, before the team traded him to Cincinnati for future American League MVP Josh Hamilton, Volquez went 3-11 with a 7.20 ERA.
Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu served the same position on Texas’ staff during those years. He later coached in Oakland. He often wonders about how the conditions of a home stadium affect the development of young pitchers. The roomy confines of O.co Coliseum were far more forgiving, he realized, than the launching pad in Arlington. Especially for a pitcher like Volquez.
“He was a hard thrower, left a lot of balls up in the zone, got hurt,” Wakamatsu said. “You just view guys with totally different lens. Because if he was doing that in Oakland, he might have been 10-1. In Texas, he might have been 1-10. He’s just a product of his environment.”
Volquez made the National League All-Star team during his first season in Cincinnati. Then he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, underwent Tommy John surgery and spent years searching for stability in his delivery. He rediscovered it in Pittsburgh in 2014.
A year later, the Royals are the beneficiaries of Volquez’s decade in development. Volquez never starred for these Rangers. But his experiences here forged his future.
“I’m so happy to come back here and think about, I was 21 years old and part of this team, this organization,” Volquez said. “I’m really glad they gave me an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.”