Feliz, Ogando, Strop share strong kinship
Rangers pitchers' bond based on humor, heritage
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The phone in Neftali Feliz's hotel room rings every morning between 6:30 and 7.
It usually rings once before he answers it, and it's always teammate Alexi Ogando calling from his nearby room.
"Hello? I'm up, I'm up," Feliz says. "I've been up. Call Strop."
Two minutes later, Feliz's phone rings again. He doesn't bother to say "Hello," because he knows it's teammate Pedro Strop.
"Yes, yes, I'm up, I'm up. I've been up," Feliz says. "I don't know. What time do you want to go the park? Call Ogando."
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Feliz waits the 10 minutes it normally takes for Ogando to talk to Strop. Every phone call between Strop and Ogando takes at least 10 minutes. Feliz guesses eight of those 10 minutes are spent joking around. The final two minutes of a conversation between Ogando and Strop usually determines the next course of action.
Feliz's phone rings again.
"Let's leave the hotel soon," Ogando, 27, says. "We'll eat breakfast at the stadium. Strop says we better drive our own cars, because we don't think that over-sized head of yours can fit with us. It's not safe to have that much weight on one side of the car."
They burst into laughter. It's never too early for Ogando to joke about the size of Feliz's noggin, Feliz to joke about the shape of Ogando's head or both to make cracks about Strop's cooking.
If Ogando, Strop and Feliz are not joking with each other, it's because they haven't seen each other yet. The pitchers are more than just teammates; they consider themselves brothers, and it's this brotherhood that keeps them sane during the sometimes crazy and always grueling six weeks of Spring Training. It's also this brotherhood that they will remember long after their playing days are over.
Not surprisingly, all three players have the same Mohawk-style haircut.
"We have a lot in common as people," Strop, 25, said. "We have the same sense of humor, and we're always laughing. We watch out for each other. For example, if one of us goes to a restaurant, we always bring the other ones food back. Everyone always has a ride and things like that."
Ogando is considered the joker of the trio, but how he arrived in Texas is no laughing matter. The right-hander, along with fellow pitcher Omar Beltre, was involved in a human trafficking ring in the Dominican Republic. In 2005, both were forbidden from entering the United States for five years. The ban ended last year, but talking to Ogando, it's almost as if the experience took place a lifetime ago. His sense of humor has stayed intact.
"Ogando has a joke for everything; I mean, everything," Strop said. "He's always doing things to make us laugh. We're never bored when he is around."
That sense of humor is on display every morning at the table in the middle of the Texas clubhouse, where Ogando, Feliz, and Strop play cards or dominoes before the day's workout. Right fielder Nelson Cruz and right-hander Yhency Brazoban sometimes join the festivities. Shortstop Elvis Andrus and center fielder Julio Borbon are always nearby.
"If you ask me, I'll say Feliz and Strop are the funny ones, but if you asked Strop, he would say me and Feliz are the clowns," Ogando said. "Feliz would say Strop and I are funny. I think we all just like to laugh and have a good time. That's our nature; [it's] why we are so close."
For the record, Ogando said his face and the shape of his head are in perfect proportion to the rest of his body. He says you can't say the same thing about Feliz and Strop.
"I'm the oldest, but we treat each other like we are the same age," Ogando said. "We're different, but we're the same."
Ogando is right. Strop is the chef of the group. He makes chicken, or he cooks beef almost nightly, and he does it with a Dominican Republic flavor. He also makes the rice. Boy, can Strop make the rice.
"We love it. I'm not saying we don't like his rice," Ogando said. "But if people start liking burnt rice, he can open a restaurant and make a lot of money selling it -- more than in baseball. No, Strop is a good cook, like a pro."
Feliz's silent grin speaks volumes. It always does. He appreciates Strop's homestyle efforts; it's just that some days he appreciates it more than others.
"You really can't get Dominican food here unless you make it at home," Feliz said. "Strop is a good cook, very good. But it's better when you are hungry. When you are hungry, it's delicious."
Feliz, the pitching prodigy, is the most successful pitcher of the group. From the surface, he appears to be the most soft-spoken. He offers pitching tips when asked, but he's not one to offer unsolicited advice. Feliz is only 22, but he's old enough to know that he still has plenty to learn about the game. Yes, baseball is a big part of Feliz's life, but it's not the only thing in his life. When he's around his buddies, Feliz likes to chat about his family and their beloved Dominican Republic. He also talks about what movies he wants to see when the Rangers return to Arlington to start the regular season.
"Having them here helps, because you feel like you have family with you all of the time," Feliz said. "It relaxes you. You feel a little more comfortable and you're calm, because you feel like you are at home. You feel your culture around you."
Feliz, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, can also dish and take a joke with the best of them, his friends say. On Sunday, Feliz was knocked on his back after being hit on the left shin by a comebacker while throwing live batting practice. He was fine, but knows it's only a matter of time before Ogando and Strop give him a hard time for laying spread-eagle across the mound for several minutes, until Rangers manager Ron Washington arrived on the scene and he popped right up.
"These guys, we're going to be friends forever," Ogando said. "They are family. We are triplets, like the Three Musketeers -- three and a half, if you count Feliz's head."