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Oct 17, 2014 1:54 PM

Baseball lifer Banister home as Rangers manager

The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Jeff Banister is a baseball lifer who calls Texas home. He grew up there and played his entire amateur career there before getting drafted.

Now the former catcher who got a pinch-hit single in his only major league at-bat, who was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down after a home-plate collision in junior college and who overcame bone cancer with multiple surgeries in high school is a big-league manager in the Lone Star State.

Banister was introduced Friday as the new manager of the Texas Rangers after 29 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a player, coach and instructor at all levels.

"The best opportunities to come along are the ones you're not looking for," Banister said. "Have I prepared myself for this opportunity? Yeah, from the day that I stopped playing until now, I've truly dreamed and wanted to and tried to. I got to a point in my life that I told myself that I wasn't going to chase it. If it happened, it happened."

The 50-year-old Banister, who lives in the Houston area, was the bench coach the past four seasons for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose only season as the Rangers' hitting coach was when they went to their first World Series in 2010. Banister's introduction came six weeks after manager Ron Washington's resignation for personal reasons.

Texas gave Banister a three-year contract with an option for a fourth season. The injury-ravaged Rangers are coming off a 67-95 season, their worst since 1985, after reaching the World Series in 2010-2011 and becoming a trendy postseason pick each year.

Banister got the job ahead of two other finalists, interim manager Tim Bogar and Cleveland Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash.

Another of the eight candidates interviewed for the job was Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who Banister met with Friday morning. He has also spoken with Bogar, the Rangers first-year bench coach who went 14-8 as interim manager, and hitting coach Dave Magadan. He didn't get into specifics on plans for his staff.

"It's a process that all of us are going through at this time," Banister said. "Out of respect for the process, I will just leave it that we have had some conversations."

Banister was born in Oklahoma, but went to high school, junior college and college in Texas before getting drafted in the 25th round by the Pirates in 1986. The Rangers believe he is the first manager in club history to attend high school or college in the state.

While in high school in 1980, Banister had seven operations on his left ankle and leg for bone cancer and an infection of the bone or bone marrow. The temporary paralysis happened while playing for Baytown Junior College in 1983.

"The impact is I don't take any day for granted. When I wake up every morning and put my feet on the floor or I sit up in the bed, I thank God I have another day," said Banister, the son of two educators. "I understand perseverance, I understand what hard work means, that pain is one of those things we're given to let us know we're alive from time to time."

Banister said much of his passion for the game stems from nights in a hospital bed when he couldn't get up, but could dream and think and challenge himself that he would play again.

"It gave me joy in a time when there was no joy," he said. "That burning desire, that internal fire that burns inside of me to have success to pass on, to push forward, was melded a long time ago in a couple of different hospitals."

His coaching career began as a player-coach with Double-A Carolina in 1993, and his first managerial job was in the New York-Penn League in 1994. He had a 299-330 record in five seasons as a minor league manager, before serving as field coordinator for the Pirates from 1999-2002 and then as the club's minor league field coordinator for eight years after that.

In 515 games in Pittsburgh's minor league system from 1986-93, he was a .247 hitter. In his only major league appearance, he got a hit on July 23, 1991, and the most emotional he got Friday was when he was asked about that.

"There are a group of people who prop you up and take care of you, try to motivate you on a daily basis it's tough to be motivated," he said. "To be able to walk into a major league game when everybody told you that you couldn't, you shouldn't, you wouldn't ... now you get an opportunity to do it, it happens, you're on top of the mountain for one day, one moment in time and you carry those people with you, it's the best thank you that you can give. That's what it meant."


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