State of mind: Texas duo seeks unique status
Cunningham, Beliveau could become first Rangers from Alaska, Rhode Island
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There have been 129 players born in California who have played for the Rangers and another 68 from Texas. Bert Blyleven and Rikkert Faneyte were born in Holland, Andruw Jones and Jurickson Profar are natives of Curacao and if infielder Jeff Baker makes the team, he will join Craig Lefferts as the only two Rangers ever born in Germany.
Then there is pitcher Jeff Bronkey, who remains the only Rangers player -- actually the only Major Leaguer ever -- to be born in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Rangers still haven't had a player who was born in either Africa or Australia -- or Antartica for that matter -- but otherwise players have come from across the country and around the globe just to play in Arlington.
Almost. The Rangers have had players who were born in 46 of 50 states. Four remain unrepresented, including the biggest one and the smallest one. The Rangers have never had a player born in either Alaska or Rhode Island, but they might sweep both off the board this season, with New Mexico and Idaho remaining.
Reliever Jeff Beliveau is from Rhode Island and outfielder Aaron Cunningham was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and they each have a chance to make geographical history for the Rangers.
"Yeah, I'd like to be able to say that," said Beliveau, a left-hander who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs in the offseason and has yet to give up a run this spring.
"Obviously I want to be the first," Cunningham said. "It's always good to be the first at something."
It might be a bigger deal for Beliveau than Cunningham. Beliveau was born, raised and still lives in the Ocean State. Cunningham doesn't have quite the same attachment to the Last Frontier.
"I was born in Alaska, but we moved away when I was about 5," Cunningham said. "I really don't claim Alaska that much. I still have family who live up there, but I haven't been back. I'm going to have to go up there one day. I've snuck into Canada a few times."
Cunningham, who has played with the Athletics, Padres and Indians before signing a Minor League deal with the Rangers this winter, is one of 11 players from Alaska who have reached the big leagues. The most famous is Curt Schilling, who was also born in Anchorage but didn't live there very long."
"I don't think many guys stay there long," Cunningham said. "Both sides of my family are from there. Every person in my family lived up there, but they've moved out over the course of time and spread out across the U.S. My dad was not in the military, so I'm not sure why we lived up there. My dad is from California and my mom is from Seattle. I never asked them why we lived up there."
That doesn't mean Cunningham doesn't have a strong love of geography. His family ended up moving to Port Orchard, Wa., a town of 11,144 across Puget Sound from Seattle, located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the shadow of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains..
"It's a really pretty area," Cunningham said. "We lived right down by the water, and we have a panoramic view of downtown Seattle. I love Seattle."
He loves Seattle so much that he has a spectacular tattoo of the Seattle skyline etched on his left shoulder and biceps. The Pacific Northwest is not considered a hotbed of baseball talent, but South Kitsap has produced Cunningham, pitcher Jason Hammel, infielder Willie Bloomquist and outfielder Jason Ellison. Cunningham was on the South Kitsap team that won a state title in 2003.
"Four Major League players from one school, that's not too bad," Cunningham said.
That's certainly better than any high school in Alaska. But South Kitsap would be hard to match up with Bishop Hendricken, the all-male college preparatory school in Warwick R.I. The school has dominated Rhode Island athletics with over 250 state championships in 14 sports. Rocco Baldelli played there and so did Beliveau, who was the Rhode Island High School Baseball Player of the Year in 2005.
Beliveau still lives in the nearby town of Johnston and has a strong attachment to his home state.
"It's really great in the spring and the summer," Beliveau said. "Unfortunately that's the time of year I miss because I'm playing baseball. I get the winter mix and the snow. But it's a great state."
Rhode Island has a more significant baseball heritage than Alaska, which has sent 11 players to the Major Leagues. Beliveau is one of 75 players from Rhode Island who have made the Majors, and the list includes Hall of Famers Nap Lajoie, Hugh Duffy and Gabby Hartnett.
"The only problem is in the winter you have to work out indoors," Beliveau said. "But I've been going to the Rhode Island Baseball Institute since I was 7 years old. It's either that or playing catch in a basketball gym, and that's not too much fun.
"The Rhode Island Baseball Institute is like a big warehouse, and former Major League players are instructors there. When I was young, I was on an AAU team and we would play teams from Massachusetts and New York. We looked at ourselves as the underdogs because we were from the smallest state. But we would do pretty well against the other teams. My high school team was in the Top 25 in the country."
Playing at the Rhode Island Baseball Institute helped Beliveau get some valuable exposure, and he ended up being able to escape the New England winters. He pitched collegiately at the College of Charleston and Florida Atlantic University and was an 18th-round pick by the Cubs in 2005. He pitched in 22 games for the Cubs last season, making his Major League debut on July 22.
When it was over, he was right back in Rhode Island to do his work at the Institute. Hammel is another regular there. The former South Kitsap star's wife, Elissa, is from New England, and they now live just over the border in Massachusetts.
But it's Beliveau who has become a celebrity in the smallest state in the country by reaching the Major Leagues last season.
"I've noticed it's got me a lot more attention from people back home and everybody rooting for me," Beliveau said. "It's nice to be one of the guys who made it."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.