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A case for former Butte Copper King Mike Napoli

Many of us don’t have a horse in the race for the final weeks of the baseball season.

If you’re like me, your team was basically eliminated from contention in June, and you’ll need some extra motivation to tune into the playoffs in October.

With Joe Buck announcing, watching a 4-hour game is a tough task to do even when your favorite team is playing. So a lot of us just skip the playoffs.

This year, however, there is a very good reason to watch the baseball playoffs. Actually, he has been a good reason to watch the playoffs for most of the last decade.

He is Mike Napoli, a Texas Ranger.

After the Rangers acquired Napoli for the Red Sox on Aug. 7, the team has been playing well. That’s has to have something to do with the fact that Napoli brings more to a team than timely home runs and an undeniably awesome beard.

He brings personality, and he brings attitude. Napoli, plain and simple, is a winner. If the first-place Rangers hang on to win the American League West or qualify as a wild card team, Napoli will make a playoff appearance for the seventh time in the last nine years.

He played in the postseason with Rangers, Angels and, of course, the Red Sox. He was one of the faces of the 2013 Boston Strong Red Sox.

Napoli was also a member of the last Butte Copper Kings team in 2000. He appeared in 10 games for the Butte club that season. He hit .231 in 26 at bats. That included two doubles and three RBIs. He struck out one time and drew eight walks.

We can only assume he spent some time at the Vu Villa and ate a steak or two at the M&M. Even if he was only 18 that summer.

More importantly, Napoli is a close, personal friend of our very own Pat Ryan. Well, sort of.

In 2009, Paul Panisko, Blake Hempstead, P.R. and I went to Seattle to cover Butte’s Rob Johnson, who was on the Mariners roster for the home-opening series at Safeco Field.

Napoli was playing for the Los Angeles Angels that year, and that’s when he became chums with P.R.

As we made the long drive west, we discussed how it would be a great idea to do a story on Napoli and his connection to Butte if we had the chance. Plus, it would somehow justify the large expense report we were planning on turning in.

We all had press passes that allowed us on the field during batting practice and into the home and visiting clubhouses.

As Paul and I were making fun of Blake’s feeble attempt to interview Ken Griffey Jr., P.R. had the chance to talk to Napoli. As Napoli was sitting in the third-base dugout, P.R. said something like, “Mike … you played in Butte.”

Napoli, presumably stunned to run into someone who knew of his short career with the Butte Copper Kings, said something like, “uh, yeah.”

P.R. nodded his head, waived and walked away. That was it. Interview over.

Dan Patrick eat your heart out.

While you could look at P.R.’s small talk with the slugger as a horrible attempt at doing an exposé on the former Butte Copper King, we prefer to look at as the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Sure, Napoli and P.R. have not spoken since that day. Sure, Napoli has ignored all of my mentions of him and P.R on Twitter.

But we know there is a strong connection. Strong enough to expense the beers celebrating the reunion of Napoli and his Butte roots later that night in downtown Seattle.

Now 33, Napoli has turned this season around. While he had one great week, he was struggling big time in Boston this season, hitting just .207.

Since joining the Rangers, he has had a big-time revival. Napoli added nearly 100 points to that average and looks ready to have a big postseason for Texas.

After all, we know Napoli has what it takes to play in October. He hit two huge home runs for the Red Sox in the 2013 American League Championship Series. He also hit two World Series home runs and drove in 10 runs for the Rangers in 2011.

Did I mention the beard? It is on par with Tim Montana, who had a much longer stay in the Mining City. It is that good.

Napoli’s bear makes him look like the original Butte Copper Kings mascot.

If your favorite team is playing golf and you can remember the days of sitting in Alumni Coliseum chanting “Go Kings Go” — or even if you’ve just heard stories of those wonderful days — you should be cheering for the Texas Rangers this fall.

We should all cheer for Big Mike.

After all, our days of cheering for Copper Kings are numbered. Napoli is one of three former Kings still playing in the big leagues.

Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez pitches for the Brewers, and Joel Peralta pitches for the Dodgers.

The Brewers long ago ended their playoff hopes, so we won’t be watching K-Rod in October.

At 39, Peralta is a relief pitcher for the Dodgers, who will most definitely be playing in the playoffs. In 2000, a 24-year-old Peralta pitched 19 innings for the Copper Kings.

He also, presumably, spent some time at the Vu Villa and M&M, so it will be cool to see Peralta pitch next month. That is if he makes the Dodgers’ playoff roster.

If the Dodgers and Rangers somehow meet in the World Series, though, the right thing to do would be to root for Napoli and the Rangers. For one thing, nobody in his right mind wants to cheer for the Dodgers.

Plus, Peralta is not a close, personal friend of Pat Ryan.

— Bill Foley, who is jealous of P.R.’s interviewing skills, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.



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