Can a guy once nicknamed "Gabe Ruth" ever line up to the incredible hype?
*Born: Aug. 31, 1975, in Hollywood, Calif. *Resides: Reseda, Calif. *Vitals: 6'2", 216 pounds *Career Stats: .245 BA, 20 HRs, 52 RBI *Muscle-and-fitness magazine cover boy. National sneaker-ad campaign frontman. Minor League Player of the Year. Sweet. Real sweet. Then Gabe arrives in Detroit to become an everyday major leaguer and, instead of living up to Hank Greenberg comparisons, gets stuck in neutral. In November, he was dealt to Texas for two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez in a nine-player deal. Wanna guess who he's being compared to now?
Kapler's rookie season review: good power (18 HRs in 416 ABs), but a game with holes. The book is to feed him fastballs, since all his HRs came on off-speed pitches. Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has tweaked the pull-hitting Kapler's
"squeaky" swing. The goal this season: keep his head still, stay balanced and use more of his hands in hopes of becoming a better fastball hitter. A 3-for-4, three-RBI Opening Day performance wasn't a bad start.
AT EASY READ
You can't always judge a book by its cover, but you can understand a lot of where Kapler's coming from by the books he's reading: Tough Jews, Science of Hitting and Easy Ways to Meditation . Someday he'd like to attend a Tony Robbins seminar, because he's a huge believer in positive thinking. As for Judaism? Well, he's not that religious, but if he's an inspiration to Jews, that's fine with him.
THE GOOD SEED
Popeye had his spinach. Big Mac had his andro. And Kapler has flaxseed. Flaxseed? They're energy pills that provide essential fatty acids. As part of his new diet, Kapler began taking them on the recommendation of nutritionist Alfred Krautgartner, a former consultant to the Austrian Olympic team. Kapler hates the taste, but he doesn't hate the results: In an eight-week period, he gained eight pounds (up to 216) while his body fat dropped from 5.8% to 3.5%.
SHOULDERING THE LOAD
Pudge Rodriguez is a bona fide MVP candidate. Rafael Palmeiro's good for 40-120-.300. But if the Rangers hope to near last season's franchise-record 95 victories and win another AL West title, Kapler and fellow young slugger Ruben Mateo need to help make up for a big piece of Juan's 128 RBI. Pressure for Kapler, who had an Igor-like game with two HRs in his first two Texas at-bats? "He might be following
[Gonzalez]," says manager Johnny Oates. "But he's not replacing him."
Before he started guzzling whey protein shakes and flaxseed oil, Kapler was a 150-pound cigarettes-and-beer guy in high school. He hit the weights to compensate for insecurities and fears that followed a childhood car accident, and never imagined the results. Of course, the skeptics have been passing steroid.
DEAD MAN WALKING
Somehow, after driving in just 14 runs and hitting under .300 in his senior year at California's Taft High, he got a scholarship to Cal Fullerton. But his first semester, after telling coaches he
Although he's appeared on many covers of bodybuilding magazines and even Italian Vogue, Kapler stresses he's not a bodybuilder. He did the photo shoots to make ends meet in the minors and, while they didn't endear him to some teammates, they didn't hurt with teenage girls. During negotiations with the Tigers, Kapler's agent, Paul Cohen, halfkiddingly suggested a contract clause that would pay a bonus for the 14- to 18-year-old girls at Detroit games.
He doesn't look at all like The Bambino, but that's the persona Kapler picked up after driving in 146 runs two years ago in Double-A. First day with Detroit, Kapler was welcomed by a banner mocking both "Gabe the Babe" and a Web site of the same name. "He was making predictions through his Web site that 15-year vets wouldn't," says strength and conditioning coach Brad Andress, who made the banner. Responds Kapler,who claims no ties to the site: "Just Brad being Brad. I let him know I didn't like it; he let me know that he really didn't care."
After years of watching Gonzalez loaf after fly balls, Texas fans saw Kapler dive for a popup two innings into the team's spring intrasquad game, and fell in love with him. Not bad for a kid who, at age 8, needed therapy to battle his fear of crossing the street after he was hit by a car. Early on, Gabe told Mom his career plans to be an athlete and actor. "What a blow to every Jewish mother's dream of job security," says Judy Kapler. A nice contract for her son will surely ease that blow.