Tolleson unwinds with travel and family

Rangers' closer vacationed in Hawaii, has spent time with ailing dad

Tolleson unwinds with travel and family

ARLINGTON -- Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson has been able to get away from it all this offseason. Right after Christmas, he and his family spent a week on the island of Kauai golfing, snorkeling and a taking a breathtaking four-mile hike into the mountains.

"You drive around to the other side of the island where the road ends," Tolleson said. "You hike four miles -- a lot of climbing up -- to this enormous waterfall. There is a trail you follow. Some parts are easy, but some parts you were sludging through mud, and some parts you are climbing over rocks on all fours. It was fun."

Especially at the end, when you can dive into the pool at the base of the waterfall.

Tolleson and his wife, Lynley, enjoy traveling whenever they can.

"I like traveling," Tolleson said Wednesday. "I like seeing different places around the world: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mexico. About three or four years ago, I went to Costa Rica. I really like Mexico, even places in Mexico where people really don't go to.

"When I was in college, we went to these little remote villages and actually did dental and medical work on the people there who have never seen a doctor or anything. They invited us into their homes built out of dirt and cinderblocks. Handmade corn tortillas, you can't beat that. Fix it with a little stew; you kind of slop it up with a tortilla. I'm sure they eat that every day, but it was good."

A little getaway can be good for a pitcher who went through a grueling but highly-rewarding season as the Rangers' closer. Tolleson pitched in a team-high 73 games, including five straight in the final week of the season, and he saved 35 games after becoming the closer in late May.

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"Yes, I mean physically, I was tired," Tolleson said. "Mentally, not necessarily … not too much. It was just nice to not do anything for awhile. It's one of those things, you don't really see how tired you are until you stop doing it.

"It's like that in a baseball season, but I really don't think about exhaustion or anything like that while it's going on. Especially the playoffs, you don't feel anything. As soon as that last game ends and the adrenaline wears off, it's kind of nice to sit back and think, 'I have a month off to relax and enjoy time with the family.'"

The family part hasn't been that easy. Tolleson's father was diagnosed with lymphoma and colon cancer in the final week of the regular season. Mark Tolleson has been undergoing chemotherapy and the prognosis is quite encouraging, but it still had to be a difficult time for the family.

"He went in for a colonoscopy. It was when we had three games left in the season, we were trying to win a game and win the AL West," Tolleson said. "It was during that time. I remember calling my mom, but she didn't really tell me, because she wanted me to focus on my pitching.

"I found out initially they had found some stuff that day. As he went in to see different doctors and get diagnosed, that next week, I found out everything. I thought a lot about it. I don't think it distracted me too much in games, but I definitely thought about it."

The Tolleson family, relying on their strong faith, remains hopeful for full recovery.

"I always have hope," Tolleson said. "He is a pretty strong guy, so he is doing OK. He has done five chemo sessions so far and had different scans done and has shown significant improvement. The swelling of the tumors have gone down a lot, so I am pretty hopeful.

"I've got to spend time with him. Sometimes he's feeling great and wants everybody to come over, sometimes his immune system, white cell blood count, gets low. Times like that, you have to be cautious in bringing all the kids over and have them climbing over him."

Tolleson still presses on with his day job. He has been throwing long toss for a month and will continue to do so through January. Then he will start throwing off the mound in preparation for going into Spring Training as the Rangers' closer.

It is a job that means a lot to him and he wants to keep it.

"Initially I would say it didn't mean a whole lot," Tolleson said. "But I'd be lying to you if I said if they ripped it away from me without me having a chance to earn it back, it wouldn't hurt. I liked the role, I liked being the closer a lot."

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The job appears to be Tolleson's to lose, although the Rangers have been active in reinforcing their bullpen this offseason. Tom Wilhelmsen, who was acquired from the Mariners in November, has been a closer before. Keone Kela, Sam Dyson and even Tanner Scheppers have all been deemed capable of doing it, too.

"Shawn did a tremendous job for us last year in a lot of respects, and we'd feel very comfortable with him pitching the ninth inning," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We've got other guys that we feel are capable of doing it. Some of them have done it now, others kind of like Shawn this time last year was where you felt he was capable of it, but just hadn't had that chance yet.

"The best bullpens have more than one guy. You hope you're going to have a winning streak at some point -- you win six, seven in a row -- and then you're going to need more than one guy to finish out the game."

Tolleson wants the job, but he is not afraid to fight for it in Spring Training.

"I hope I do have to fight for it, honestly," Tolleson said. "I think that means our bullpen is in a really good position. Right now, it is. I hope I have to earn it a little bit. It would be a heightened focus and motivation to go out and compete in Spring Training.

"It's better for everybody if we go out there with that mindset. I think of five guys right now that are capable of going down there and closing ballgames. When you have a staff like that, I can't sit back on my heels. I think it will good."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.