Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A kid's dream

So this is what it takes to get me writing again.

You know, it's been pretty tough on Dallas sports fans for a few years now. The Stars haven't been truly competitive for a decade and it's been four years since the Mavs choked in the Finals, beginning their slide to mediocrity. We thought the Cowboys were on the way to playing in the Super Bowl in their own stadium, before we were reminded they are still owned by Jerry and coached (for now) by Wade.

But the Rangers.

For my entire life, the Rangers have been more or less irrelevant in baseball. Sure, they'd score lots of runs, but with no pitching to speak of and the August swoon as a built-in excuse, they never really got your hopes too high. And with Tom Hicks slashing payroll the last few years--why does a top five market have a bottom five payroll?--the Rangers should have been trending down.

But things started changing five years ago, without anyone really noticing what was going on. First Jon Daniels was named GM. If you've been reading here for a while, you know I've been none too complimentary of JD in the past. Don't worry--a proper apology is coming later. After a year, he named Ron Washington manager, and two years after that Nolan Ryan joined the team as president. Along the way, Daniels made several significant trades that stocked the farm system. This year, it all came together, and combined with the eventual purchase of the team by the Greenberg-Ryan group, the Rangers were poised for great things.

And if that's all there was, it would be great. But there is so much more to this team. Simply put, they have "it"--that something that you can't quite put a finger on, but it's there nonetheless. The Red Sox as the self-proclaimed Idiots had it in 2004. The Patriots had it 2001 on their way to their first Super Bowl, just like the Rams two years earlier with the Greatest Show on Turf. It is evidenced by the Claw and the Antler, which some around baseball have mocked. That's fine--we're having fun anyway. But mock at your own peril, because you are mocking It. Maybe you call it chemistry, fate, destiny, desire, want-to. Whatever. Just know that the Rangers have It.

And only those of us who have been through the long, lean years can really appreciate how special that is. I grew up in Dallas as a fan of all three (pre-Stars) major sports teams, but the Rangers were my favorite, for a few reasons. I played little league baseball, so I readily identified with the game. Baseball was on TV more, just by the nature of the long season. But mostly, it was because those were the games I went to. Sure, we went to a Mavs game or two each year, and I went to my one-and-only Cowboys game when I was 21. But I grew up in the 70's as a Junior Ranger. I was at old Arlington Stadium when that logo you see above wasn't retro. I remember powder blues. I had fan giveaways: hats and plastic helmets and shirts and backpacks and pennants. And greatest of all, a red Rangers Louisville Slugger. I went to the top of the bleachers and peeked over the edge at the parking lot. I went to summer clinics where I got to walk out on the field and listen to real pro ballplayers talk about what they did and how they did it. Night of high school graduation? I went to Arlington with some friends to watch the great Nolan Ryan pitch. In high school and college, we'd go to games late, because after the fourth inning they'd let you in for free. I was there on April 19, 1996, when the Rangers batted around three times in an hour long bottom of the eighth and put up 18 on the Orioles, beating them 26-7. My first date with my wife? Dinner at TGI Friday's Front Row Grill and two seats in the Home Run Porch. One of the the last things I did before leaving Dallas? Take pictures out at the Ballpark. This team was a huge part of my life, from childhood into adulthood.

I've been away from Dallas for eight years. I go to Orioles Sunday home games all season at beautiful Camden Yards. I enjoy the games there. They're having a rough time on the field, but it's a great organization that takes care of its fans. Still, I miss the Rangers, and nothing can replace that. I've got too much history in Arlington.

I've waited nearly 37 years for this magical run at the World Series, and I've never enjoyed sports success so much. Not the Cowboys' Super Bowls or the Stars' Stanley Cups. Not even the Longhorns' National Championship. The plus side of all those Rangers lean years? The last few weeks have been a string of Firsts. First playoff series win. First home playoff win. First American League Pennant.

Up next: First World Series Appearance by the Texas Rangers. It's been a long time coming, and it's all the sweeter for it.

It's time.