Situational Essay: That’s Not Water, That’s Gasoline

Ted and I are pleased to publish a post written by a real authentic Texas Ranger fan — one who has watched every one of their games this year, regular and postseason. His name is Larry Herold, and his play THE SPORTS PAGE won the 2010 Texas Playwriting Competition. He’s at www.larryherold.com.

Section 40, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, last week. The Rangers are leading the Yankees 5-1 in Game 6 of the ALCS, leading the series 3-2. Nine outs to go and we couldn’t say the words: “The Rangers are going to the – ” “Shut up, shut up, shut up, don’t say it. Not yet.”

This was not superstition. Ranger fans are not afraid of summoning the ghosts of Dave Roberts or Moises Alou or even Bill Buckner. What have they do with us? Not a thing. Those guys were part of glorious traditions of struggle in front of millions of fans in famous ballparks, while the Rangers, to this point, were… nothing.

This was not, ‘speak not of it, because how sad would it be to come this far and jinx it.’ No, this was something bigger, something that made you feel more tingly than a Robinson Cano strikeout: the Rangers were the better team and they were going to win.

The Rangers, born of the Senators’ (2nd) failure, long the joke of the American League, hitters of meaningless home runs, desperate takers of steroids… A team that traded Sammy Sosa for a bag of balls, that had a baseball bounce off its outfielder’s head for a home run, that had a manager quit after one day on the job, that’s been ignored for 40 years by a town in love with football… That team was going to put all that shit in a trash can and slam down the lid. They were going to send “the most storied franchise in the history of blah blah blah” home empty – a day early, no less – and then drape the bunting for the World Series.

The idea of it was almost too big to say out loud. It sounded crazy, even whispered to yourself. “Holy shit,” said the guy in front of me, with three outs to go, “We’re going to the, to the— the next round.”

Maybe “ignored” by Dallas is too strong. Baseball has been embraced around here as a nice little summertime diversion until the big kids put on their pads. The Rangers averaged a little over 30,000 fans a game this year. Not bad. In August, the Cowboys drew 20,000 fans – to watch practice.

There’s baseball lovers here. Hell, Ty Cobb played here, in the Cotton Bowl. Okay, he was 64 and it was a stunt, but when you’ve played three playoff series and won only a single game, you’ve got to search hard for bright spots. For years the Rangers’ highlight film consisted mostly of clips of Nolan Ryan throwing his sixth and seventh no-hitters as a Ranger. Oh, and Nolan giving a beat down to Robin Ventura. (They sell signed copies of that photo in the gift shop.) For Texans, that the same guy is atop the Rangers’ management pyramid as they make this run is breathtaking.

There’s also baseball haters. The TV stations and talk radio hosts and newspaper columnists have been snickering for years at the poor Rangers, contrasting their haplessness with the Cowboys’ success, and now those same cats can’t wait to plant their butts in those free World Series press box seats. Just hope they don’t hurt themselves jumping on and off the bandwagon.

I still can’t get my arms or my head around this fact: the Rangers are going to the World Series. How full is our bag of Halloween treats:

Pitcher C.J. Wilson goes to management last spring and says, “Hey guys, like a lot of relievers, I secretly think I’m wasted in the bullpen. How ’bout letting me start?” They do. And he goes out and posts a top-10 ERA.

General Manager Jon Daniels waits until Cliff Lee has one arm in a Yankee uniform, then calls the Mariners and says, “Oh, Justin Smoak is the key to a deal? Why didn’t you say so? As of this moment, he’s available.”

Josh Hamilton, slumping, wakes up one morning and says, “At the age of 30, I just realized batting practice is not for putting on a home run show. It’s for learning to take balls the other way.” MVP.

Alex Rodriguez, who said he’d never have come to Texas if he’d known it was going to be “me and 24 kids,” stands frozen, staring at a curveball thrown by a kid, 22-year-old Neftali Feliz, ending the ALCS.

Come on, it doesn’t get better than that. Oh wait, it does. The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series.

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After Game 1:

The Rangers’ weaknesses all exposed on the same night. We’ve long known Vlad Guerrero is a liability in the field, but his mistakes never looked so glaring as they did last night. And Michael Young, known locally as “The Face of the Franchise,” is the team’s all-time hits leader, a beloved force in the clubhouse, and a matador at third base. He’s a model citizen, never ducks a tough question. He’s changed positions twice for the good of the team. He’ll make $11 million this season, a chunk of which he’ll donate to charity, and he can no longer field his position. That’s tough to watch.

I’m still calling Rangers in 5. For one thing, I remember the meltdown in Game 1 vs. the Yankees. Next day, Texas played as though it had never happened. For another thing, I have a ticket – a good seat, at a too-high price – to Game 5 of the World Series.

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After Game 2:

Ouch. Now I know how Yankee fans felt during that 10-3 loss to the Rangers last week. Feeling like every break went the other way. Like every decision backfired. Watching previously dependable pitchers get on the mound and seize up. It’s painful to watch, because you know these aren’t “your Rangers.” This is not the kind of ball they played to win 90 games. But it’s their first trip to the big stage and a dash of nerves and a skoche of bad luck swirled in a cauldron with eye of newt and wool of bat can cook your goose.

Having said all that, now is the not the time to panic. You dream of a sweep on the road, hope for a split, and plan to lose both games. The Rangers have not lost a World Series game at home. If they do, then we can panic.

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