Until this past month, the magic of baseball had been lost on me.
It was a game I began playing at age 5 — my first team was called The A-Team (after the popular show, of course), and our uniforms consisted of a red shirt, black lettering and blue jeans we brought from home. I played at every level growing up, all the way through high school varsity, where they stuck me at third base because despite my size, I had a heck of an arm.
It didn’t stop there. In college, I played intramural softball for four years. After college, I was in a softball league in Dallas, where those I played against took the game entirely too seriously.
And through it all, I was a fan of the big leagues. Born less than an hour from Pittsburgh, Pa., I was a Pirates fan from Day 1. When I moved to Texas in my youth, I became a fan of the Texas Rangers.
Pirates and Rangers. Up until a month ago, you could see why the magic of baseball had been lost on me.
The last time I truly cared about a Major League Baseball postseason game was Game 7 of the National League Championship series between the Pirates and the Atlanta Braves. My dreams of a World Series team were dashed when Francisco Cabrera singled to left field, and the turtle-slow Sid Bream scored from second, beating out the throw from a guy named Barry Bonds. Yeah, THAT guy.
That was 1992. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since.
And the Rangers? Talk about futility.
The Texas Rangers (until Friday night) were one of three Major League franchises to have reached a World Series. And unlike the Seattle Mariners and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (the other two franchises never to have tasted the Fall Classic), Texas has been around for 50 years (the first few years as the Washington Senators).
Even the Pirates can point to the 70s and the rings from the era.
Being a Rangers fan has never been easy. Until this year, we had three trips to the postseason, and as luck would have it, all three times the Yankees ended our season. We had some of the games greatest hitters — Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Pudge Rodriguez, Alex Rodriguez, Julio Franco … the list goes on. We also witnessed a few Nolan Ryan no-hitters at the tail end of his career.
But no matter the line-up, the Rangers have always been baseball’s whipping boy. I remember games at the old Arlington Stadium where my butt wouldn’t get sore from the metal bleachers not much different than those you’d find at the ballfields in Broadway. And when the new, beautiful Ballpark came into the picture during my senior year of high school (1994), the product on the field never quite lived up to expectations.
Because of the futility of my favorite teams, baseball fell further and further from my sports radar over the years after high school. It didn’t help that in the early to mid-90s, the Dallas Cowboys were No. 1 with three Super Bowls. Baseball as a whole took a hit with the strike in the 90s (and the steroid era that followed), and eventually, I began caring less about the sport than even the NBA.
It was like a broken record — the Pirates would be eliminated from postseason contention by June, and the Rangers by late July.
I hate to sound like a bandwagon fan (I’ve been loyal through it all, just not as interested), but having my Rangers in the postseason again have not only revived my interest in them, but baseball as a whole.
And I’ll be darned if baseball isn’t a pretty great sport.
When it’s your team’s season on the line, every pitch means something. And these Rangers are an exciting team that isn’t afraid to challenge on the basepaths, can swing for the fences as easily as it squeezes a bunt and for the first time in as long as I can remember … can pitch.
I suppose this column would go over much better back in Texas, but North Carolinians have a stake in the upcoming series thanks to ALCS MVP Josh Hamilton.
The Raleigh native whose plight and rise is one for a Hollywood script has won over baseball fans in every state. He’s the catalyst behind this Rangers team, and I’m pulling for him just as much as I am the team.
So how about it, Tar Heels. I’ve backed your colleges (except when they play LSU), and it’s not like you have a baseball team (except for all you Yankees fans who moved here … ha!). Join me in putting on the antlers and showing your claws (I’m not explaining that) and root for the Rangers.
You may begin to appreciate baseball again, too.