Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finally


Two significant things happened to me in 1976. Each cemented me as a life-long Rangers fan. Both happened on the same summer trip, from OKC to Dallas, where I spent a couple of weeks with my cousins.

First, we all joined the Dr. Pepper Junior Rangers--we got an official club identification card, a cheap batting glove, and some general admission tickets with severe restrictions (I think we could only go see day games against the Twins or Indians). I felt like part of the team--I was a Junior Ranger. It sounded like I was in the farm system. Certainly all of us Junior Rangers would grow up and one day become Senior Rangers! Isn't that the path that Fergie Jenkins followed?

The second occurrence made an even greater impact: I went to my first Rangers (and first MLB) game. June 25th. My Uncles Don and Ronnie took a bunch of us cousins to old Arlington Stadium. We sat down the third base line. It was a doubleheader against the White Sox. Gaylord Perry pitched and won game one. Toby Harrah hit a grand slam. I'll always remember how the giant Texas scoreboard in left flashed "GRAND SLAM" and how the place went crazy. I got a game program, and for the next year or two, I memorized every inch of every page. I fell in love with the old logo--a baseball wearing a cowboy hat. I fell in love with the Rangers.

Never did I, or any of the 29.049 there that night, think we would have to wait through the 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's before we would see our Rangers win a postseason series. No modern day fan of any pro franchise has been forced to wait like that. But this October, our suffering was rewarded. God Bless Clifton Phifer Lee.

I was born in Amarillo and grew up in OKC, so I always tried to root for the teams that were geographically closest to me. That meant growing up a Sooners fan, a Cowboys fan, a Spurs fan (remember, it was the 70's--they were the closest NBA team since there were no Mavericks), and a Rangers fan. I've been blessed--I've seen the Sooners, Cowboys and Spurs win 13 championships in my lifetime. But being a Rangers fan balanced things out, and kept me in touch with fans whose teams don't win much--or ever.

The Rangers won a division series, not a World Series--but it sure felt like the latter. To watch Cliff Lee shut down the Rays while wearing "Texas" across his chest was almost too much--I almost sports cried. It made me think of all of those Rangers teams, players and skippers who paved the way for Lee's heroics. Here's to the heroes of my childhood--the 70's and 80's: Billy Martin and the great '74 squad with Hargrove and Harrah, Burroughs and Fergie. The late 70's teams that I was sure would win it all--Scoop Oliver, Richie Zisk and Bobby Bonds at the plate; Matlack, Blyleven, Perry, Alexander, Medich, Lyle and Kern on the hill. The great Buddy Bell (thanks to Sunny and Buddy for making the All-Star game most years, and giving the Rangers their only national publicity each season), Pete O'Brien, and Mickey Rivers (what--we got the Yankees center fielder?!). Charlie Hough, who threw knucklers each half inning, then smoked in the dugout the other half of the inning--and who kept us in every game he pitched. Oddibie and Inky, Boo and Hoss. They may not have delivered like the boys did in Tampa, but they were a part of the process, the journey.

We know the Cowboys mean a lot to folks around here. But, until this week, I never realized how much the Rangers mean as well. I've heard from so many people who were also Junior Rangers, who also used to sit in those vast outfield bleachers at the old park on hot summer nights cheering a Rangers team that was 20 games out. I've heard from so many Rangers fans who shed a tear when the Tampa series ended because their father or grandfather, who loved the Rangers and took them to games in their childhood, didn't live to see this day. It wasn't a title--it was a moment. A moment that really touched a lot of people.



Fernando said to me the other day "I pity the people who don't like sports." Amen. They are missing so much. Moments like game 5. Moments that make the journey seem worth while. Moments that you never think will come, but they do. Finally. Now, if only I could get that call-up to the bigs from the Junior Rangers, my baseball life would be complete.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The First Month of Fall Sports

First Month of the NFL

Through four weeks, I don't think I've ever seen the league so mediocre. We have 13 teams at 2-2, and more (who had the bye last weekend) that could be 2-2 soon. We have one unbeaten team, and it's the friggin' Chiefs. Everyone's favorites, the Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Packers, Pats, Saints and Vikes, look at best good--and at worst very average. There are no super teams, at least not yet.

My former colleague at The Ticket, Jimmy Christopher, once famously said (during a Ticket Ticker!!) that "parity is for pussies", and I couldn't agree more. I hate parity. It wreaks of the Pussification of America scourge that rewards every kid in the race with a ribbon. It also makes for some poor quality, watered down football--as we have witnessed so far this season.

What I like about letting nature take it's course in sports (as opposed to forced equality) is that it creates great teams and crappy teams. Yes, you'll get some blowouts each week when a super-power hammers a winless squad, but you'll also get more high quality games when the super-powers meet each other. And your the quality of play in the post-season will be much better. Additionally, the occasional dynasty will surface, which makes for better sports drama. It's always fun to see if David can beat Goliath, and it's always fun to watch Goliath battle Goliath. Without that dynamic in sports, we don't have great upset stories, or great championship rivalries. Every sport needs its Yankees or Lakers, its Tiger or Ali.

Can't wait for this season's AFC title game between the Chiefs and Texans. Wow.


First Month of College Football

I want to rant about something that is plaguing college and pro football. Stupid coaches calling stupid time outs one second before the stupid kicker tries a stupid field goal. Can we please put an end to this? It's the most chicken sheet thing in sports since Hack-a-Shaq. I love it when it backfires, like it did two weeks ago on Sean Payton. I love it when a kicker nails it on that first try, then shrugs his shoulders and nails it again after the stupid time out. Just about every coach out there has tried this at least once, and I don't know how they can look themselves in the mirror after the game. It's not smart coaching--it's a childish game of gotcha.

Another college observation: after attending my 28th OU-TX game in the last 31 years, I hit my knees and asked Jesus to never move that game from the Cotton Bowl. No game can match that one for atmosphere (although I hear Army-Navy is amazing--got it on my bucket list). The Fair makes it. The split stadium makes it. The history of the place makes it. Hope it never goes home-and-home, and really hope it never goes to The Deathstar. Pro football stadiums are no place for classic college rivalries.


First Month of the EPL

After adopting Arsenal and watching them for a month, I have to say that I'm really enjoying the sport (and the EPL in particular). I still can't sit down and watch a random West Brom-Wigan match, but I'm all about the Gunners.

The EPL is so much more enjoyable than the World Cup. The players are better, the game is faster paced, the passing is better, and there are many more shots on goal that in the WC. As Fernando put it, the teams in the EPL play to win, while the teams in the WC played not to lose. Right on. And when your game is low scoring to begin with, playing not to lose can really put a guy like me to sleep. But there has been no napping for me during Arsenal games--they are a pleasure to watch with their precise passing and (sometimes, not last weekend) high scoring.

I was disappointed that Arsenal had to play at Chelsea last weekend without Fabregas, Walcott, and van Persie (Almunia not so much). That's like my Spurs playing the Lakers without Duncan, Parker and Ginobili (or at least close). Fabregas is a passing savant, like Magic or Kidd--they are a completely different team when he plays. Without him, they struggle for scoring chances.

I'm also being exposed to the other teams and other great players around the EPL for the first time. I really enjoyed watching Drogba play last weekend. In addition to being great, he seemed cool--always helping up Arsenal players, patting them on the back, etc. Seems like he really respects his opponents, yet during the course of play wants to cut off their family jewels. Admirable combo.

(Random observation from the Arsenal-Chelsea game: the British play by play announcer sounded exactly like Michael Palin doing a Monty Python bit. I loved it!)

Learning the game, and the EPL, has been a blast so far. It's not yet in my top 5 favorite sports, but it's climbing fast. I still can't figure out offsides to save my life, but I'm picking up everything else pretty quickly. I've also been reading up on the history of the league, which has helped a lot. Maybe best of all, I can sit through an entire EPL game without a coach calling a time out right before a penalty kick.