Monday, October 17, 2011

Who Would Have Thought?

Thirty eight years. That's how long it took the Texas Rangers to win a playoff series. Forty nine years, if you count the Washington Senators era. That's a long period of baseball futility. And now, this. The World Series. Again. A half-century drought, followed by a two year deluge. We must be dreaming.

Two or three years ago, did anyone see this coming? The honest answer is no. It's been an unlikely journey--as unlikely as any I've ever seen in DFW sports history. Consider all of the "who would have thought" examples this growth process has provided:

The Lovable Losers -- The Rangers were the American League version of the Cubs. They were never going to win anything. That was their fate. We had all accepted it. It was good enough just to have baseball in this town, and to be able to go to the Ballpark and eat a hot dog, drink a beer, and watch other good teams come through. The Rangers had never been on anyone's radar as a serious World Series contender. Even going into last season, they were picked by nobody (other than Nolan Ryan) to win the AL West. Spring Training, 2010: who would have thought the Rangers would win back-to-back AL flags?

Nolan Will Lead Them -- When Big Tex was hired as team president, did anyone think it was going to be anything more than just a figure-head role? Help sell a few tickets, sign some autographs, and sit there like you care. Who would have thought that Nolan would prove to be the most important sports hire in this town since Jerry hired Jimmy to coach the Cowboys? Nolan completely changed the culture in Arlington. He demanded more from everyone, and he commanded respect while doing so.

The Kid Turns it Around -- The first two years for John Daniels as Rangers GM were not great. He was just 28 years old when hired, which caused some giggles--and his first few trades caused even more giggles. It seemed he was on the wrong side of everything. Then, in the summer of 2007, the Teixeira trade happened--the Rangers got Feliz, Harrison and Elvis, and the mojo changed for Daniels. Since then, practically everything he's touched has turned to gold: the Cruz deal, the Murphy deal, the Hamilton deal, the Lee deal, the Napoli deal, the Lewis, Vlad and Beltre signings, and on and on and on. Who would have thought that after such a shaky start as GM, he would now be regarded as one of the best, if not the best in the business. And he's stocked the Rangers farm system--the future is bright.

Wash Keeps His Job -- Spring Training, 2010: we learn Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine after indulging at a party during the All-Star break the previous summer. Most thought Wash either would be or should be fired. He wasn't, and the rest is history. Who would have thought that, as he's telling his story to the media that afternoon in Surprise, that 18 months later he would be managing the Rangers in the World Series for the second straight season?

The Comeback -- He always had the ability, but he also had a lot of baggage. Just a few years ago, as he's in and out of rehab (and banned by Major League Baseball), who would have thought that Josh Hamilton would have an MVP trophy on his shelf and would be the dependable linchpin of a Rangers offense that has helped carry them to back-to-back pennants? If anyone saw this coming, raise your hand. I didn't think so. I bet deep-down, Josh didn't either.

These Guys are in the Rotation? -- Again, Spring Training, 2010: who would have thought that relievers CJ Wilson and Alexi Ogando, along with Japanese import Colby Lewis, would turn into consistent, if not dominant, starters in a World Series-caliber rotation? Really? Who saw that coming? Part of the amazing transformation of a once-laughable Rangers pitching staff. Much credit to Nolan and Mike Maddux for helping work small miracles.

Young Again -- Spring Training, 2011: who would have thought the Michael Young story would have turned out this well? It seemed the Rangers had run out of places to play Young, and would make a trade. Young and Daniels had words for each other--it appeared to be a bad situation. But what happens? Young stays, and has one of his best seasons in what has been an amazing career. He turns into even more of a leader, and helps the Rangers put away the Tigers with a strong finish in the ALCS.

Nap Nap -- When the Rangers acquired Mike Napoli, it looked like a nice pickup. Who would have thought it would turn out to be one the best pickups in franchise history? A guy with a reputation as a so-so defensive catcher suddenly blossomed in that role with Texas. Meanwhile, at the plate, he blew away his career highs in HR's, RBI's and batting average. Who would have thought that Napoli would hit more home runs than Hamilton while playing in fewer games? Amazing.

Cruz Control -- Spring Training, 2009: Nelson Cruz is seen as a prospect who may never get it done at the big-league level. He can hit 30 home runs a season in the minors, but bring him up to the show, and he's nothing but a fly-ball out. Then, it happens. Cruz gets it. He figures out major league pitching, at age 28. 33 home runs, and an All-Star game nod. In March of 2009, who would have guessed that Nellie would go on to hit 6 HR's in the ALCS a few years later--a record that may stand forever?

It really has been an incredibly unlikely journey, and I've loved every minute of it. As a card-carrying Dr. Pepper Junior Ranger, I never thought I would see the Rangers in the World Series. And now it's happened twice. For the franchise that could never catch a break, everything is suddenly working out for them. It's a serendipitous time, and nobody saw it coming. Which makes it even better.