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.
(I WAS thinking of my dad and how in 2004, the RANGERS TOOK AWAY, FOR A FEW MOMENTS, HIS PAIN OF CANCER. I was wishing that we could have shared this moment together.
And we would have loved it, him Rangers and me YANKEES. It would have been great. It's comforting to know that there were many like me wishing that there father and grandfather could have been here to see this game. I was crying because they weren't here to share this with me...)