Missing the Boat

MLB, Texas, Texas Rangers 11 Comments »

With the eyes of the nation riveted on the state of Texas and one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States, the Rangers and Astros are playing their three-game series in Florida? With the Astros players and thousands of Houston-area residents stranded in Dallas, both teams are flying out of DFW to play their series at Tropicana Field? The Rangers and Astros tried yesterday to come up with a plan to play the series in Arlington, but neither side would give any ground on the other’s demands? In the middle of the devastation and loss of property and life, in the middle of this history-altering catastrophe, the Rangers and Astros couldn’t agree on the conditions that would keep the two teams in Texas for this mid-week series?

Pardon the pun: they’re all completely missing the boat.

The series was scheduled for Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston tonight, tomorrow, and Thursday. The Rangers are scheduled to host the Astros in a season-ending three game series in September. So, they could swap the series, right? That’s what the Astros offered. Houston plays in Arlington this week, the Rangers play in Houston at the end of the season. It’s fair, yes? Well, maybe not. That arrangement would have the Rangers playing on the road for twelve straight games to end their year when they’re trying to nail down that second wild-card spot. The Rangers said “no.”

The Rangers offered to let the Astros be the home team in Arlington this week, take the last at bat, and take home all proceeds from the three-games. That would keep the Houston team from having to travel again this week. It would allow them some time to reconnect with family and loved ones who are in Dallas. The Astros said “no.”

Evan Grant, the excellent baseball writer for the Dallas Morning News makes the case here that both teams are doing what is in their own best baseball interests. Maybe. Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle doesn’t give the Rangers any grace, calling the organization “shameful and classless” in her column here. But Sports Illustrated’s Gabriel Baumgaertner is thinking more along the lines here of what I’ve been thinking since the announcement was made last night.

What a waste!

Maybe both teams are acting in their own best interests — Grant makes a good argument. And maybe neither team should be criticized for not giving some real or perceived advantage to a division rival. Maybe. It’s not personal, it’s business.

But I can’t get past the tremendous opportunity here that’s being missed. Imagine the possibilities if the Astros and Rangers played three games against each other today, tomorrow, and Thursday in Arlington. Picture it.

Maybe both teams wear Astros caps during the game to show their unity and humanity. No, better, they all wear City of Houston hats, Houston Fire Department hats, Houston Police Department hats. Maybe the Astros bat last. Maybe they let everybody in for free with a Drivers License from the zip codes in the affected 50 counties. Maybe all the proceeds go to hurricane relief efforts. Maybe Willie Nelson sings the National Anthem and Beyoncé performs God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch. Maybe the two mayors throw out the opening pitch. Maybe there’s a huge Twitter promotion in which fans in Rangers jerseys and Astros jerseys take pictures together. Maybe a post game concert with Texas performers, raising money for relief, after the finale on Thursday. When the eyes of the nation are on a devastated Texas, imagine the good will generated for both teams. Imagine the shaping of the perception of our state. Imagine the funds raised for Houston. Imagine the unity, the coming together for something bigger than baseball, something more important than business.

Imagine the energy in the jam-packed stadium. It would be the lead story on SportsCenter for three straight nights. The Rangers and Astros would be featured in every local and national sportscast for three straight nights. When the documentaries and feature films are made about Hurricane Harvey, these three nights of baseball-healing in Texas would be somewhere in the script. This series would live on for decades, reminding us how sports bring people together, how sports function as community, how sports can bring out the best in people.

Just imagine.

I don’t know what Jerry Wayne is going to do Thursday. He’s hosting the Houston Texans at The Star in Frisco this week, allowing them to practice at the Cowboys facilities. And they’ve moved their pre-season finale between the Cowboys and Texans from Houston to Arlington. The Cowboys are giving all the proceeds from the game — parking, concessions, tickets, everything — to the Houston Texans. There might be a commemorative patch on both teams’ uniforms. There will probably be some special Texas-themed performers before and after the game. Jerry will probably make some huge donation to the Salvation Army for Houston flood relief. Maybe he’ll think to sell those game-worn jerseys to raise money for southeast Texas. Whatever he does with this opportunity, you can bet he’ll do it right.

It would have really been cool to have the Rangers and Astros playing at the same time across the street.

God bless Texas,

Allan

Road Trip with Whit-Pit

MLB, Texas Rangers, Whitney 4 Comments »

We waited until it was a million degrees outside and the Rangers were four thousand games out of first place, but Whitney and I finally made our annual road trip to Arlington to take in a game together this past Friday night. As always, we hit the Golden Chick in Childress, grabbed some chocolate covered pecans in Chilicothe, and enjoyed a huge dinner at Pappasito’s before the game. Cole Hamels went six strong innings, hit the showers with a 6-0 lead, and then Texas held on in a nail-biter 6-4. Thanks to the Rangers’ train wreck of a bullpen, the Astros brought the tying run to the plate in each of the last two innings. And, due to the above-and-beyond efforts of the staff at the pro-shop with their walkie-talkies, we tracked down the very last Joey Gallo t-shirt/jersey in Whitney’s size in the whole stadium!

We were treated to a wonderful bonus when Chuck Morgan announced that the actual Pudge Rodriguez Hall of Fame plaque from Cooperstown was available for viewing and pictures in the first base concourse. Apparently they very rarely ever take a plaque from the Hall of Fame. But with Pudge’s number being retired by the Rangers in an on-field ceremony Saturday, they allowed it to be brought down for the celebration and put on display the night before. We waited in line for a half-inning to see it up close. Very cool.

And this surprising revelation: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK for the Astros to be in the same division with the Rangers.

When Bud Selig ramrodded this thing five years ago — MLB paid the Astros’ new owner $70-million to switch leagues so every division would have the same number of teams — I was more than a little upset. As a baseball fan growing up in Texas, you dream of a Rangers-Astros World Series. The Rangers are your favorite team, but the Astros are your second favorite team. You root for Houston. You want to see them do well. You keep up with their players. Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman. Larry Dierker. The rainbow unis. The dreadful dome. Enron and Minute Maid Park. It was always good to cheer for the Lastros because, being in the other league, they posed no threat to the Rangers. And they were a Texas team. You always root for Texas teams.

That all changed in 2013. You can’t root for a team in your own division — you need them to lose every night. What do I do with these old Astros’ shirts and bobbleheads and ashtrays and commemorative cups? Major League Baseball claimed it would ignite a fierce inter-state rivalry. I didn’t see how.

Now, I do. The past four seasons, as the Rangers owned the ‘Stros and won division titles and dominated the Silver Boot, it felt kind of flat, kind of one-sided. This season, though, as Houston has run away with the West and put up football scores on all their opponents, it feels different.

It’s no secret that the cities of Dallas and Houston have a long and storied rivalry. People from both cities insult the people, the culture, the food, the music, and the sports teams from the other city. Coupled with the Rangers’ early dominance, this surge by the Astros has fueled some sincere animosity. Have you noticed? Rangers-Astros games get chippy early. It was so one-sided on the diamond for those first four years and the Houston frustration was so built up that now it’s exploding into something noticeable. The frustration is being expelled and expressed with an exuberance that causes players and managers from both teams to want to pitch inside and slide into second spikes-up. You can feel it.

There are enough people from North Texas who have transplanted down to Houston and enough folks from the Bayou who’ve made their way to Dallas-Fort Worth that, when the Rangers and Astros play each other, the stadiums are almost equally split between the two teams. Rangers and Astros fans work together, live in the same neighborhoods together, go to church together — they see each other all the time. So the rivalry is fierce, yes. But we all live in Texas. We all have our history and culture and love of the Lone Star State in common. So we can get really worked up during the game, and laugh about it, take pictures together, and wish everybody well when it’s over. I love that.

My Astros shirts have remained in the back of my closet for the past five years. I haven’t worn them at all. Not once. Not since 2012. But with the Rangers 16-games back and out of it and with Houston making a run for their first ever World Series title, it’s going to happen. I’ll be rooting for the ‘Stros all the way. And, yeah, their success makes the rivalry even a little better.

Peace,

Allan

The Window is Closed

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I hate it. It makes my stomach hurt to realize it. My heart weighs four tons in my chest as I type these words. We could see this coming for the past two years but, now, today, the reality is sinking in. And I hate it.

We missed our window.

This eight or nine year opportunity for the Texas Rangers to win a World Series is over. The dramatic playoff wins were thrilling, the gut-wrenching postseason losses were devastating, the overall success for the Rangers in this current decade has been phenomenally unprecedented and a lot of fun. But it’s over now. The window is closed. We missed our window.

Yesterday’s trade deadline deals signaled the official end for this current group of Rangers and, just as certainly, for this current Rangers era. Yu Darvish, the spectacular but fragile ace, was dealt to the Dodgers; Jonathan Lucroy, who never came close to producing what we hoped, was sent to Colorado; and Jeremy Jeffress — who? yeah, I know — was shipped back to Milwaukee.

Give General Manager Jon Daniels credit: he goes for it all-the-way.

After the incredible Game Six loss to the Cards in the 2011 World Series, Daniels put the pedal down to get back to the championship level and finally take the franchise’s first trophy. He spent millions of dollars to sign Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. He brought in Prince Fielder, Shin Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran. But since Nelson Cruz misplayed that ball in right field, the Rangers have won two division titles and zero postseason series.

And now it’s over.

Darvish was the team’s ace. It just didn’t work out. He worked 200 innings only once in his Rangers career. He made only two postseason starts, both losses, failing to get to the seventh inning both times. He spent four stints on the disabled list. And this year his record is 6-9 and his ERA is over four.

So, we’ll get ’em next year, right?

No. The window is closed.

The Rangers go into next spring with no outfield, no bullpen, and only one starting pitcher. The infield is this team’s only strength and it’s got a guy at first base in Gallo who might lead the league in both homeruns and strikeouts, a major question mark at second base with the inconsistency of Odor, and two aging superstars at short and third with Elvis and Beltre.

We missed the window.

I’m not sure why Daniels didn’t do more yesterday. Those three trades netted a total of just five prospects when this team needs about a dozen. I would have done anything to get Shin Soo Choo off the roster — pay another team part of his salary, whatever it takes. Could Elvis not help a playoff team in the National League? In my mind, anybody over the age of 25 not named Adrian should have been on the trading block. Maybe they were. The Rangers aren’t exactly in a position of strength right now.

My hope is that Daniels isn’t trapped in a place of thinking they’re just one or two players away, they’re just one lucky break removed, from being a contender. They’re not. And I think he knows that. This team is in for at least four or five years of some bad, bad baseball. We’re going to have to watch two or three 90-loss seasons. It’s going to be brutal. But it’s exactly what is needed.

Remember how fun they were to watch in 2010 and 2011? Remember the Royals from three or four years ago? Look at the Astros today. Young, homegrown, locally developed talent with a healthy mix of three or four free agent contributors. You don’t do that overnight. After chasing the pennant hard for the past eight or nine years, the Rangers farm system is depleted. There are no front line starters down there. No pitchers at all. It’s going to take some time.

The window is closed. We missed our window.

Peace,

Allan

3K for Beltre!

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Pudge! From Arlington to Cooperstown

Texas Rangers 1 Comment »

PudgeSmile

Pudge Rodriguez has become only the second catcher in history to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot and the first true Texas Ranger to be eternally enshrined in Cooperstown. From the day Tom Grieve signed him as a 16-year-old out of Puerto Rico, throughout his extraordinary 13 years in Arlington, to his service now in the team’s front office, Ivan Rodriguez has always been in the top two or three of anybody’s list of all-time most popular players in Rangers franchise history. Pudge embodied the Rangers’ dramatic shift in the early ’90s to sign and develop their own players, becoming the face of the franchise and the heart and soul of the 1996 team that captured the Rangers’ first ever division championship and playoff appearance. Two more division crowns and an A.L. MVP award before the end of the decade, and Pudge solidified himself as an icon. His skills and stats are undeniable. But his fiery intensity, his electric smile, his feel-good story, and his devotion to the home-town team make it difficult to argue for anybody ahead of him in any list of all-time Rangers greats.

PudgeThrowsDuring his 21-year-career, Pudge was Johnny Bench, his hero, with a better bat. He hit .296 with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs. He won thirteen Gold Gloves, a record for a catcher. He appeared in fourteen All Star Games, another record for a catcher. He won seven Silver Sluggers and that league MVP award in ’99. He threw out the highest percentage of base-stealers in Major League Baseball history — he would absolutely shut down an opponent’s running game — teams stopped trying. And he started a record 2,543 games at its most demanding position — 44 more games than the original “Pudge,” Carlton Fisk.

I was privileged to personally watch and professionally cover Pudge Rodriguez from the rickety press box at old Arlington Stadium in the early ’90s to the champagne-drenched clubhouse under The Ballpark in Arlington during the late ’90s. I never used much of his sound during our sportscasts — his English never really translated. But I was always drawn to Pudge, like everybody, and wanted to be around him and talk to him.

His intensity was intoxicating. And unusual.

Pudge96Baseball is a 162-game marathon. Baseball players don’t get too caught up in individual wins and losses. You can’t afford to get too high or too low. Nobody can maintain that over a six-months season. But Pudge lived and died with every single win and loss. That infectious smile and laugh was especially ramped up after wins and his anger and devastation was evident after every loss. After a tough loss he would almost block his locker from reporters like he blocked home plate from opponents. He didn’t say you couldn’t come over, but the look on his face told you to think long and hard before you did. But after a win, there was nobody more fun to be around.

I don’t know if Rodriguez ever used steroids during those late ’90s championship seasons. His name does not appear anywhere in the Mitchell Report like his teammates Juan Gonzales and Rafael Palmeiro. Because the Rangers are my favorite team and Pudge is my favorite Ranger, I tend to believe he’s clean while, at the same time, maintaining a healthy acknowledgement that, maybe, he’s not. But he was so fun to watch, so integral to the team’s transition from laughingstock to perennial World Series contender, so talented.

Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry spent some time with the Rangers late in their careers. Nolan Ryan was the first player and, up until now, the only player to don the Texas Rangers’ cap in the Hall. Yes, he legitimized the franchise late in his career and brought it much needed attention and validity. He’s legendary; a Rangers icon for whom we’ll always be grateful.

But when Pudge Rodriguez goes into Cooperstown on July 20, he’ll be wearing a red Rangers cap. And he’ll be the very first true Ranger — top to bottom, through and through — to do so.

Peace,

Allan

Three and Done

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odorerror

I expected the Rangers and Blue Jays to tangle for four or five games, I expected it to be a brutal series, I expected it to be a roller coaster of emotion all the way through. I believed the Rangers had the best top two starters among all the playoff teams, I believed they had the best young talent combined with the best playoff-tested veteran superstars, I believed they had the #nevereverquit mojo. I thought they would win it. I wasn’t going to be surprised if they lost it. But, either way, I thought there would be many incredible highs and lows along the way.

So, yeah, today I’m in shock. I’m still numb.

I wish I could blame one thing. I wish I could point the finger at one person, one play, one moment. I wish I could be mad at one thing.

But it was a total team failure. It was a complete meltdown from top to bottom. Pitching and hitting, baserunning and throwing, outfield play and behind the plate — it was a nightmare. The three starting pitchers gave up 16 hits, eight homeruns, and 17 runs in 10-1/3 innings for a 13.94 ERA. I have no idea what the Rangers hit with runners in scoring position, what their overall batting average was, or their on-base percentage, but I’m guessing it was just as bad or worse as what happened to the starters.

There was no roller coaster. Just one long four day cloud of dread and doom.

Pitchers and catchers report in 18 weeks.

Peace,

Allan