Pudge! From Arlington to Cooperstown

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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.



Three and Done

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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.



Game One Links

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When the Texas Rangers are appearing in a divisional playoff series it’s always going to be a weekday afternoon start. For the team with the most division championships in MLB over the past ten years, including two World Series appearances, and the number four media market in the country, it would seem an evening prime time game would be in order. At least one. No, not for the Rangers. So, again, at work, we’re forced to start faking the cough during the mid-morning and then send out the vague email after lunch that you’re just not feeling right and need to go home. Hey, we’re all used to it by now (cough, cough).

I highly recommend that before the 3:38pm start, Texas time, you click here to read Jamey Newberg’s excellent preview of the Rangers-Jays series. I’ve always enjoyed the way Newberg writes, combining his expert knowledge of the game and his balanced observations with his unabashed love for the Rangers. He’s a real Rangers fan, no doubt. But his insights are just about as good as you’ll get anywhere else. Consider this from today’s Newberg post:

“We all want a championship here and, along the way, a knockout of the Blue Jays in a strictly figurative sense. But there’s no way any of us would want to skip ahead to the last page just to find out the result, right? The journey — as 2016 has exemplified — is such a huge part of the payoff. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out, whether it’s crushing or the best thing ever, but I have zero interest in finding out how it ends without embracing the experience of getting there.”odorpunchupclose

The Dallas Morning News has an outstanding preview section that includes a timeline of the intense rivalry between the Blue Jays and Rangers, with video, from the bat flip to the punch. You can find ballpark food comparisons and great player quotes about the series. It also includes lots of links to several national writers who seem split between picking Texas and Toronto to advance to the ALCS.

All of the previews include a heavy emphasis on the bad blood between these two teams. Sports Illustrated is picking the Blue Jays in five games. ESPN focuses only on the rivalry and doesn’t even predict a winner.

Personally, all the statistics through the grueling 162-game season favor the Rangers in any series they might play this month. Their historic winning percentages against winning teams and in one-run games, the 35-innings scoreless streak for the Rangers bullpen down the stretch, the high-powered offense, the best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in team history — all of these factors give me tremendous confidence going in. Who would be shocked if Texas takes this series in four games, breezes past the Indians or Red Sox in the ALCS, and wins their first ever title with relative ease? At the same time, Darvish has a tendency to give up early home runs and Hamels looked better in April and May since he’s looked since the All-Star break. And the Rangers offense is capable of going ice-cold for two or three games in a row. So, I don’t trust ’em. I love ’em, but I don’t trust ’em.

Let’s Go, Rangers!

Clap, Clap. Clap, Clap, Clap.


Three Things

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buntingGerry Fraley has written an excellent piece on the Texas Rangers’ historic record this year in one-run games. The Rangers are 36-11 in one-run games this season — the highest winning percentage in one-run games in Major League Baseball history. But does that mean the Rangers are lucky or clutch? Does that speak well of the bullpen or is it a bad sign? What does that statistic portend for the postseason that begins for the Rangers this Thursday? Click here to read the article.


angryfaceMy monthly “faith column” for the Amarillo Globe News was published yesterday. I decided to write about how difficult it must be for Christians who are personally and emotionally invested in this country’s presidential race. How does a Christian get involved in the politics and still reflect the glory of our Lord? I called it “Refusing to Join the Rage.” You can click here to access the whole column.


jesusgloryAnd this quote from yesterday’s sermon here at Central as we kicked off our annual Missions Month with a look at Jesus’ stories in Luke 15. The quote is from Henri Nouwen:

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”



Hello, Division Champs!

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rangersclinch2016For the seventh time in franchise history and the fourth time in the past seven seasons, the Texas Rangers have won the American League West! Cole Hamels pitched seven shutout innings and Adrian Beltre hit a two-run homer in last night’s win in Oakland, clinching the back-to-back division championships.

Today the Rangers hold a slim half-game lead over the Indians and a one game lead over Boston for the best record in the American League and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. So there’s still plenty to play for over the last eight games. rangerswinwest2016

I think I’d like to see Toronto again when the division playoffs begin October 6.



Scoreboard Watching

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