Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Ranger season squandered

I'm watching the White Sox and Twins battle for the AL Central title, and it's stirring up some bittersweet feelings - more bitter than sweet - that another Rangers season has come and gone...

I spent Saturday evening at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., enjoying the Rangers final win of 2008. I witnessed back-to-back Rangers home runs, leaping out of my chair hollering, and I felt entirely alone. The 40,000+ in Angels Stadium sat quietly, apathetic to the blasts and really the outcome. The Angels were preparing for the playoffs. The Rangers were getting a few final reps in.

By the latter innings, eight of the nine starting position players for the Angels had been lifted from the game, getting backups some playing time and starters some rest. As for the Rangers, Michael Young still occupied shortstop. Josh Hamilton remained in centerfield. Hank Blalock held his spot on first base. They were finishing out their second-to-last game of the season, a season that once again would not extend into October.

The Rangers won the game, 8-4, and I even caught a ball flung into the stands by Milton Bradley (he spotted me wearing my blue Rangers jersey among a sea of red, and launched it to me 20 rows above the Rangers dugout) and got it autographed by Ron Washington.

Simply put: I want to be a Rangers fan. I support the team. I guess you could call me a fan. But what is there to be fanatical about in Arlington (at least until the Cowboys move there next year)? Each year, I'll go to a Rangers game or two. The past two or three years when I've been in the LA-area, I've made trips to Angels Stadium to see the Rangers play on the road.

But I can only really support this team if they provide something to support. The progress that some of the farm system players made this season - Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, etc - is extremely encouraging. Then again, I'm watching former Rangers prospect John Danks pitch for the White Sox in their 1-game playoff for the Division title, and he's shut out Minnesota through 7 innings.

The hitting has always been there in Texas. Pitching, ah, not so much. And once again, Rangers fans are being told to expect next season to be another "building" type of season. Not a rebuilding season, because you have to have been built before being rebuilt.

Cowlishaw described the suffering the Rangers fans and supporters must endure each season.
One hundred years is sort of a long time to wait between titles. Here's hoping that Chicago Cubs fans – most of whom I assume do not recall their team's last championship – finally get what they have been waiting for.

I was there in 1984 when the Cubs made the playoffs for the first time in 39 years. And after watching them dismantle the San Diego Padres in the first two games, you could feel that entire city just ready to go crazy for a World Series date with the Detroit Tigers.

By the way, Wrigley didn't install lights until 1988, so those three games at Wrigley would have been afternoon World Series games. You can't beat that.

Of course, it didn't happen. The Cubs crashed and burned three times in San Diego and Cubs fans were devastated and we got one lousy Detroit-San Diego World Series.

Since then, the Cubs have reached the playoffs four more times but never the World Series. Still haven't been since 1945. Still haven't won one since 1908.

One reason I want the Cubs to win is because Wrigley Field is simply the best place to spend an afternoon. I'm talking about any sport any time.

Another is that former Rangers Mark DeRosa and Alfonso Soriano are good guys.

But the main reason is so I never have to see the phrase "long-suffering" attached to Cubs fans ever again.

Cubs fans may have waited a long time. They don't know suffering.

Rangers fans know suffering.

Cubs fans, regardless of anything else, get to call Wrigley Field their own.

Rangers fans have a nice ballpark, but it's stuck halfway between two cities and is now dwarfed by the Cowboys' goliath of a stadium.

After a loss, Cubs fans can drown their sorrows in about 25 different bars, all walking distance from Wrigley Field.

After a loss, Rangers fans can, well, just go drown at Hurricane Harbor.

The Cubs used to have Harry Caray.

The Rangers have Jim Knox.

If the Cubs fail to win it all this year, they can look to 2009 with high hopes founded on a very good lineup and strong pitching.

The Rangers did fail to win it all this year, and Rangers fans are left to speculate how long they must wait for their highly touted Class A and Double-A pitchers to arrive in Arlington and deal with pitching in the Texas summer.

Or as general manager Jon Daniels put it Tuesday, "We're not going to say 2009 or bust."

The Cubs play to standing-room only crowds every day at home.

The Rangers played to two million empty seats this year at home.

The Cubs crossed the plate more times than any NL team this season. And they gave up fewer runs than any NL team other than the Dodgers.

The Rangers crossed the plate more times than any team in the majors this season. And they gave up 967 runs. That's 83 more than No. 2 Pittsburgh. And 296 more than the Cubs.

The Cubs' collapse in the summer of '69 has been immortalized to the point that their fans will tell you where they were when the Mets won it.

The Rangers' collapse is an annual event that takes place in obscurity because the local sports kingdom has suspended interest in anything that's not the Cowboys.

I saw an off-Broadway play in New York in the '70s called Bleacher Bums, written about the Cubs' fans who sit in the best seats in baseball day after day.

If there is a play about Rangers fans, I am going to guess it is off-off-off Broadway.

Cubs fans know that management will go to the wall for them. Only the Mets had a higher payroll in the National League this year.

The Rangers were 21st in payroll this season, and fans heard Daniels say Tuesday, "I've talked with ownership, and our payroll next year will be similar to what it was this year."

Cubs fans get the royal treatment from Sports Illustrated this week, honored with a cover story and the glowing words of our nation's finest sportswriter, Gary Smith.

Rangers fans get, among others, me.

That, my friends, is what suffering is all about.
A look at some of my other thoughts on the Rangers during the 2008 season (mostly written while I wasn't swamped with Long Beach Armada duties).
Mariners May Melee: Stupid Sexson
Rangers on the rise: Objects in Mirror
Fundamental flaws: Errors of their ways
I wish I had the energy to focus more on the Rangers - frankly working for a baseball team makes even following MLB results difficult. Then again, I wish the Rangers could just give me a reason to focus more on them. Perhaps in 2009.

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