Rangers enjoy Texas-sized moment
Unique blend delivers club's first American League pennant
It took 50 years -- from the first hit in franchise history by Coot Veal, to the exile from Washington, to some of those Rangers moments in that old hothouse ballpark with rats the size of Freddie Patek -- for the Rangers to get here.
Moments like when Willie Davis sat down in center field for two outs because Steve Hargan wouldn't retaliate for his being hit, or when the helicopter drying the field before the 1975 opener crashed in the outfield.
Standing there in center field on Friday night, looking around at the Zion Canyon of a ballpark, it was good to see Tom Schieffer and appreciate what he and George W. Bush did to legitimize baseball in the Metroplex. This celebration was theirs. It was good to see the Rangers celebrating with their fans to the strains of "Deep in the Heart of Texas," which they've played every night, as if it were "Take Me Out to the Ballpark." The Rangers moved into this park and eventually built one of the best organizations in the business with the promise of a $3 billion local television deal and never lost part of their culture.
Tom Hicks, be damned.
The Rangers will always be poor Rogelio Moret in his catatonic state, and Mickey Rivers going up to hit in sneakers, and Randy Galloway writing "Bobby Bonds played right field like it's mined." I always thought the Dallas/Fort Worth media was not only among the best in the country, but the least pretentious and true to the culture.
Of course, Jon Daniels and his scouts built this, and there's nothing wrong with the notion that what they were doing wasn't fully appreciated until Nolan Ryan came on board; Nolan is one of them, and a really good man, as well.
The team that beat the Yankees is a unique blend. Texas manager Ron Washington is the self-proclaimed "baseball lifer" who loves every part of the game. When he failed a drug test last season, Ryan and Daniels did not fire him. "Management showed us that they have our backs," Josh Hamilton said. "The way they stood behind Wash was something that pulled us together as people."
Hamilton, of course, is the marquee example of a management that understands that amidst all our layers, we are all, in some way, flawed. Standing there in center field on Friday night, players sprayed one another with ginger ale, not champagne or beer, a ritual initiated by C.J. Wilson after they won the American League Division Series out of respect for Hamilton's proud battle to overcome his addictive demons.
"Josh is a very special person, and it's our way of showing him that we are all in a circle with him," said Wilson, who also does not drink, as all of us who get his tweets appreciate. "What makes us all different makes us one."
Hamilton is going to be the 2010 American League MVP. He is the ALCS MVP. In the Yankee Stadium clubhouse after his astounding Home Run Derby performance in 2008, he stepped away from the media circle around his locker to ask: "Could you get me Jeff Allison's number? I need to call him."
Allison is a one-time Marlins first-round Draft pick who, like Hamilton, stumbled because of addiction demons. Hamilton was Allison's inspiration to make it back, and the day of the All-Star Game, Hamilton called Allison to remind him of their bond.
The night after the All-Star Game, President Bush held a state dinner to celebrate baseball. During dinner, the President asked, "Is Josh Hamilton real?"
The answer was yes, with the Allison call as an example. "That makes me very happy," said the President. "We need to focus on how forgiveness can rebuild lives."
|"Management showed us that they have our backs. The way they stood behind Wash was something that pulled us together as people."|
|-- Josh Hamilton|
On Friday, Josh Hamilton admitted he had tears in his eyes as the game wore down, and more than 50,000 people chanted their forgiveness. "But this is not about me," he said. "This is about everyone here. One moment I'll never forget was when they walked me [for the second of three times] in the fourth inning and Vladdy [Guerrero] smoked that ball."
It was the moment that brought the pennant to Texas. The Yankees had decided that Hamilton was not going to beat Phil Hughes, or anyone else. They walked him five times in the series and Guerrero made it a 3-1 game. Understand that the venerable Guerrero has never been to the World Series. He played for one of the best teams in the modern era, the 1994 Expos, whose season ended with the strike. He played for Angels teams that never quite made it.
In fact, he reminded us that in the 2009 ALDS, the Red Sox had Jonathan Papelbon walk Kendry Morales to pitch to Vladdy. Guerrero singled off Papelbon, the Angels advanced, but, as he reminded us, lost to the Yankees.
Colby Lewis was a one-time high Draft choice with a power arm that never found it, got hurt, kicked around, found himself in Japan the two previous years and Friday night, pitched the game of his life to win the pennant.
Nelson Cruz kicked from the Mets to the A's to the Brewers to the Rangers, passed through irrevocable waivers in spring training of 2009, and is now an All-Star who hit two homers in the ALCS.
Michael Young has been a Ranger since he was acquired from Toronto for Esteban Loiaza, and was an All-Star at second and short and, when asked if he would move to third base for a 20-year old kid named Elvis Andrus, did so for the team, a move Washington believes "set the tone for who and what we are."
Ian Kinsler came out of the organization. Andrus and Neftali Feliz were stolen from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal, David Murphy came from Boston for Eric Gagne. Derek Holland became the left-handed power gunner of the bullpen against New York, the deciding force in Game 4.
And, of course, there is Cliff Lee and his brilliance. One of his former teammates pointed out that part of that brilliance stems from Lee's capacity to figure out the strike zone of whoever is umpiring home plate and pitching to that strike zone, not what Lee thinks it should be.
Standing there in center field on Friday night looking around at the 50-something thousand people singing "This is Texas," there was no thought of World Series television ratings or the impact of the Fox/Cablevision war. Willie Tasby was the first player in franchise history to get an extra-base hit, long before Gene Orza and Mike Barnicle were members of the Willie Tasby Fan Club. Ted Williams, Billy Martin and Bobby Valentine managed this team; Eddie Stanky did, too -- for one game before quitting. Jose Canseco had a ball bounce off his head and over the fence for a game-losing home run error.
Now they're Hamilton and Lee, Elvis and Neftali, Young and Kinsler and Cruz, C.J. and Colby Lewis. Standing there taking it all in, a text showed up on my phone, from a very smart man who played on this team for a time this season.
"That," wrote Alex Cora, "is a great team."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.